Speak Up! Help for C Courses

by Nancy Vazquez

This article has been re-published from our faculty newsletter, Writing Matters, Fall 2009.


Students in a C course will need to practice their presentations before they face an audience."][/caption] How does teaching a C course differ from teaching a W course? While the assignments will differ—students in a C course might give a slide presentation, for example, instead of writing a lab report—many aspects of  teaching the course will be much the same.  C course teachers, like W course instructors, will need to provide instruction on the relevant forms of communication opportunities for low-stakes practice feedback that can guide students in revising.

The C course option, established in the spring of 2008, allows students to take an oral communication-focused (or “C”) course in place of one of the two required writing-focused (or “W”) courses in their major. The most notable difference between the two types of courses is that students in a C course are required to produce a minimum of 1,250 written words as well as at least five minutes of oral presentation.

Instructors for a C course can assign the specific kind of oral presentation that seems most relevant to their particular discipline, whether that be a traditional formal speech, a research poster discussion, or a recorded presentation such as a video or audio podcast.

Instruction

If you’re teaching a C course, you’ll need to offer some instruction on how to give an effective presentation. One way to do that is to discuss models of presentations from your discipline, such as speeches given here on campus, or recorded performances, including lectures archived online or podcasts from iTunes U.

Discuss with your students not only the message of these presentations, but also the effectiveness of their delivery.  In the process, you’ll be teaching students the criteria for evaluating a presentation, which will then give them a framework for critiquing their own performance and those of their peers.

Practice

Students will also need an opportunity to practice their presentations. You can provide an opportunity for practice by setting up a peer response session. Put students in pairs or small groups and have them run through their performances. Then have students respond to each other using the criteria you’ve established in class discussions.

Provide the peer responders with specific topics to comment on as they listen. Make the questions open-ended and focus on the positive as well as the negative: What is one thing this presenter could do to strengthen the content of the speech? What was the most persuasive piece of evidence?

You can also ask students to give mini-presentations during class as a way of honing their presentation skills. For instance, students could give a one-minute synopsis of some aspect of the assigned reading for that week. Or they could explain their plans for their course research project. Afterwards, ask students what that experience has taught them. Do they need to practice more at home, have more detailed notes, or find a way to keep track of time as they speak?

Feedback

While students can benefit greatly from peer feedback, they’ll also want your input as they prepare their presentations. Have students turn in some kind of written material related to their presentations for you to review, whether it be note cards, a formal outline, draft slides, the script for a podcast, or the proposed text for a poster.

As you read over these submissions, keep in mind that you’re looking at the raw material for an oral presentation with its own unique requirements. For instance, in order to hold their audience’s attention, your students may need to pare down their topics and use more repetition than they would in a typical essay.

In order to comment quickly and efficiently—and keep from overwhelming students with too much information—identify two or three areas that need the most work and limit your remarks to specific ways students can improve. A grading rubric can help.

Finally, remember that while there are concerns that will be unique to an oral presentation, many of your questions will be the same as they would for any writing assignment: Is material logically organized? Is the evidence relevant and persuasive? And, finally, has the student developed a clear message and articulated it well?  After all, that should be the student’s ultimate goal, whether the message is written or spoken.

Help for C course students and faculty is available on the UWC’s website, including how-to articles and brief podcasts.