A Virtual But Captive Audience: Student Presentations in an Online Environment

Online learning offers flexible tools for a wide variety of interactive learning techniques. Student presentations can strengthen the feeling of community and engagement in an online course. Here I describe two possible approaches to effective presentations.


Approach #1: In Real Time


There is no reason why students could not present their original work using Zoom or other virtual conferencing platforms. At ViaX, my workshops typically end with student presentations.

The setup is quite similar to a regular in-class room presentation. If slides are used, either the student or the instructor shares the screen. The student then presents, just like they would in front of a class. Other students can ask questions either using the chat function or by speaking after the presentation is over. Here the chat function is very useful because it allows the instructor to control the timing of questions.

For effective virtual presentations, the standard rules apply. Students should share their slides well in advance and practice at home to ensure they finish on time. Unless the group is very large or students have privacy concerns, I do recommend asking students to have their video on so that the presenter’s experience mimics a regular presentation as much as possible.

The primary challenge with this mode is internet connection. If the connection is weak, the presenter may have difficulty getting their message through. This could be a big problem if there are many students and limited time.


Approach #2: Recorded Presentations
Given that almost all computers and smart phones now have recording software, students could also record their presentation. This approach can be powerful because it avoids any issues with connectivity. Class time can be used for genuine interaction in the form of Q&A and discussion.

But recordings present their own challenges. Students may need software with some kind of editing or voiceover capability, so that they can show slides while speaking. Such software may not be available to students, unless it is provided by the university.

Recordings also miss an important learning opportunity. Virtual presentation is surprisingly similar to an in-person presentation, as it requires keeping the audience’s attention and behaving in a natural yet organized manner.

How to Choose?

For me, real time is the way to go when the student group is small, there is enough time for presentations, and internet connectivity is good. It is an important skill for students to learn, and there is no reason why online learning would not offer this learning opportunity.

But if the student group is large and internet connectivity is bad, I would explore ways to use recorded presentations. The issue of video editing would be on top of my mind, as I would look for ways to support my students and ensure an inclusive experience for everyone, regardless of prior access to technology.


About the Author

Johannes Urpelainen is the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Professor and Director of Energy, Resources and Environment at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (Washington DC, USA). He is the Founding Director of the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy (ISEP). He serves as a senior advisor for ViaX Online Education, a a Beijing-based learning and education company.


Johannes Urpelainen works as a senior advisor for ViaX Online Education. The views presented in this blog are the author’s alone.