Approaches to developing students’ oral presentation skills

This blog post was written by Chris Ireland, Academic Skills Tutor in the Business School at the University of Huddersfield. In this post he presents his experiences with supporting students to improve their oral presentation skills. Chris is currently undertaking doctoral research in which a main objective is to ascertain which aspects of the approach described are seen by the most apprehensive students as contributing towards their development as presenters.

Illustration of student presenting

One of the aims of the first year Accountancy and Finance module Accountants in Organisations that I work on with John English is the development of key competencies which are demanded by professionally focussed employers but are also useful for study at university. One of these areas is oral communication and within this being able to deliver oral presentations. Over the years that the module has been delivered the approach taken to helping the students develop in the delivery of oral presentations has evolved as we have researched how best we can help the students improve in this area. One complication in the development of oral presentation skills concerns the levels of apprehension that students can feel towards such activities. This is of particular concern for those studying accountancy who are often reported as experiencing higher levels of apprehension towards oral communication than students studying other disciplines (see Aly & Islam, 2003; Byrne et al, 2012).

The high levels of apprehension can have a demotivating effect, preventing students from engaging in activities designed to help them learn. There is some evidence (see Hassall, et al, 2013) that a focus on improving students’ self-efficacy will help towards overcoming the high levels of apprehension and at the same time will contribute to towards their personal development in this area. The presentation activities incorporated in the module are designed to take this into account.

When the module was initiated ten years ago the intention was to provide the students with progressively more challenging presentation tasks. In doing so the module incorporates three group presentations beginning with a short simple project in the autumn and ending with a longer high stakes presentation in spring. This approach is designed to help students become accustomed to presenting to an audience, feel a sense of achievement and have time to practice by encouraging them to make appointments with the Business School’s Learning Development Group. The fact that the projects are prepared and delivered as groups is important as it takes advantage of the social element of learning which is key in supporting the most apprehensive and in encouraging groups to practice their presentations.

The presentations are delivered in class with those groups who are not presenting forming part of the audience, providing feedback and conducting a peer assessment for which they gain some credit towards the module. The structure of the feedback and assessment form encourages the students to focus on the presentations thus providing more purpose than if these elements were not included.

In the days that follow the students receive the feedback from both the tutors and the peers. The volume of feedback is considerable, given that it has been provided by up to twenty peers and two tutors.  The students are then encouraged to use this feedback along with their own experiences of presenting when writing reflections that are required after each activity.

All members of the cohort are encouraged to engage in these aspects. However, those who are most apprehensive about presenting are invited for a one-to-one discussion. Those eligible are determined by their score on the well-established Oral Communication questionnaire: the PRCA-24 which was devised by Professor James McCroskey in the 1970s. Given the complex nature of the sources of apprehension, individual discussions allow us to explore specific strategies that each of these apprehensive students might adopt as they progress through the course.

If you are interested in reading more you can access a number of presentations and articles.

Ireland, Chris (2016) Student oral presentations: developing the skills and reducing the apprehension. In: Proceedings of 10th International Technology, Education and Development Conference Valencia, Spain. 7-9 March, 2016. IATED (2016). IATED, Valencia, Spain, pp. 1474-1483. ISBN 978-84-608-5617-7

Posted by Kathrine Jensen, Research Assistant, Teaching and Learning Institute. The Teaching and Learning Institute coordinates, evaluates and disseminates inspiring and innovative teaching and learning. Follow TALI on Twitter

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‘Discover, dream, design and deliver’ curriculum design workshops

License: CC0 Public Domain. From

License: CC0 Public Domain

This blog post was written by Dr Liz Bennett, Director of Teaching and Learning in the School of Education and Professional Development and Dr Sue Folley, Academic Developer with a focus on the use of digital tools within teaching.

In this post they present their approach to curriculum design using appreciative inquiry and share the tools they have developed. University of Huddersfield colleagues can contact Liz and Sue if they want them to run a workshop.

The workshops are for colleagues at the University of Huddersfield who want to improve an aspect of their curriculum. They workshops can be adapted to a relevant theme or have a specific focus. Currently, we have worked with colleague to address the following areas:

  • employability
  • retention
  • attainment
  • students’ digital capability

We have developed a series of D4 Workshops to help Course Teams develop aspects of the curriculum. The workshop are designed around an Appreciative Inquiry model of change management which frames change in a positive way using a four stage process: Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver (Fifolt & Lander 2013).

All D4 Workshops have a time efficient starting point for the discussion, providing teams with tools to use as part of the ongoing process of curriculum review. They help to stimulate discussions amongst the course team in order to identify and address issues many of which are cross curricula. They are also:

  • positively framed (based on the appreciative inquiry approach);
  • practical and experiential (workshops are focused on four tasks relating to the discover, dream, design deliver stages of the appreciative inquiry model);
  • action-orientated (the deliver stage is about action planning).

The D4 Workshop resources can be found at The evaluation of the workshops has shown that the approach is extremely valuable to the course teams providing them with tools to aid their thinking and a focus and forum for the curriculum review process. (The direct impact on students is harder to measure as the changes that arise are embedded in the curriculum).

Quote from participant:

“It created a space and structure for us to think clearly and practically about how to enhance our curriculum and pedagogy to respond to TEF whist not losing sight of the intrinsic value of education…It facilitated us to come up with a clear and focused ‘to do’ list….It made us aware that some small changes to teaching delivery could have a big impact if handled well”


Fifolt, M., & Lander, L. (2013). Cultivating Change Using Appreciative Inquiry. New Directions for Student Services, 2013(143), 19-30. doi:10.1002/ss.20056

Posted by Kathrine Jensen, Research Assistant, Teaching and Learning Institute. The Teaching and Learning Institute coordinates, evaluates and disseminates inspiring and innovative teaching and learning. Follow TALI on Twitter

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Making student research available to the world

Fields: Journal of Huddersfield Student Research is now in its third year and potential authors are currently revising their work for publication in volume 3. The journal articles in Fields are in the University repository so it is possible to monitor the number of downloads. Looking at the download numbers for the two current volumes there appears to be ongoing interest the research carried out by the students. Volume 2 has already had more than 1,400 downloads since it was launched in January 2016.

It is important not to underestimate how much work it is for the students to return to their work, which they have submitted a while ago and possibly not considered since. One student commented on the process of revising their work.

‘It was not an easy task as I was required to alter some terminology and expand on explanations of certain topics in order to reach a larger audience. This took time, energy, and commitment but the fact that I really love what I was writing about helped a great deal. Being asked to rewrite also provided the opportunity to increase the scope of the work and engage with issues I had initially had to sidestep or ignore due to the constraints of the word count for the assignment. Again, this meant a bit more research and writing but I feel as though it was worth it.’

Writing retreat: supporting students to revise their work
In order to support students to revise their work for the journal requirements, the project team organised a writing retreat to offer students the opportunity to learn more about the Fields submission process, take time to rewrite and revise their work, introduce the idea of open access and ask any questions they might have about submitting their work.

‘The retreat was a great opportunity to refocus on my submission and to develop a better understanding of the standards expected for a successful Fields submission. Meeting fellow potential contributors to Fields and sharing the experiences/challenges in submitting to Fields was quite inspiring’

The two stage review process that Fields employs is rigorous and does require the students to engage with revisiting their work and address the feedback that they get from their School. The students, who did not make it into Fields despite undertaking revisions, were understandably disappointed. We did include suggestions for alternative dissemination options in the feedback but it was nevertheless tough for them. The students, who made it all the way through the process, were really excited about seeing their work published.

‘Having my research published in Fields has been the pinnacle of my achievements, particularly as I am a mature student working full-time with a young family. It has enabled me to finally believe in my own abilities as a writer and researcher, as well as raising my professional status in my workplace’

Read more about the process of setting up the Fields journal in a recent article:

Stone, Graham, Jensen, Kathrine and Beech, Megan (2016). Publishing undergraduate research: linking teaching and research through a dedicated peer reviewed open access journal. Journal of scholarly publishing, 47 (2). pp. 147-170. ISSN 1198-9742

Posted by Kathrine Jensen, Research Assistant, Teaching and Learning Institute. The Teaching and Learning Institute coordinates, evaluates and disseminates inspiring and innovative teaching and learning. Follow TALI on Twitter

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Collaborating and connecting in learning spaces

The Teaching and Learning Institute carried out a small scale evaluation of a new classroom named the ‘collaborative learning suite. We interviewed three members of staff, a technical manager and undertook four classroom observations between Sep 2015 and June 2016.

The classroom had been redesigned by the School of Music, Humanities and Media as part of a review exploring innovative methods of teaching delivery using technology.
The room set up features four group areas. Each area has a table with lots of connectors, a large plasma screen and all four can transfer the group screen to a central screen at the front of the room. The idea was to make it easier for students to collaborate in groups, enable them to bring their own devices to plug in and present, discuss and produce material. Ideally, the students could then spend class time on being engaged in collaborative, active, hands-on problem-solving activities. This new set up with furniture and technology differs from more traditional classrooms on campus with rows of tables and chairs.

A photo of a classroom set up

The Collaborative Learning Suite at the University of Huddersfield

Learning space: benefit of clear and tidy group layout
In the interviews, staff highlighted the furniture layout with four group areas as a real positive difference to other classrooms. The nicely clean and structured layout, regardless of the connectivity and technology in the room, meant that the ethos of the room was seen as different to other classroom spaces. The architecture of the room coupled with the autonomy of their own works stations meant that working groups were generated effectively.

One member of staff commented that the shape of the room and the lay-out was conducive to collaboration (“it is a tidy learning space”) and this was not dependent on the technology available to students. Staff considered that it was valuable the way the students worked in groups in the space but they recognised that this could probably be achieved in another space with less connectivity.

The general view was that the set-up of the spatial layout was effective in enabling discussion, an informal atmosphere and one where staff worked alongside students in a facilitator position rather than a position at the front of the room.

Connectivity and collaboration
The connectivity in the room made it possible for students to access archives and data bases in real-time whilst undertaking tasks so this was a useful feature of the learning space. Generally, the group seating (and the nature of the tasks set) contributed to students having conversations and working together to solve problems and give feedback. However, during the observations, we noted a few students did not engage in the group work or join conversations. These students only responded to direct questions from staff. The students seated in the position with the mouse and therefore more in control of the screen were generally always engaged simply by the placement they were in.

Students did bring some devices, like laptops and tablets, but the majority were working from paper, presentation print outs and making notes on paper. So for example, some students had brought a print out of a research proposal that was to be peer-reviewed which meant a lot of improvisation in order to be able to share this on a screen.

There was limited switching of group screens to central screen, mainly as staff could not get this aspect to work consistently.

Developing the habit of learning and working together
There needs to be further evaluation of how much students actually bring their devices to plug-in and showcase from. We did not collect enough data to conclude anything about the impact of the connectivity aspects of the space. Observation findings do underline the importance of making sure students feel safe and are confident enough to share, show and discuss their work with their peers. Some work needs to go into preparing students for working in a collaborative learning space, especially in terms of the expectations of what they bring to class and the device(s) they may be working on.

Staff recognised that they needed to change the way they designed learning activities in order to get the most out of the space and the findings highlight that there needs to be investment in training and engagement of staff to develop appropriate pedagogical approaches.

These findings ares similar to outcomes from research into active learning classrooms carried out at University of North Caroline Charlotte (UNC), namely that building the classroom is simply a starting point and that there needs to be investment in staff development in order to bring about pedagogical changes. You can read more about the findings in the blog posts by Associate Professor for Anthropological Research Donna Lanclos: ‘When the Active Learning Agenda Comes to Town’ and ‘Places, Spaces, Teaching, Learning, Planning‘.

You may also want to take a look at these infokits about learning spaces:

Posted by Kathrine Jensen, Research Assistant, Teaching and Learning Institute. The Teaching and Learning Institute coordinates, evaluates and disseminates inspiring and innovative teaching and learning. Follow TALI on Twitter

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Coffee stimulates student and staff conversation

The Teaching and Learning Institute logoThe Teaching and Learning Institute (TALI) in collaboration with Huddersfield Students’ Union (SU), offered students a voucher to ‘take a lecturer for a coffee’. The aim was to promote student and staff conversations about teaching and learning and is part of developing a partnership approach to the educational experience at Huddersfield. Below is the feedback from a student who made use of the coffee vouchers.

‘I found the coffee voucher incentive whilst browsing through the Course Rep Hub on the Student Union website. I thought it sounded like a great way to engage with my course tutors in a more informal environment – after all who could refuse free coffee?

My main aim for the chat was to find out more about my tutor’s PhD. The research is in the same area in which I wish to concentrate my future studies and so our discussions centered around our shared interest in the field. The discussion was extremely useful as it gave me real insight into PhD research, plus a list of relevant books to add to my already teetering summer reading.

Following the coffee and chat, I have received follow-up emails with suggestions for study and links to useful information, for which I am extremely grateful. It certainly cuts down on the library browsing time, although the reality is probably not so due to my love of library browsing.

I think that the Coffee voucher scheme certainly allowed me a reason to invite the tutor in the first place and has therefore aided my intellectual development. I would absolutely recommend the scheme to other students and I will be considering applying again soon!’

The Teaching and Learning Institute is currently evaluating the scheme to decide whether to continue it for next academic year.

Posted by Kathrine Jensen, Research Assistant, Teaching and Learning Institute. The Teaching and Learning Institute coordinates, evaluates and disseminates inspiring and innovative teaching and learning. Follow TALI on Twitter

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Peer Mentoring to engage students and support transition to Higher Education

The Teaching and Learning Institute logo

The Teaching and Learning Institute is gathering short case studies of academic practice to enable colleagues to share their approaches to teaching and learning more widely and encourage interdisciplinary and interprofessional learning.
The Teaching and Learning Institute coordinates, evaluates and disseminates inspiring and innovative teaching and learning.


In this case study, Rahema Nadeem, work placement student in the Learning Development Group at the Business School, writes about coordinating and developing different peer mentoring schemes.

Peer mentoring is an excellent way to engage new students and make them feel comfortable in a university environment. In 2014, there were only two peer mentoring schemes in the University of Huddersfield Business School: the Accountancy & Finance PALS (Peer Assisted Learning Scheme) and Business Management Mentors. Both of these schemes evolved from different backgrounds and have extremely different methods of implementation When I started my placement in the September of 2015, I was given the task of looking after the School’s peer mentoring schemes in terms of monitoring them, thinking of ways to improve them and focussing on where support might be needed to introduce new schemes.

Professor Caroline Elliott, my supervisor, asked me set up a pilot peer mentoring scheme for the BSc Economics’ first year students. The main idea was for the second year students to become peer mentors for the first years and assist them with basic academic skills such as presentations or locating university services. I spoke to Jane Tobbell, who is supporting the development of peer mentoring strategically across the University, and she provided me with the material needed to train the mentors.

Peer Mentoring training
Initially, Caroline gave me the names of second-year students who had shown interested in becoming peer mentors. We had five potential peer mentors attend training which consisted of making them aware of the extent of their responsibility as well as an ethics exercise to demonstrate at what point the mentors would need to involve me. I also explained the benefits of peer mentoring to the mentors; the main motivation for them is that they gain valuable experience that can enhance their employability as well as make their CVs stronger. Following the training, I got the list for first year students and allocated each mentor their mentees.

Supporting transition into Higher Education
The main idea behind starting this scheme was to make sure that first year students had a helping hand in figuring out their university life. I remember being a first year and not having guidance when I needed it regarding University services. University is a completely new world for students and many can learn about it more effectively from someone who has been in their situation quite recently.

A problem I observed while I was a peer mentor in my second year was the lack of communication between the mentors and the mentees. This time I resolved to make sure that this would not be a problem. In the training I made sure that this point was explicitly highlighted for the mentors. I gave them the idea of meeting their mentees bi-monthly. Caroline was happy with this arrangement and told me that she would encourage her first-years to meet regularly with their mentors.

Developing social engagement
Another peer mentoring scheme started in the Business School this year focused more on the social aspects of student life. The International Learning Development Office (ILDO) came to me with an issue: the top-up students were not coming out of their comfort zones and not progressing in their language skills. This included mostly Chinese students who were here for a year only. The department envisioned a peer mentoring scheme to enable these students to get involved in activities around campus. I suggested that we collaborate with the Students’ Union (SU) and get those students involved in the many societies that are operating in the SU. The ILDO liked this idea so I arranged a presentation on the societies with Sabrina Hussein, the VP Education and Jordan Aird, VP Student Activities. They gave a presentation on the societies available in the SU and encouraged the students to participate in the upcoming Give-It-A-Go Week. The idea behind this was to make sure that the top-up students know what exactly is happening in the university and if they have something of a particular interest they can find the relevant society, make new friends and improve their communication skills before returning to their home countries.

Communication and coordination
The main challenge in starting the peer mentoring scheme was coordinating all the parties involved. It was quite tough to find a time slot when the mentors and mentees were both free. I also found communicating effectively with the individuals involved was a difficult task as e-mails often go unread.

The next step is to develop a peer mentoring scheme for the Hospitality & Logistics department. There is currently a pilot scheme going on that focuses on one-to-one peer mentoring on a need-basis. Following on there will be other departments piloting schemes such as the Law School.

The aim will be to have peer mentoring available to all students by 2018 and thus align with the University Teaching and Learning Strategy enabling strand of achieving ‘A Safe, Secure and Challenging Environment’.

Posted by Kathrine Jensen, Research Assistant, Teaching and Learning Institute. The Teaching and Learning Institute coordinates, evaluates and disseminates inspiring and innovative teaching and learning. Follow TALI on Twitter

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MyReading: supporting student learning and library development

The Teaching and Learning Institute is gathering short case studies of academic practice to enable colleagues to share their approaches to teaching and learning more widely and encourage interdisciplinary and inter-professional learning. The Teaching and Learning Institute coordinatesevaluates and disseminates inspiring and innovative teaching and learning.

In this case study, Kate McGuinn and Penelope Dunn, subject librarians from Computing and Library Services, write about their evaluation of MyReading, a reading list system developed in-house by the Library Systems Manager Dave Pattern.


In 2015, we decided to evaluate the University’s reading list system MyReading. Following a ruling in 2014 by the University Quality and Standards Advisory Group, it is now the only medium by which lecturers are to make their reading lists available to students. It fully integrates library resources into the reading lists so students can click straight through to an item (for online resources) or the Summon record for hard copy items.  It also links into the student record system so that library staff can easily see how many students will require the items on the lists and purchase books accordingly. All academic modules are required to have a reading list in the MyReading system. Not only is it a central resource for all students looking for core readings and resources, it is also the tool the library uses to inform purchasing and collection development.

Evaluating MyReading

An evaluation of MyReading was part of the project plan and the MyReading Project Group decided to launch a student survey in 2015, 4 years after the launch of the project.  The aims of the survey were to find out:

  • the level of usage of MyReading in the different Schools of the University
  • what students think of it
  • what they would like to see change to identify next steps for development

We also wanted to evaluate a recent marketing campaign aimed at students so we asked questions to ascertain the visibility of this.  Launching a survey at this time meant we could make use of Emily Davison’s (the current marketing placement student working in the library) expertise in survey design.

Using data to target areas for enhancing student awareness and engagement

In terms of student engagement with MyReading by School, we found that while students in most Schools were making good use of MyReading in general, usage in two Schools was disappointing.  This knowledge is helping us to target our efforts to increase student awareness of the benefits of MyReading.  The analysis of two open questions about what students like and don’t like about MyReading was particularly revealing. Two findings from this analysis were that students find MyReading very useful as a starting point for research but that many find their reading lists difficult to use, either because they are too long, too short, unhelpfully structured or out of date.  Many students also highlighted positive practice in their responses to questions, praising reading lists which used section headings, annotations and a variety of different relevance levels (e.g. Essential, Recommended or Background).

There were some practical challenges which we had to deal with.  We initially decided to put the survey on the Qualtrics survey platform which appeared to give unlimited free usage.  When we reached 250 responses however, we received a message from Qualtrics saying that we would have to pay for their “Business” subscription if we wanted to access any more responses.  Thanks to the quick thinking and action of our marketing placement student, the survey was quickly transferred to Google Docs where we continued to gather responses which finally totaled 772.  The offer of being entered into a prize draw to win Amazon vouchers probably contributed to the good response achieved.

What the students think about MyReading

Below are some comments which represent some of the themes which arose from analysis of the open questions we asked.  Each of these examples was echoed many times by other students.

Positive feedback

“All the relevant texts are in one place for seminars and there are also secondary resources and resources for further research which are a good starting point for assignments.”

“Fabulous starting point provided by people who have done wide ranging preliminary research.”

“It gives you a good starting point for your research and helps you with the key theories and knowledge.”

Suggestions for improvement

A high number of these comments focused on consistency of use and organisation of lists:

“Make sure ALL course / module leaders use them. I have 2 modules this year that have no information listed. I understand that the readings for these modules are very broad but it would be helpful to have some key readings provided.”

“Some lecturers use this facility better than others. Some not at all. You could ensure each module has a comprehensive list instead of it being hit and miss depending on the individual lecturer.”

“Probably using more headings and adding a little description about the book on the page. Having tutors write a small summary of what we will be using a particular item for would be really useful for organisation.”

Many comments also highlighted the need for lecturers to update their lists regularly:

“Some of the books on the reading list seem to be either a bit dated, or standard texts. There is nothing specific and directed for certain lectures or areas of interest. They should be regularly maintained.”

For a lot of students, the issue is simply that their lists are felt to be too long which makes it hard to get started with reading:

 “They are too long so it’s hard to know where to start.  Overwhelming.”

“Some reading lists can be a bit overwhelming when they are not grouped into concise parts. I wouldn’t be expecting them to be handpicked for every lecture / assignment, but a few sub-groups would make them a little more user-friendly.”

What’s next?

It became clear to us when we analysed the data from the student survey that one way of increasing student engagement and satisfaction with MyReading was to ensure the engagement of teaching staff.  The MyReading project group has therefore put together an action plan for promoting MyReading to staff and students.  We are currently working through our objectives including creating animations and videos to promote good practice to lecturers, enhancing the training materials available to lecturers on the iPark (University of Huddersfield Teaching and Learning Innovation Park)

We are also organising dedicated MyReading Learning Bytes sessions (a series of informal one-hour lunchtime staff development sessions for all staff).

In addition, a Reading Lists and Collection Development Librarian has now been appointed to work in the Business School.  The post is funded by the Business School and will run until October 2016. The librarian, Laura Williams, has already made significant progress in raising the standard of reading lists in the Business School and promoting best practice across the School.  In addition, many of the resources she has created can be adapted for use with other Schools.

A few of the developments to MyReading which were suggested by students have already been implemented and the others are currently being considered for implementation by the MyReading project group.

To find out more about MyReading please see the latest conference presentations:

You’ll find more articles and presentations about MyReading in the University of Huddersfield Repository

Posted by Kathrine Jensen, Research Assistant, Teaching and Learning Institute. The Teaching and Learning Institute coordinates, evaluates and disseminates inspiring and innovative teaching and learning. Follow TALI on Twitter

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