Stimulating the Participation of the Audience in Student Presentations

Contact: Richard Stead
Leeds Metropolitan University
Published January 2004

Leeds Metropolitan University has long had the practice of students' giving presentations, singly or, more often, in groups. These are normally assessed. This note describes certain issues which arose and how they were (successfully) addressed.


The presentations considered here were given by foreign graduate students on an economics-based unit of an MA course in International Business. They were worth 25% of the marks, which were awarded for a balance of aspects like content, communication skills and group-working skills. Two issues around the presentation were immediately clear: first, attendance fell markedly - students who had given their presentation stopped coming, and, second, those who came gave no sign of learning from the presentation. They took no notes and asked no questions.


My feelings were of disappointment and I decided to set out my expectations. These were that presenters should experience the stress – the rush of adrenaline of having (up to) forty pairs of eyeballs turned in their direction. Second, audiences should learn from presentations - even though the presenters were fellow-students, not the academic. More abstractly, my view was that presentations were a collective product, generated by all parties - presenters and audience. An presentation without an audience was, for me, like tennis with the net down. The challenge for mew was thus to devise a system of assessment which encouraged this behaviour.

From previous experience in the University, I knew that the insititution had a policy of not demanding attendance per se. I also knew, however, that tutors could demand attendance when they had academic reasons. I decided that I had academic resons for demanding attendance.

The model that I adopted was as follows. Presentations (traditionally-defined, i.e. addressing fellow-students on a selected topic) were to count for 20 marks out of the 25. As before, this came from a balance of aspects like content, communication skills and group-working skills.

Two innovations were introduced

Five percent were given for questions. Students were to work in teams after a presentation to create questions for the presenting team. Questions were written down and submitted to the tutor. They were graded good / OK / poor and got marks 2, 1 or zero accordingly. Some questions were then posed to the presenters at the start of the next class.

The second innovation was to keep a record of attendance not for the whole semester but for the six weeks during which presentations were given. Each student thus had a score out of six. Scores were divided by six to give a factor. People coming every week had a factor of unity while those who came three times had a factor of one half. Each student's marks for the presentation plus questions were added together (maximum of 25) and then multiplied by the attendance-factor.


Someone getting 60% for presentation plus 40% for questions gets 12/20 plus 2/5 gives 14/25.

They attended, say, for five weeks out of six: 14 * 5/6 gives 12/25. In effect, absence cost them 2 marks.

Experience after using once:

  • In terms of attendance, stunning success. Nearly all the students came nearly all the time - a stunning improvement! In fact, of the fifty students, 44 came every week and all but one of the others missed only once. One student missed three of the six weeks.
  • In terms of learning from the presentation, success but room for improvement. Audiences wrote good questions but these became formulaic after a few presentations. When teams found a way of framing questions, they tended to repeat it with only minor alterations in the following weeks.
  • Administering the attendance-factor: this proved challenging. Record-keeping had to be top-quality and I was called upon to decide between legitimate and illegitimate reasons for absence.

Improvements for next time

  • All students to be allowed to miss one of the six weeks without penalty. Thus attending five times would give a factor of one not 5/6. Had I done that last year, every student bar one would have got an attendance factor of one.
  • Presentations are also to be given not in the main lecture (to 40+) but in seminar-groups of 20. This makes keeping registers of attendance more manageable.