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Group Presentation - Carleton College

Collection Date: Fall 2007
Scholar #1 Info:

  • Name: Humanities Professor 2
  • Email:
  • Title:
  • Institution/Organization: Carleton College
  • Field of Study/Creative Endeavor: Case Study About Group Presentation Assignment

Collector Info (can be the same as "Scholar" above):

  • Name: Andrea Nixon, Heather Tompkins, and Paula Lackie
  • Email: moved to restricted page
  • Title: Director of Curricular and Research Support
  • Institution/Organization: Carleton College


The scope section is provided by the collector, with input from the scholar(s), and attempts to estimate the scope of the group that performs the processes described: How broadly do the practices described in this story apply to others in same field, in related fields, etc?

  1. This case study is centered on a group presentation assignment type which is commonplace in the scholar's field.  Students in this case study were assigned to two- or three-person teams and asked to make presentations about a species in Carleton College's Arboretum. Students worked with maps of the Arboretum, met with the manager of the Arboretum, did research in consultation with a reference librarian, and made first-hand observations of their species where possible. Students drew on "fact and objective material" and first-hand observations to produce "creative and imaginative" 12-minute oral presentations. Groups additionally produced two-page handouts including a bibliography. The group presentations were made at the end of a 10-week term. This
    is the professor's second iteration of the assignment.
  2. Both the faculty member teaching this course and all students enrolled in the course participated in this exercise.  This assignment is an example of a faculty member relatively new to working with visual materials prompting students to find, access, create, interpret, and present images.  The professor is open to working with other faculty members in other fields for whom it is commonplace to work with visual materials and to evaluate student-produced visual modes of expression.
  3. The intended audiences are faculty members using film/video creation assignments and students enrolled associated courses.  Group presentations are a common assignment type.  Any guidelines or resources for students completing similar assignments or for faculty members creating them would potentially be of broad use.
  4. NA
  5. It would be helpful to create a forum in which faculty members could compare approaches to creating assignments, identifying potential sources of institutional or consortial support, and ways of evaluating student work.


Please provide some keywords that will allow us to group or cluster related stories--or aspects of stories.

1. Was this story collected for a particular Bamboo working group?  If so, please include, as keywords, the appropriate group(s).

  • Education
  • Institutional Support

2. Suggested keywords: Does this story contain elements that could be mapped to these keywords?  If so, please indicate which ones.  Add any additional keywords in #3. 

  • Consider
  • Discover
  • Engage
  • Interact

3. Please list additional keywords here:

  • Assignment 
  • Teaching
  • Learning
  • Evaluating Student Work
  • Discussion Forum
  • Group Presentation

4. Related Stores: Are there parts of the story that related to other collected stories? Please provide title(s). 

This case study is one in a series of four case studies designed to answer the question: Are the sources of support that Carleton College provides well suited to the work demanded of students and faculty as they make curricular use of visual materials?  The full research report which contains both the case studies and associated survey research is available at: "Curricular Uses of Visual Materials: A Mixed-Method Institutional Study."


Please include the text, documents, media, or other material which comprise this story
(eg. "self report", "questionnaire", "ethnographic interview")

Notes on Methodology:

The courses that served as the basis for the case studies — all taught during the Fall Term of 2007 — differed in the degree to which students were expected to find, access, create, interpret, or present visual materials. Each case included interviews with the faculty member, conducted at or near the time in which he or she was grading the completed assignment, and with five students, conducted after they had documented their work on the targeted assignment. The interview questions for faculty members as well as the location logs and photo survey that provided the basis for student interviews are included in Appendix A of the full research report.

Staff members conducted the interviews with the faculty participants. A group of five student researchers conducted one-on-one interviews with the student participants. Two student researchers and the study lead transcribed the recorded interviews and coded the interviews within the qualitative research tool Transana. The coding scheme employed in this study is included in Appendix B of the full research report. Each case was analyzed through a co-listening/co-viewing exercise that included a student researcher who had transcribed and coded the case, two support staff members new to the study, a staff member who was part of the research design team, and the project lead.

Case Overview:

The group-presentation assignment required two- or three-person teams of students to make presentations about a species in Carleton College's Arboretum. Students worked with maps of the Arboretum, met with the manager of the Arboretum, did research in consultation with a reference librarian, and made first-hand observations of their species where possible. Students drew on "fact and objective material" and first-hand observations to produce "creative and imaginative" 12-minute oral presentations. Groups additionally produced two-page handouts including a bibliography. The group presentations were made at the end of a 10-week term. This is the professor's second iteration of the assignment.

Faculty Perspective:


The emphasis of the assignment was on gathering and presenting information about a local species. The faculty member did not give the students specific guidance in terms of their work with visual materials. The professor identified five criteria relating to uses of visual materials for the class presentations: coordination of spoken and visual materials, pacing and coordination of the presentation, clear presentation of images, aesthetics, and citation of images. (See Table 2.5.)

The professor considered the students' use of images in five ways. The first criterion related to the degree to which images were integrated with the presentation and handouts. Second, the professor considered the degree to which the images students selected were engaging and drew the audience's attention to the topic of the presentation. Third, the images were required to be in focus and appropriately sized. Fourth, the professor assessed whether the images were cited appropriately, particularly on the group's handout. Finally, the professor considered whether the presentation itself was appropriately paced. In some instances, groups timed and automated the advance of the slides and were out of synch with the presentation.

Table 2.5: Case 2 Faculty Criteria



Coordination of visual
with presentation and

The most effective ones, I think, were the ones in which the
graphic or photographic tied in both with their handout and what
they were talking about.


... there should be aesthetic criteria for interesting, engaging
pictures of the species or of habitat that really draws your eye to
what they are showing. Some of the stuff seemed a little random.
In most of the presentations there was be maybe a third of it that
was visually arresting and then a lot of filler.

Images in focus and
appropriately sized

Obviously things in focus, on maps, maps shouldn't be too small.
Information should be readable when it is projected.

Citation of images

There was a lot of stuff that was clearly taken off the web. They
didn't always have citations about where it had been taken from.
But they should have citations on the handouts.

Pacing and coordination
of presentation

Some of them were on a kind of slide show mode, and the
pacing wasn't always in sync with their oral presentation. They
wanted slides to come up at particular moments and I think that's
something that they need to work on more.

Materials or Tools Available to Students

Previous to the students' work on this assignment, the professor used the work of John James Audubon to demonstrate the use of compelling images in engaging representations of species. The professor identified limitations in the quantity of visual materials used early in the course "so there wasn't too much [for students] to draw on." The professor felt that students might benefit from "more advice" on effective uses of visual materials but noted that this was an area in which "I am sort of learning myself as I go along with it." Curricular uses of visual materials represented a relatively new challenge for the professor and students alike.

Support Arranged by the Professor

The professor arranged for the manager of the Arboretum and a reference librarian to assist students in gathering information about the assigned species. The professor noted that none of the students in the course asked for support in creating their presentations. "I'm not sure where they got this. Either they knew it already or one of the two of them knew it already. Again, the focus was on the gathering of research information ... So no, there was no instruction on how to organize the visual material that they were going to use." It was unclear to the professor how students came to know how to create their presentations.

The professor reflected on the students' uses of visual materials. While a number of groups' presentations were successful in their use of visual materials, the professor recounted questions and issues that came to mind during some of the presentations.

... for many more of them, do they try and crowd too many images together? Are they organized in a way that your eye knows where to look? If there are multiple images ... and there might be six or seven things crammed into one slide, it's too much to take in. [Did the presentation have] that sense of organizing things in a way that allows the information to be conveyed more clearly?

While some students in this course successfully completed the assignment, others may have benefited from additional help working with visual materials in support of their creation of the group presentations.

Important Findings

The professor identified five ways in which the College could support curricular uses of visual materials. (See Table 2.6.)

The first two suggestions related to providing opportunities for faculty members to learn about current and potential uses of visual materials. The professor suggested that faculty members and students demonstrate projects that have incorporated the visual. The professor thought that this would be of particular value to faculty members who are new to making these kinds of assignments. The second suggestion was to give demonstrations of effective uses of classroom technologies available in the classroom in which faculty members are assigned to teach.

The remaining three suggestions related to the nature of the resources required to work with visual materials. The professor noted the importance of simplifying the classroom technologies necessary to work with visual materials and ensuring that the technologies available are reliable. This was considered particularly critical given the relatively short class sessions (in some cases 50 minutes) at Carleton. When technologies were used to display images, it was important to the professor that they feature the professor's selected images rather than dedicating portions of the display's real estate to an operating system or software applications. Finally, the professor preferred that presentations the professor made be easily moved to other computers and available for subsequent uses. While there are other presentation tools available for image collections, the professor has continued to use PowerPoint because it meets these criteria.

Table 2.6: Case 2 Faculty Suggestions in Terms of Institutional Support



Presentations for faculty

The most important thing is to have presentations by other
faculty members who have used visual materials and, if
possible, have them bring in some examples. Or, maybe,
have students who have done projects for them in class
present their projects ... . Because that's the way I really
learn. ... [It] is much more helpful than trying to imagine
them yourself when you don't have a lot of experience."

Show faculty what is possible

I think that there's also more that could be done in showing
faculty how to use what's in particular classrooms, rather
than us saying, "... this is what I want to do. You show me
how to do it." Maybe just a couple of sessions. They could
just be voluntary but I know I would go, to see how to use
the full range of what's there.

Importance of classroom
reliability and simplicity

I'm interested in the use of visual materials, but [I] really
only want to use them if ... I'm not going to have technical
problems, which does still happen more than I like. And
[specific support organization] is great but making things as
simple as possible in the classroom is critical ... our classes
are so short.

Make sure tools foreground
visual materials, not the

I want only a full screen, I don't want any toolbars or
anything that distracts me from the image. ... That is very
important for me to not have anything about the computer
or the hardware showing. ... That is something that I want
to master.

Portability and durability of

The wonderful thing about PowerPoint is that I come up with
a slide presentation and then it's always there on my machine.
And so, I just put it on a thumb drive and bring it to class.
I want to make sure I'll be able to save those presentations,
after I've put a lot of work into creating them ....

Student Perspectives

Student researchers interviewed four student participants enrolled in the course that required the group presentations. A fifth student dropped out of the study. The interviews were semi-structured and covered the photo surveys and location logs submitted by the student participants. Students were asked to select from a range of five specific prompts to take photos relating to their work on the assignment, five about their experiences on campus in general, and to log the location and time of day of each of their work sessions associated with completing the assignment. All of the participants were in their junior year.

How Do Students Engage the Carleton Campus?

All four students described the places on campus in which they typically worked or where they chose to work on the group presentation. In some cases students stated their rationale for choosing these specific locations. In terms of favorite study locations, all four students described their preferences. Students 1 and 3 described favorite computers on campus that are relatively isolated. Respectively, they were a computer in an office in which the student works and one in a
station in a Center for Mathematics and Computing (CMC) computer lab at which the student has a view of the Arboretum. Student 1 noted a limitation in using lab computers, the "'you can't be sure that you're going to get that computer when you come back' kind of thing, unless you stack a pile of books there like everybody does." Student 2 typically worked at home.

Two student respondents described avoiding florescent lighting as a criterion in either their living environment or work spaces. Student 2 noted, "one of the reasons I didn't like living in the dorms is florescent lighting." A theme present in Student 4's photo survey was that of lighting in a variety of workspaces on campus. When using a computer lab this respondent went to the Geology Department because it is "one of the few computer labs on campus that gets sunny ...
and has windows ... it's a smaller computer lab which makes it feel a lot less industrial than the library and the CMC." When in the Gould Library this respondent works at "any of the tables with little lamps [which] are much nicer than any of the rooms with giant fluorescent lights." "It's a balance between energy and making an atmosphere that's nice to work in because ... I mean, probably these kinds of lights are much more efficient but also extremely depressing. And so, if there were some places--not like all places--that had computers or whatever but had individual lamps instead of that, I would definitely go work there." Student 4 worked through the photo survey and came into the interview with specific concerns and opinions about lighting in student-accessible work spaces on campus.

The presentation assignment required students to work in groups. Student 2 and his/her classmate worked in the library where they could have two computers facing one another in order to discuss resources they found on the Internet and also have access to print materials. This student made specific mention of using JStor in addition to Google's Image Search and print materials. Student 3 also worked in Gould Library and found a spot with a computer where his/her group could practice the final presentation: "somewhere we could be and wouldn't be distracting people by talking." Both respondents who reported locations in which they worked with other students identified Gould Library as their selected location.

Forms of Support

Three students described their use of institutional resources in terms of acquiring images for their presentation or of using PowerPoint. Student 1 described using a scanner to digitize sketches and using PowerPoint for the presentation. This student noted, "we didn't use that much technology" for the presentation. Student 3 also described using the scanner, specifically the one on the fourth floor of the library, noting the helpfulness of the instructions posted at the scanner.

In terms of information sources, Student 2 described his/her group's decision to rely on Wikipedia rather than biological texts that would have described the species about which his/her group was presenting. "We find out the basic information, just how big it grows, what it's habitats are on Wikipedia and little things like that. We didn't want to get too intensely scientific because a) we probably wouldn't understand it and b) just wouldn't have time to go through all that information. So, I guess in that sense biology books wouldn't have been that helpful. But they might have, and we kind of just avoided [them]."

Both Students 1 and 3 described using Google's Image Search. The former first noted surprise at using Google as a research tool and then described the Image Search as a "fabulous, fabulous resource for images." In these two instances, one student reported avoiding scientific information because of the potential for complexity and a high volume of information, and a second endorsed the use of Google Image Search as a source of images for that group's presentation.


Student respondents noted a number of issues that presented barriers to completing the group presentation assignment: ambiguity in the assignment as it related to group and individual work, lack of familiarity with available tools as well as the required time to learn them, and trouble manipulating digital images. (See Table 2.7.)

Students 1 and 2 commented on two aspects connected to ambiguity of the assignment. Student 1 noted that his/her group experienced difficulty coming up "with a consensus" about the presentation. The student didn't fault the professor for this but rather thought that the problem was the fault of the student group. Student 2 noted his/her own delay in working on the group presentation assignment resulting from initial ambiguity about the nature of the presentation. This student did observe the species and consult with the manager of the Arboretum when the assignment was initially described.

Students 1 and 4 made specific mention of their lack of familiarity with some of the software available to students. Student 1's comments reflected on efforts to lay out the two-page handout for the group presentation. Student 4 described not knowing how to use available software that would have enabled him/her to edit images for the presentation. Students 3 and 4 both noted difficulties they experienced in manipulating images for their presentation. Similarly, Student 1 described having a sense that she/he might have asked for help in using Adobe Illustrator but not having time to do so.

Table 2.7: Case 2 Student-Identified Barriers



Ambiguity of
assignment while
working as a

... In a sense we didn't really know exactly what [the faculty member]
wanted from us. There was so much information on [the species] and
we didn't know whether he/she wanted us to focus primarily on the
literary aspects ... or if he/she just wanted facts... . It was a 10-minute
presentation and so it's like how much do you try to jam into 10 minutes.
I don't think that's [the professor's fault], I think that that's the fault of
our group, that we couldn't really come up with a consensus of what we
wanted our presentation to be. [Student 1]

Ambiguity of
assignment at
individual level

When [the professor] first assigned it, it was probably like the fifth week,
but [she/he] had left it pretty vague, but [she/he] has assigned us our
species and we talked to [the Arboretum manager] and [she/he]he pointed
out where to go find it, so I went out and looked at it a first time, just kind
of briefly to know where it was so I can know to go back there and stuff,
so I started about fifth week, but all I did was went out and look at it, and
didn't really do any research until a couple weeks ago. [Student 2]

Lack of
familiarity with
available tools

... We used Photoshop to cut corners and all that sort of thing. And we
were going to use Adobe Publisher but it really ended up being a lot more
work than we wanted. Like Publisher is this great resource but if you
don't understand it, you can't use it. And so we ended up using Microsoft
something else that was just kind of point and click kind of thing.
[Student 1]
None of us knew how to use Illustrator. There was this great resource that
we could have used in these Adobe products, but we couldn't because we
didn't know how. [Student 1]

There were a couple of images that we couldn't get to copy into
PowerPoint for some reason. We were able to get it into Windows, but not
to Mac. So, I don't know what that was all about. [Student 3]

Another technology that I could have used but didn't ... because I feel like
it would be cool if we were doing a group project to actually have pictures
up there and be able to work with them for either PowerPoint or Photoshop
or something. ... I don't really know how, at all. [Student 4]

Just trying to manipulate what we finally got scanned in kept showing
up like if it had been actual size it would have been six feet wide or
something. ... It was really hard to work with.[Student 4]

Lack of time to
learn tools

If we wanted to do something with Illustrator or something like that then
we could have asked somebody, but we just didn't have time. [Student 1]

Other Important Findings

Student 3 highlighted the importance of instructing students about the presentation technologies available in the classroom. One prompt in the photo survey asked students to take a picture of something they consider to be "high tech." In the interview, Student 3 talked about the presence of data projectors on campus. "You don't realize how accessible it is until you get up there and look at the little box [a touch-screen system controlling classroom technologies], and it pretty much tells you what to do, but making the fact that information is really accessible to students hasn't really been done." This comment points to the potential importance of providing students, in addition to faculty members, with instruction in the uses of classroom technologies.

A second important finding came from compiling student respondents' time of day spent working on the group presentation assignment. The four student respondents logged a combined total of 43 hours and 15 minutes on this assignment. Of this time, 18:30 was logged during the standard business hours of the college. A total of 2:45 occurred before noon and 15:45 occurred between noon and 5:00 p.m. The majority of the time students logged for this assignment, 24
hours, took place between the hours of 5:00 p.m. and midnight. Students reported spending only 45 minutes on this assignment between the hours of midnight and 5:00 a.m. In this particular case, over half of the hours students logged on this assignment took place after the standard business hours of the College.

Additional Observations from Co-Viewing/Co-Listening Exercise

An analysis group comprised of a student, three staff members, and an administrator reviewed the materials associated with this case. In the process of interpreting this case, the group considered ways in which the institutional support available at the College might be enhanced or refined to further support this kind of curricular work. The group made a number of specific recommendations.

In terms of supporting the work of faculty, members of the analysis group made a number of comments that amplified the professor's observations. First, academic professionals should be available to consult with faculty members in identifying kinds of support relevant to a given assignment. This would entail that the College provide both faculty members and academic professionals with opportunities to learn about the kinds of support available across support organizations. The group identified two ways of supporting these kinds of conversations: creating a database of support available at the College and clustering the Web presence of support organizations that provide services germane to curricular uses of visual materials.

A second and related set of recommendations concerned the coordination of support of academic assignments. This coordination could come at several levels. In cases where an assignment would benefit from support from multiple staff members, the group discussed the importance of exploring the potential of having multiple support staff members meet with a course at a given time. Whether one or more support people is needed, it is important that the faculty member identify the source(s) of support to the class and highlight the relevance of that support to a particular assignment or to the course as a whole. Ideally, faculty members would introduce academic support professionals to their class. Finally, it is important for members of academic support units to tailor the services they provide to the assignments. In order to do this, it would be helpful if faculty members shared their assignments with academic support professionals. The College should consider making an online tool, with limited access, available for faculty members who are willing to share assignments. Where appropriate, the College might
also consider making available exemplary student work as models for current students.

Members of the analysis group resonated with the professor's comments about creating fora in which faculty members could discuss assignments and have discussions with students about their own experiences completing assignments using visual materials. The group also discussed the importance of providing workshops that are tailored to assignments rather than tools. With regard to this case in particular, the College should provide workshops on creating effective presentations rather than on working with PowerPoint or other presentation tools. Such workshops would be of particular value to students.

Finally, the analysis group discussed ways of communicating with members of the Carleton community about available resources. One specific suggestion was to create posters for residence halls. Regardless of the specific means of communication, the group identified the importance of emphasizing how support services relate to a student or faculty member's own work.


The group-presentation case study served as an example of the ways in which the College might support the work of faculty members relatively new to working with assignments that use visual materials. While the assignment prompted students to use visual materials, neither the course nor the assignment were centered on this activity. This case provided insights into the dynamics of one such assignment as well as suggestions on how the College might provide more effective support in this type of scenario. Support for faculty members should include opportunities to discuss the design of new and existing assignments and coordinated support services as well as reliable and unobtrusive technologies. These additional forms of support should complement existing efforts.

Whether student support is to be made available as part of a class session or as a series of independent workshops and associated resource materials, the College should consider how best to provide students with the support and expertise to find, access, edit, and present images as part of larger assignments. Support for students should be available during the times of day in which students tend to work on their assignments. Additional support for students in this case would entail a set of clear guidelines for making effective presentations as well as training in the use of tools and equipment currently available to students. Consideration should also be given to lighting in study areas.

The analysis group had a series of suggestions that related to identifying appropriate sources of support for a given assignment and the importance of coordinating sources of academic support with the assignments faculty members are giving students. The group reiterated the professor's suggestion to create fora to facilitate discussions about creating new assignments or reworking existing ones. Increased coordination and communication would allow academic support organizations to tailor and communicate support services more effectively.

Links to Activities