Teaching Oral Communication Online

When teaching oral communication online, it's important to think carefully through the affordances and challenges of mediated presentations -- and adjust your pedagogy importantly.

For a fully online writing & speaking class, our expectations about what a presentation look like need to shift.  Instead of requiring students to perform (and possibly record) a TED-talk style conversation, where we see their full body, large presentation screen behind them, we need to adjust to the parameters of mediated presentations through live Zoom or pre-recording:

  • Narrated PowerPoint/Keynote with no speaker visually present (i.e. zoom or google slides pre-recorded)
  • PowerPoint with speaker window/webinar (i.e. zoom pre-recorded)
  • Multimedia with visuals of speaker interspersed (i.e. video edited footage of speaker with animations, audio, slides, images, photo stills, zoom background visuals or video cut into the presentation)

This type of presentation is one they might already be familiar with from YouTube bloggers, webinars, or other online presentation moments, so in that sense, we're helping them develop a particular type of delivery strategies that they might draw on in many academic and non-academic contexts.

Some Best Practices

Oral Communication lecturer Helen Lie has offered some of the following suggestions for teaching oral communication online (courtesy of Helen Lie):

Remember that students presenting online still experience speech anxiety, so scaffold the major presentation assignments by offering many low stakes opportunities for students to practice their presentation skills  

Students may also suffer from tech anxiety in preparing or delivering their presentations. 

  • Be sure to integrate technological skills incrementally into your scaffolding assignments (i.e., for one assignment, have them practice sharing a screen in Zoom; for another assignment, layer in recording a short speech, etc.)
  • Don't grade low-stakes assignments, and make sure students are aware that they won't be graded down on major assignments for unavoidable technological issues

Help students also understand their responsibilities as an audience

  • Consider having all student audience members activate their video, if they have access to video, for the presentations and speaking activities so that presenters get the benefit of seeing their live audience
  • Talk to students about ways to think about nonverbal feedback that they can give as audience members (such as nodding, making eye contact, giving complete attention), which might be particularly vital in online spaces
  • If your students are pre-recording major presentations, give them the benefit of a live audience in small group dress rehearsals or through a live Zoom Q&A after everyone has watched the presentations on their own
  • Balance synchronous and asynchronous feedback; create a space on a Canvas discussion forum for students to comment on each other's presentations, whether they have watched them live or recorded; offer a live Q&A or feedback opportunity on Zoom

Help students think about the specific dynamics of digital presentations

  • Encourage them to think about their "presentation stage" when delivering remotely -- Where will they sit? What will they wear?  What sort of lighting is available.  Suggest that they try to find a place with good lighting (i.e. a light behind you casts a shadow on your face), free of clutter, connecting with a stable connection if possible (sitting close to a router or connected to the router with an ethernt cable), away from distractions (i.e., people who might walk behind the presenter or otherwise interrupt)
  • However given that students sometimes do not have much control over their environments in online learning contexts, make sure they also understand that they are not graded on their ability to have a polished "presentation stage" and that everyone in the class will be understanding if their "stage" is less than ideal.
  • Think about whether you want students to read off a script or not, which might be their inclination even more than in in-person presentations.  If you don't want them script-bound, consider implementing short scaffolding assignments that require them to speak rather than just read.
  • Engage them in vocal delivery activities designed to help them understand the importance of voice in digital presentation contexts

Activity idea  - watch a TED talk - transcribe it, mark it for pauses, and then practice in the same way ias the speaker and present (imitatio)

See Helen's full slidedeck from her March 14 presentation on Teaching Digital Presentations.

Technological Recommendations

  • If students are sharing their presentations asynchronously: 

    • Ask students to record themselves at their screen, using a web camera, the built-in microphone on their computer, and screen sharing software combined to capture both their faces/persons as well as the slides on the screen. 

      • Zoom, Jing, and Screencast-o-matic can be used for audio/video recording in this capacity, as can Quicktime (on Mac only). 

        • If students want to use presenter notes while recording in Zoom in particular, they can follow the instructions to use two monitors with screen sharing. If students do not have access to two monitors, they can also use the screen sharing function in Google Slides  by selecting to share only the window with the final slidedeck and NOT to share the window that pops up with the presenter notes. (i.e. "squish" both windows so they could appear side-by-side).

      • Voiceover narration in slidedeck creation software can also be used via Keynote (Mac), PowerPoint (Mac or PC), or Quicktime (Mac).

      • Students can save their final recording file and upload it to 1. Canvas via Assignments or Discussions or 2. Stanford Box

        • If students submit the recording via Canvas Assignments, the file will only be visible to the instructor. If students submit the recording via Canvas Discussions, the file will be visible to the full class community. 

          • If using Discussions, students can use an audio-video recording tool built directly into Canvas to record audio-video content. Note that with this tool, only the students’ web camera content will be recorded and saved, not the students’ screen (or their slidedeck). Given this constraint, a short reflection or oral presentation without slides or visuals would be most appropriate for recording with Canvas’ recording tool.

        • If students submit the recording via Stanford Box, make sure the appropriate share settings have been enabled for students to upload their own files to a Box folder that you have created. See Folder and Account Sharing Settings in Box for more details.

      • If students do not have access to a laptop computer or webcam, they can also use the voice memo feature on a phone to record audio, save audio files, and upload the audio files to either Canvas or Stanford Box. Invite students to share their slidedecks and audio/video files separately if necessary.

  • If students are sharing their presentations synchronously: 

Student-facing handouts about presenting online 

See these tech-oriented handouts developed by Jenae Cohn, Sarah Pittock, and Jennifer Johnson, ready for distribution to your students or adaptation to suit your own specific class needs:

Oral Communication Program Video Workshops

The Oral Communication Program created several student-facing video workshops that instructors can incorporate into their classes. 

Check out the list of available video workshops