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One giant leap…sideways October 2, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, teaching.
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One of the assignments I give my students is to do a group presentation.  For this assignment, each group discusses one of eight subfields of electrical engineering in front of the class.  It seemed like a good idea because having me present for an hour on different fields seemed kind of absurd.

Last year’s effort was a disaster.  I do realize these kids are college freshmen, but I was surprised at what a mess the presentations were.  I decided it was probably my fault: they weren’t prepared and needed more guidance.

This year, I gave each group a sheet where I laid out what I wanted them to cover, how to break it up, and a couple starting points for doing their research.  I figured it was bound to go better than last year.  I was partially right.  Some of the groups did an excellent job on their presentation.  The groups that didn’t at least included some of what I wanted.

However, I’d say that the class really didn’t get much more out of this year’s presentation than last year.  This leaves me wondering if I should scrap this approach to the project.  However, I’d really like the students to have a better idea of what sort of areas they’re interested in when we start looking at schedules and they begin picking electives.  I’m contemplating just giving them a list of web pages covered each subfield and having them write up a summary of their favorite two.

There are some rather practical implications in dealing with the problem this way.  First, it means more grading for me.  Second, it effectively eliminates two class periods worth of activities for me, and I’m not sure that I want to add anything in to replace them.  I’m not a fan of filling up space just because, but when your class meets once a week 16 weeks, two weeks can have an impact.  Finally, how can I be sure they are exposed to all of them and not just the first one that looks cool?

I hope that, if nothing else, the students are getting the idea of how frustrating it can be to watch someone else give a bad presentation.

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