by Jessica Fordham Kidd, Department of English

My favorite presentation from The Teaching Professor Technology Conference 2016 was Dr. Gloria Niles’s presentation “Pecha Kucha: Multimedia Alternative to Term Papers for Digitial Natives.” Prior to this session, I was familiar with the term Pecha Kucha, but I had never given much thought to how it might be any better than a standard presentation with a time limit.

The Pecha Kucha presentation consists of 20 slides that are given 20 seconds each. Each slide should focus on a visual that represents the speaker’s main idea and should be as light on text as possible. My first thought about this type of presentation is that the constantly progressing slides with the strict and quick time limit would be very challenging, but then I realized that it might be exactly what I need to re-introduce presentations back into my classroom.

I love having students present about their work and ideas. I learn new ideas from them, they learn from each other, it energizes the class, and they learn the content more deeply by creating and giving the presentation. Unfortunately, I often shy away from presentations in the classroom for two reasons: time limits and quality discrepancies.

I might allot 5 minutes per person, but a couple of asides or tangents and the presentation either gets too long or I have to cut it short. I hate cutting someone off before they’ve finished, so I’m left scrambling to fit in all the presentations, usually eliminating Q&A, which can be a site for so much learning.

Then there’s the problem of quality discrepancies. Some students may produce a set of slides that they read word for word. Some students may show a video or other compelling visual and not add a lot of original content. I realize that a well-conceived rubric can alleviate some of these problems, but I also love the idea of a format that automatically addresses some of these concerns.

Enter the Pecha Kucha. I’m eager to try this presentation format and see if it can help me love presentations again. The time limit for each slide and the automatically advancing slides seem like they make the time allotment more concrete than just an overall 5 minute guideline. I hope the visual focus will encourage critical thinking — asking students to make decisions about how to divide their topic into twenty points and how to represent each point visually. I also think the format will encourage more of a real presentation in which the presenter has to know their material and interact with the audience since there isn’t a block of text to read (Dr. Niles said she does allow students to use cue cards, and I would allow them as well.).

In her presentation, Dr. Niles emphasized the process aspect of creating a Pecha Kucha, and that was what really sold me on her ideas. She provides students with a handout to use as they plan and refine the presentation, and she includes a section for students to self-track how many times they practice their Pecha Kucha. This format with its fast pace and visual decisions inherently encourages students to use a creation, revision, and practice process — a perfect complement to my writing courses.

Jessica Fordham Kidd is the associate director of the First-Year Writing Program and an assistant professor in the Department of English.