Assignment Ideas: Presentations

"Today, dramatic changes in literacy and literacy practices have brought rhetoric’s ghosts fully back to life. In an age of (multi)media, we can no longer ignore the embodied nature of discourse, and we are having to rethink almost every aspect of the teaching of writing, from ways of being in the classroom to the kinds of assignments students do and how those assignments are delivered and assessed. For us, the notion of performance is crucial to participating in this work” (Performing Literacy, Performing Writing 3).
“…I’ve used PowerPoint in just this way, as a site for a rough draft, shared with a real audience. Or: envisionment. What other technologies might be re-envisioned and to what effects? What envisionments have students already created that we don’t know about? And how do we build this ability-envisioning into our curriculum?” (Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key).

The digital presentation is a standard feature of the multimodal classroom often conducted using programs such as PowerPoint, Slideshare, or Prezi. Through PowerPoint and PowerPoint alternatives, students assemble primary and secondary material in an array of modes under the auspices of an argument or narrative. A successful presentation persuades the audience of the argument or narrative’s fitness, elaborates surprising connections in the source materials, and clearly communicates how the source material has been explicated in service of the overall goal of the presentation.

While the formal presentation often marks the successful culmination of an assignment sequence, digital tools such as Timeline, Ticki-Tocki, Wordle, Storify, Diigo, and PopcornMaker draw on the same skills of persuasion, audience awareness, and close analysis. That is to say, incorporating digital tools shows how performance is a component of all communication and not just the PowerPoint presentation in which a sequence concludes. As Kathleen Yancy’s provocative term “envisioning” suggests, when students utilize presentation tools in unexpected ways, they draw out the transformative power of performance.

Nancy Duarte. Nancy Duarte worked with Al Gore to create the slide show in An Inconvenient Truth. She argues ideas that have the power to create real change often depend on how well the communication of the idea integrates the visual and the verbal. She communicates the process of creating successful presentations in Slide:ology and “The Secret Structure of Steve Jobs’s Speech.”

Film School for Slideware: Film, Comics, and Slideshows as Sequential Art. Fred Johnson draws on films and comics to rethink PowerPoint slide design that “demands serious audience interaction” instead of alienating them. He provides an overview of the use and abuse of visual presentation software in the composition class to argue that successful presentation design depends on choosing images that suggest intended meanings to audiences, shows how images in sequence alter each other, and relies on feeling as much as knowledge. 

Performing Literacy, Performing Writing. Composed as a report on the first two years of the Stanford Study of Writing, Jen Fishman, Andrea Lunsford, Beth McGregor, and Mark Otuteye provide a succinct review of writing and performativity’s contact points to situate two student perfomances and deepen undersatding of performance in writing/learning. Though written before digital technology made multimodal writing as accessable as it is today, the authors expand “the embodied nature of discourse” from powerpoint presentations or play adaptations to suggest that “all writing is a performance” (3 & 6).

Presentation Zen. Garr Reynolds’ book for producing engaging, creative, slideshow presentations that convert audiences from passive recoveries to thoughtful, actors in the process. Reynolds offers easy to read instructions invention, drafting, and delivery. He pays attention to ways software can dictate form and then form can dictate content.

SlideShare. SlideShare not only offers tools to create multimodal presentations, but it “supports documents, PDFs, videos and webinars…SlideShare content spreads virally through blogs and social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Individuals & organizations upload documents to SlideShare to share ideas, conduct research, connect with others, and generate leads for their businesses. Anyone can view presentations & documents on topics that interest them, download them and reuse or remix for their own work.” 

Pecha KuchaPecha Kucha is a simple presentation format where you show 20 images, each for 20 seconds, adding up to a total presentation time of 6 minutes, 40 seconds. The images advance automatically and students talk along to the images. The format encourages students to present quickly, informally, and creatively. At the same time, Pecha Kucha encourages more rehearsal for the presentation as the timing needs to be much more precise.