Enhancing oral presentation skills of engineering students: Technology to the rescue with the Virtual-i Presenter (ViP)
Engineering graduates are faced with solving increasingly interdisciplinary and complex technical problems in a competitive world that requires clear communication and presentation skills. To this effect, oral communication skills should be considered an integral part of an engineer’s formal education. Many engineering departments, however, are currently experiencing a growth in enrolments which is translating to larger classroom sizes. Unfortunately, this is impacting on the ability for students to acquire oral presentation skills because in-class oral presentations can take over limited lecture or lab time which is needed for other critical technical material. To tackle this problem and improve presentation skills, a program called Virtual-i Presenter (ViP) was created. ViP allows students to create, review, and evaluate oral presentations using a webcam and a PowerPoint presentation outside of lecture time and still receive peer and academic feedback. The program has NO video or audio editing capabilities and thus the presentation becomes closer to how live presentations are given. ViP features a system to evaluate presentations, enabling the presenter to receive both technical and presentation skills feedback from peers and lecturers. ViP was successfully tested in classes of 19 natural resources and 78 civil engineering students. Survey results showed that students repeated (practiced) their presentations 4 to 6 times on average before submitting their final one. This is significant because most other students within the department will do less than 3 oral presentations during their academic career. By students being able to “see and hear” themselves present, it made them aware of their oral skills or fallacies and motivated them to enhance presentation skills by practicing more. The survey also showed that student’s overall experience with ViP was positive. As commonly as a lecturer currently asks students to write a report, lecturers can now also assign an oral presentation using ViP. Segments of ViP presentations can be discussed in class to highlight good and poor presentation techniques. Since ViP oral presentations are saved in digital format, students can learn from previous years presentations. Live presentations can not and should not be substituted fully; however, ViP enables students to become better prepared for when they have a chance to give a live presentation.