Eight years ago, Stanford’s Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education established an award in my name for students’ multimedia presentations growing out of their 2nd Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) course, taken in their second year. I am still astonished and humbled when I remember the day of this announcement—for once in my life, I was absolutely speechless!
Now these awards are very much a part of the fabric of our Program, and though I am retired I look forward to this occasion every year, when I get to meet the year’s six winners and hear some of their presentations. It has been instructive and inspiring for me to see how much the student presentations have improved over these years—and that means, of course, that our instruction has improved. When we first started teaching “multimodal composition,” we were making it up as we went along. But now there’s a robust body of literature on the subject and students everywhere are getting into the action. This year, I was particularly impressed with the students’ use of slides, which was minimalist in that the slides were understated but so much more powerful for being so. One student’s presentation focused on research he had done on how Stanford students spend their time, using interviews, surveys, and observations to determine that, while students regularly declare themselves to be “crazy busy,” they in fact have more time at their disposal than they realize. In some of his interviews, students found that with a little mindset adjustment they even had time to read for pleasure. Another student’s research focused on the My Lai massacre and the attempted cover-up. Again, she used photographs sparingly but powerfully: in this case, one picture was indeed worth a thousand words. In every case, the student presenters were poised and perfectly at ease. While the presentations did not seem “memorized,” none used notes of any kind, nor did they rely on their slides to guide them. Rather, they spoke as what they clearly are: experts on their subjects!
I compare these presentations to those from some years back (like these: The LOPRA Awards!) and am impressed. PWR has archived all these presentations, and so I’ve enjoyed going back through the years and comparing. For these students, the oral/aural mode is one they embrace, as does our curriculum and our program in general. As a result, all of us are much more aware of ourselves as speakers, as presenters, as performers—than we were even a decade ago.
Here are some of the winners and a very happy member of the audience!