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5.2 Presentations

Part of the Handbook chapter on Seminars

Presentations are a useful way in which to combine the learning and assessment of subject-specific knowledge and the key skills that students are required to learn as part of the undergraduate degree programme. Thus the processes involved in a presentation – gathering information, editing material, looking for relevant sources, working in a team and communicating ideas effectively to others – are all skills that can be developed through a presentation exercise. Also, requiring students to work through subject-specific topics in the form of a presentation leads to greater understanding of a given topic.

Seminar presentations can be student-led or lecturer-led; the content and structure of the presentation can be decided on by the group or influenced by the seminar leader (in terms of topics, format, structure, visual aids, etc.). Either way it is best if the seminar co-ordinators engage in the process of seminar presentation preparation with the students and offer guidance throughout the session. Where the presentation forms part of the unit assessment, the seminar co-ordinators then need to provide feedback that will enable students to improve on their presentation skills when they repeat the exercise in another module.

Presentations linked to examination questions

Students give a presentation in the seminar session which is not assessed but which links directly to a question in the final examination. The case study below is used in an international trade policy module, but could be adapted for use in any undergraduate economics unit/module.

What is the purpose of the exercise? The purpose of this exercise is to encourage students to develop subject-specific and transferable skills through the organisation, writing and presenting of a presentation on a subject-specific topic. It is also the intention of the exercise to motivate students by linking the presentation topic to a final examination question that is worth 25 per cent of the student’s final grade for that unit.

How is it integrated into the curriculum? Students are provided with a common piece of reading, generally a document from an official organisation, although a relevant journal article or a series of newspaper articles would serve the same purpose. Students are then asked to select a country, collect some data on economic indicators for that country during a specified period, and develop, with a partner, a presentation that:

  • identifies specific trade policies in a particular country during a specified period;
  • provides a critical analysis of the economic indicators relating to that country during the specified period;
  • identifies changes to trade policies that occurred during the specified period;
  • identifies the changes to certain economic indicators following the period of study;
  • explores the degree to which there is a link between given trade policies and changes in economic indicators for that country.

Students prepare this material and then present their findings with the use of appropriate visual aids. Following the presentation, other students in the group are encouraged to ask questions and provide feedback on the work that has been presented and the presentation style. Feedback is also given by the seminar leader, and students take this very seriously as they are aware that a question on the presentation topic will appear in the final exam. Students are therefore eager to receive feedback that will enhance the quality of their discussion.

Feedback. The feedback on this exercise is excellent for two specific reasons. First, all students are using the same source material (in addition to independently collected data). Students tend to find the project interesting in and of itself, but they often comment that seeing how other students have interpreted literature and data, and presented information, is interesting because it is directly relevant to their own work. Thus they relate particularly well to the material being presented, as they have been working with similar data and the same literature and have generally encountered the same types of problem in their attempt to reach logical conclusions. Ensure that you provide helpful feedback to students, and perhaps encourage them to evaluate their own performance for a given exercise. This helps them to engage in the process and feel positive about the learning activity used.

Top Tip

Prepare a feedback sheet for each session with details of all areas of the activity that are to be assessed. Students also appreciate some information about what would earn a low, medium and high grade in the assessed activity.

Secondly, students comment that the link between the presentation and the final exam question motivates them to give a strong and well-researched presentation. Thus the students know that the more work they put into the presentation, the better they will do on that particular examination question, and the lecturer feels satisfied that a high level of preparation has gone into at least one exam question that will be answered by all students. Students also feel that the feedback on the presentation from the seminar leader is invaluable in adding strength to a question that will later count towards their final unit/module mark.

Next in the handbook chapter: Case studies and group debates