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Effect of Student Model Presentations from a Speaking Contest on the Development of Engineering Students as Speakers

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Teaching Communication II

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.452.1 - 24.452.13

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Paper Authors

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Maryellen Meny Overbaugh


Michael Alley Pennsylvania State University, University Park

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Michael Alley is an associate professor of engineering communication at Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of The Craft of Scientific Presentations (2nd ed.) and faculty advisor for Utree: Undergraduate teaching and research experiences in engineering.

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Christine Haas Engineering Ambassadors Network

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   Effect of a Student Speaking Contest on Acceptance of Alternative Approach to PresentationsAs exemplified by engineering and scientific presentations on and a surge of books onpresentations [1-5], a revolution is occurring in the way that several prominent engineers andscientists are making presentations. This small, but growing, revolution is often characterized bythe way that these engineers and scientists in this revolution create their slides (often referred toas “scenes”). In the new approach, the presenter rejects PowerPoint’s default of a topic-phraseheadline supported by a bulleted list. Instead, the presenter creates each scene based on asentence message, which some members of the revolution include on the slide [3-4]. In addition,that message is supported not by a bulleted list, but by visual evidence: photographs, drawings,diagrams, graphs, equations, and films. Theoretical and experimental evidence suggests that thisalternative approach is superior both in comprehension by the audience [6] and in understandingof the content by the presenter [7]. Although this approach can clearly be seen in popular talks such as ones givenby Robert Ballard [8] and Cheryl Hayashi [9], the revolution has not found strong footing inengineering courses or engineering companies. For that reason, early adopters in industry andengineering classrooms often encounter significant resistance [10-11]. This situation posesproblems for engineering students, who in the liberal education environment of a universityencounter such new ideas, but do not see those ideas reinforced in their engineering courses orinternships. Without reinforcement from their professors, co-workers, and peers, manyengineering students resist the different approach [12]. This paper presents the effect of a student speaking contest in a large engineering collegeon the adoption of this alternative approach of basing each scene on a sentence message and thensupporting that message with visual evidence. The speaking contest, which originates in severalengineering sections of a required speech course, features eight engineering undergraduates whotook a required speech course the previous semester and who were selected in a competition bytheir peers. The timing of the finals is such that it occurs during the beginning of the semester,when a new crop of several hundred engineering students are beginning to take the requiredspeech course. For that reason, many of the 200 attendees of the finals are students who are justbeginning this course. In addition, because films of many of the presentations are posted on theweb, the new students have access to these examples during the semester. Given that, ourresearch question is whether the speaking contest has any effect on the acceptance of thealternative presentation structure which all of the finalists have adopted. To answer this question, this research considers two sources of data. The first is a surveytaken by more than 100 students who attended the contest in Fall 2013. From this data, we intendto determine qualitatively what kind of influence the students perceive the contest will have ontheir growth as presenters. The second source of data is a comparison of 100 sets of slidescreated by engineering students who attended the contest with 100 sets of slides created byengineering students who did not. The sets of slides are for the same course assignment, which isthe first major talk of the semester. In addition, both groups of students are studying under thesame two instructors who each have taught the course for more than 8 semesters. Given how  long the professors have taught the course, the underlying assumption is that the students takingthe course when there was no contest experienced similar classroom instruction as the studentstaking the course when a contest existed. The major difference then is the effect of the contest.These slide sets will be scored in a blind review to determine how well the presenter adopted thealternative approach of a message-based scene supported by visual evidence. From this data, weintend to determine quantitatively whether the contest affected the adoption of the alternativeapproach. If so, such contests could be a valuable tool for teaching new approaches.References1. Garr Reynolds (2008). Presentation Zen. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.2. Nancy Duarte (2008). Slide:ology. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.3. Cliff Atkinson (2005). Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft PowerPoint to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Press.4. Michael Alley (2013). The Craft of Scientific Presentations, 2nd ed. New York: Springer-Verlag.5. Matt Carter (2013). Designing Scientific Presentations: A Visual Guide to Figures, Papers, Slides, Posters, and More. London: Academic Press.6. Joanna Garner & Michael Alley (2013). How the Design of Presentation Slides Affects Audience Comprehension: A Case for the Assertion-Evidence Approach. International Journal of Engineering Education (accepted for publication).7. Shannon Aippersbach, Michael Alley & Joanna Garner (2013). The way that a student presenter designs slides affects the student’s understanding of the content. 2013 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition. Atlanta, GA: ASEE.8. Robert Ballard (2008, February). Exploring the ocean’s hidden worlds. . Monterey, CA: TED Talk sponsored by Autodesk.9. Cheryl Hayashi (2010). The magnificence of spider silk. Monterey, CA: TED Talk.10. Kathryn A.Neeley, Michael Alley, Christine Nicometo & Leslie Srajek (2009, November). Teaching Against the Grain: A Case Study of Teaching a Slide Design That Challenges PowerPoint’s Defaults. Technical Communication vol. 56, no. 4, pp. 14−25.11. Traci Nathans-Kelly & Christine Grohowski Nicometo (2013). Slide Rules. New York: Wiley-IEEE Press.12. Everett M. Rogers (2003). The Diffusion of Innovations. New York: Free Press.

Overbaugh, M. M., & Alley, M., & Haas, C. (2014, June), Effect of Student Model Presentations from a Speaking Contest on the Development of Engineering Students as Speakers Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana.

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