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From charades to videos: Communications students demonstrate their creativity

David Newman and Roman Onufrijchuk

David Newman (left) and Roman Onufrijchuk encourage their students to try new approaches in their presentations.

How do you encourage student engagement in tutorials? For David Newman, a teaching assistant over several semesters in Roman Onufrijchuk’s CMNS 210 Media History course, part of the solution has been an emphasis on creativity – specifically, his students’.

Newman typically divides his tutorial students into groups of three. The groups take turns making presentations based on research questions provided by Onufrijchuk. The same questions form the basis of the course mid-term, creating an incentive for students to attend tutorials and prepare thorough responses. But Newman also informs his students that creativity will be an important element in their assessment, and many have responded with unique and memorable presentations. Some groups have employed skits complete with costumes. Other presentations have involved charades, games, and interview formats. One group created a video complete with hand-drawn illustrations to present the evolution of the earth in eight minutes.

Lindsay Pasichnyk, who took the course last fall, says that although presenting wasn’t new for her, the emphasis on creativity was.

“David really encouraged us to try new things,” she says. “Being marked on our creativity kept our minds engaged instead of falling into a routine of doing the same thing that we did last week just to get it over with.”

She feels that the emphasis enhanced her learning experience: “Because we had the opportunity to try out different presentation styles that may seem too risky to try in other classes, I gained a better understanding of how I present best and what works or doesn’t work when teaching or presenting in front of others.”

She also thinks the approach improved her knowledge retention: “If I think back, I could list things off the top of my head that I learned from that course. I certainly can’t do that for other courses.”

Caitlin Hill, a fellow student, agrees: “If groups present [content] in a unique way, then you are more likely to remember what they said or what the point was.”

Roman Onufrijchuk likes Newman’s approach because of its connection to the course content: “It’s taking the discipline seriously – not just learning about communications, but applying it.” Onufrijchuk also likes the opportunity it gives him to assign material that can’t be covered in lectures because of time constraints for discussion in a peer-learning environment.

Of course the TA still has an important role to play. Newman notes that he corrects and supplements the presentation content where necessary to ensure that students receive all essential information. However, he is pleased with the engagement they have shown and the learning that has resulted.

“Tutorials have become fun events that students look forward to,” he says.

Newman welcomes inquiries and conversations about his experience. He can be reached at dbnewman@sfu.ca.

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