By: Claire Reynolds
Oral communication is an essential part of our daily lives. It is a skill many university programs draw attention to and assess because it is an integral part of the workplace and interview process. For example, George Evans, the former chief financial officer of R&P Coal, asks interviewees about the English courses they have taken because “a good employee will be person who not only knows their business[,] but who can communicate smoothly with co-workers and clients” (McKeague, Forrest, & Roeper, 2009, 43). However, too often, our university courses do not explicitly teach or develop communication skills even though presentations and oral expression through discussions are areas we commonly assess. TAs observe this lack of communication development frequently, especially when they find themselves helping students express challenging ideas verbally. One way that TAs can prepare for this challenge and help students develop the required skills is to harness some of the new technologies and tools that can help students with their oral communication. Two especially powerful computer programs that TAs can use to help students with communication are Pecha Kucha, which assists students in understanding concepts and focusing their ideas, and Virtual-i Presenter (ViP), which can help students with presenting skills.
One computer program that students can use to develop focused, relevant ideas is called Pecha-Kucha. It is a presentation program that is compatible with all types of computers and functions similarly to PowerPoint, making it user-friendly to those who are familiar with that program. The main difference between the two programs is that Pecha Kucha shows each slide for 20 seconds before automatically moving to the next one. The slides also only show visuals with no text. This results in presenters’ explanations being more organized and concise (Beyer, 2011). Although it is the professor or instructor’s responsibility to decide on the purpose, instructions, and format of presentations, Pecha Kucha can be used to help students understand content through explaining it orally. TAs who run their own discussion groups, for instance, could adopt this program in class in a several of ways. If there are a number of related concepts, such as body systems in Biology or political philosophies in Political Science, a group could make a Pecha Kucha presentation to review a concept before an exam. Another option is to have students teach each other content through a jigsaw activity. Pecha Kucha could also be used during office hours to help students understand concepts more clearly. Using the program to verbally explaining an idea is an engaging way to help organize thoughts and identify misunderstandings. The various uses of Pecha-Kucha can complement course material by helping students develop their oral communication skills.
Another technology that may be helpful for TAs is Virtual-i-Presenter (ViP). This program videotapes presenters and has no edit functions (Cochrane, 2009). Using this program gives TAs a genuine representation of students’ communication abilities because students cannot edit their recording. In order to use ViP, the computer needs to be a PC that has PowerPoint, a webcam, and a microphone (Cochrane, 2009). Admittedly, being able to use the program on only one kind of computer raises accessibility issues for students who do not own PCs and is something that TAs need to consider if they do plan to incorporate ViP into their classrooms. For that reason, TAs who are considering adopting this program should investigate computer labs on campus to see if such students can access the type of computer needed beforehand. If this is an accessible option for TAs and students, the webcam will automatically detect the program once it has been installed. Then three buttons will appear at the bottom of the screen—one for connecting PowerPoint to ViP, another to record the presentation, and the last to stop and save the presentation. While Pecha Kucha can be used for orally developing ideas, ViP can be especially useful for developing specific presentation skills such as tone, pace, body language, slide format, and so on. In class, not only can formal presentations be done, but students could present a proposal or summary of a report, lab, or essay. One advantage that this program has over Pecha-Kucha is that it has the ability to show a PowerPoint presentation synchronized with the presenter’s voice (Cochrane, 2009). Students could use this feature to review recorded practice presentations of themselves to prepare for a formal presentation or show it to classmates for more feedback. ViP is useful outside of class and office hours, too, if a student and a TA have conflicting schedules. A recording of the presentation can be emailed to the TA and emailed back with feedback from the TA. Any other uses for ViP would also be helpful to students because practicing presentations is one of the best ways to improve presentation skills (Baker & Thompson, 2004). These applications make ViP a potentially useful program to improve the presentation of oral communication that professors in particular do no always have the time to teach in class.
In conclusion, new programs such as Pecha Kucha and ViP can be used to develop students’ oral communication skills in a variety of ways. Pecha Kucha can help students create precise explanations, while ViP can allow them to witness and improve their delivery of presentation content. TAs can use both programs as ways to support student oral development during office hours, in meetings with students, or if the TA teaches. While ViP does have some accessibility issues that Pecha Kucha does not, a quick inquiry into campus resources may well reveal that that concern is a non-issue. On its own, too, Pecha Kucha can be used for developing students’ presentation delivery skills as well as their ability to organize content. Whichever program is chosen, however, what matters most is that we are providing students with opportunities to practice and improve their communication skills, which will in turn increase the probability of their success in university courses and of higher confidence when entering the workforce.
Baker, W.H. & Thompson, M. P. (2004). Teaching presentation skills. Business Communication Quarterly, 67 (2), 216-19.
Beyer, A.M. (2011). Improving student presentations: Pecha Kucha and just PowerPoint. Teaching of Psychology, 38(2), 122-26.
Cochrane, T. & O’Donoghue, M. (Eds.). (2008). Improving oral presentation skills of engineering students with the Virtual-i Presenter (ViP) program. Proceedings from: AaeE Conference. Yeppoon: Central Queensland.
McKeague, M., Forrest, J. & Roeper, K. (Eds.). (2009). The need for oral communication and presentation skills in undergraduate programs. Proceedings from: The Laurel Highlands Communications Conference. Indiana: PA.