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Elvis Saravia

Evolving the learning experience

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As the teacher assistant for this year’s “Research and Presentation Skills” course, I made a few interesting observations. Primarily, my task as the TA was to listen to presentations and provide constructive criticism for students to improve their research proposals. Another thing I paid close attention to was the different behaviors portrayed by students when presenting. I also paid attention to body language and tone of voice as these two must go hand in hand when delivering quality presentations. This makes it very difficult for the presenter as there are too many details to get right. On the other hand, our job was made easier as there were a lot more angles to criticism on. Let me clarify that judging another person’s work in an objective manner is not an easy task, especially when the presenter is touching unfamiliar grounds. In summary, the pressure is mostly on the presenter and not so much on the judge in this case.

As a student, I have been there and I know how extremely challenging and nerve-racking preparing for a presentation can be. This is the one time of the school year that you will observe students slipping and making simple mistakes. It all has to do with nerves and what you are accustomed to. Whichever the case, it is important to understand that one will never be able to make a perfect presentation. Either someone in the audience did not get the concept or the color theme of your slides was not displayed by the projector as expected. So criticism should be expected and welcomed. There is no point in thinking that your presentation was perfect. Therefore, there is no point in being upset when being criticized. Simply put it, you should be open to constructive criticism – preferably, beyond what you are accustomed to or can tolerate.

Although not mentioned much in a class environment, it seems as if though the majority of students are not very open to criticism. The research and presentation skills course is all about that. In this course, we criticize everything that has to do with research and presentation, which happens to be the skills you need most in order to defend and eventually graduate. Unless you are giving a TED talk, do expect to receive both complaints and appraisals after your presentation. In fact, even TED speakers are constantly being put under the microscope. In this course, we don’t focus too much on the good stuff but rather on the stuff that needs to be improved. If you are a great vocal presenter we will criticize your slides and if you are an excellent designer we will probably nail you on the vocals. This presents a win-win scenario for both speaker and audience (other students) and that’s why we conduct the course in this unpopular manner.

There is much to say about criticism when one is on the other side, but what’s more interesting is what students or in this case the presenters are experiencing. My first suspicion, is that students don’t like to be criticized and that could easily be observed from their facial expressions. I am very familiar with this feeling as I was once a student of this course. Students are in their right to dislike criticism, especially when they are confident of having delivered the presentation of their lives. There is nothing wrong with it I suppose until we start to talk about the benefits of being criticized.

Bare in mind that I am referring to constructive criticism and not just any type of criticism. In fact, no one likes to be corrected – not even babies – since this is an expected and innate characteristic of any human being. From my experience, criticism can even feel discouraging at times. The point I am trying to get to is that criticism is not the worst thing that could happen to us. In fact, criticism is great! The more you welcome criticism, the more you learn, and the faster you can improve your presentation skills. I have realized that people don’t often get criticized and that could spell a lot of trouble. In my opinion, it means people fear to correct you when you make those mistakes – even if they are minor. It also means that you will seldom know when you make mistakes so as to be able to correct them in the future. Do you see anything wrong with that? There is a lot wrong with that. You should know that we are far from perfect; so in reality you should be receiving a ton of criticism and corrections throughout the day. And you should be using those criticisms to improve whatever needs to be adjusted.

Overall, one must welcome criticism but also one must let others feel or perceive that you are willing to be corrected. This applies in school and everywhere you go. For students, this is essential to keep a healthy learning curve. Lastly, the course is fun and open for anyone wanting to refine research and presentation skills, while at the same time being very open to receive criticism of the best kind.

Note: This is a completely random observation, so you might find a few grammatical errors here and there. The shorter explanation is that I don’t tend to edit my random thoughts as they tend to loose their randomness very quickly.