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Wednesday at DCAL Julie Homchick, Lecturer in Speech, ran a workshop on “Making Sense of Speeches,” offering her thoughts on how to create grading rubrics that transparently and efficiently evaluate student presentations. Homchick began her session by making the important point that the kinds of rubrics we design should reflect our pedagogical aims. In other words, there’s no one-size-fits-all rubric that can be used for evaluating oral presentations. Instead, instructors should think about the objectives of their assignments, as well as the goals of the speaker. Does the speaker wish to persuade? To entertain? To open up a line of inquiry? Once an instructor has a clear sense of objectives, she can carefully design a rubric to assess how well the presenter meets the assignment’s particular aims.

Advantages of using a rubric, according to Homchick, include transparency for students and efficiency for instructors. In terms of transparency, a rubric can help students to see what instructors expect from a particular presentation, and how the instructor will weigh these expected elements. In terms of efficiency, a rubric can help instructors keep track of their responses as they listen to the presentations. Indeed, as Homchick modeled, rubrics can be designed precisely to free instructors from taking notes on the content of a presentation. As an example, Homchick offered a sample rubric that provides the opportunity for students to list, in a left-hard column, their main argument points. A right-hand column provides the professor a place to numerically rate the argument’s evidence, reasoning, organization, and so on. Using a rubric like this one enables instructors to focus their note-taking not on the content being presented, but on the quality of the presentation itself.

To give us a sense of the promises and limitations of rubrics, Homchick invited us to watch a videotaped presentation and to use a rubric to assess it. This particular rubric included categories for persuasion, organization, evidence, language, and delivery. The discussion that ensued was lively, leading us to consider the pedagogical benefits and limitations of rubrics, and to imagine other ways to use them. One participant observed that instructors can invite students to get involved in designing the rubric, thereby encouraging students to define their own standards of excellence ,and allowing them to understand better the expectations of their audience.

Homchick ended her talk by reiterating that no rubric is one-size-fits-all, encouraging instructors to take advantage of a rubric’s malleability to create rubrics that include (for instance) a category addressing the visual components of multimedia compositions, or a category addressing the quality of discussion that the presentation inspires. Participants left the workshop not only with good, practical advice on how to assess presentations, but also with a sense of how they might develop rubrics tailored for their own pedagogical aims.

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Image of gavelIn DCAL’s second event of 2010, Speech Instructor Julie Homchick presented “Making Debate Useful in the Classroom,” which proved to be an ideal introduction to debate structure and process. Homchick began with a personal anecdote from early in her teaching career that highlighted the general misperception that debate can be as simple as splitting a class in half, tossing out a topic, and stepping back to let the learning happen, only to to hear cacophonous personal invective or the resounding thud of silence. She went on then to describe the more regulated back and forth process of standard policy debate, explaining the language of the field as well. An accompanying handout  contained both the vocabulary (e.g. case, resolution, harm, inherency, solvency) and a sample classroom activity.

After presenting case construction and defense techniques, Homchick, stopwatch in hand, divided the participants into groups to practice the actual process. Topics for the different groups ranged from “The tenure system should be abolished in higher education” to “Dartmouth should introduce more technical and vocational courses into the curriculum.” The minutes ticked by rapidly as each group became absorbed in the activity.

At the conclusion, there was general agreement that the more formalized process of debate held great value for students, especially as it could contribute to the development of arguments in their own papers. However, one concern expressed was the risk of regular use of debate in the classroom possibly leading to papers that become too argumentative. Another advantage suggested was the use of a similar formalized structure as the basis of peer review or even self-reflection and review. As with all classroom activity choices, Homchick reminded attendees that one’s learning objectives should direct both the decision to use debate, as well as the content of the debate.

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info-fetishist

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Feral Librarian

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