Individuals adept at the Present pillar can apply the knowledge they have gained. They can present the results of their project development, synthesize new and old information and data to create new knowledge, and disseminate their work in a variety of ways. In “Tackling a Wicked Problem”, you will present your project at the end of the semester in a public event. The research that you do in this course is in the service of developing a project that actually makes a difference in the world, that has some impact on the world outside of the classroom.
You will do a poster presentation in which you discuss the project activities you engaged in and what you learned from those activities. Your instructor will provide you with the details about the end of semester public event. But you may want to present your project in other ways and in other venues. Some of the more common ways of presenting information are discussed below, but the descriptions of them are not exhaustive and remember that these are not nearly all of the options. In addition, you can often combine more than one method of presentation to highlight different elements of your findings or to reach multiple audiences.
Writing is the most established way to share your project. Benefits of writing include the ability to proofread, edit, and rewrite to get your presentation exactly right. Done skillfully, writing can hold your audience’s attention and effectively deliver information. Done poorly, it can confuse or bore your audience to the point that they stop reading. To avoid this second possibility, if at all possible, have someone read your writing before you give it to the final audience. Take constructive criticism to heart, so that your voice is clearly heard.
- Traditional Paper. One of the most common ways to present projects, especially for students, is in a short paper written as a class assignment. The way this type of paper is formatted is determined by the teacher, and is fairly straightforward. The goal is usually to demonstrate to the teacher that you have understood the topic and can draw some conclusions from what you’ve learned.
- Thesis/Dissertation. At higher levels of education, you may be called upon to write a thesis paper or even a dissertation. At this point, you are entering the realm of high level professional or scholarly expertise, and will be expected to produce original ideas and the necessary supporting research to contribute to your field. The type of writing in theses and dissertations varies depending on the subject area, but generally these manuscripts are longer and more detailed than a traditional class paper. They also use more discipline-specific language, and can take several years to complete.
- Scholarly Journal Article. Articles published in scholarly journals undergo a peer-review process (see the Evaluate chapter) to ensure that they are reliable and significant additions to the literature on a topic. If you get to a point in your research where you feel you have a contribution that others could use, investigate the possibility of submitting an article for publication, especially if your research is relevant to your intended career. It can be difficult to determine which journal to submit your article to, so don’t hesitate to ask teachers, colleagues, or even the editor of the journal if your article’s content is appropriate.
- Blog/Tweet/Other Social Media. A relatively new option for getting your information out to a wide audience is to use social media tools. If you have your own blog or website you can easily publish information about your project for the entire world to see (getting people to actually look at it is another issue, with many possible solutions). You can also use Facebook, Twitter or other tools to let people know what you’re working on and to direct them to more detailed information that you’ve posted elsewhere online. While this may seem unusual, it is becoming more and more popular for researchers to share work online as it progresses, so that other interested parties can contribute and ask questions, making the final product more robust, whatever form it ends up taking.
Presenting information verbally might seem easier than writing or terrifying, depending on your experience and personality. Ideally you will be thoroughly prepared and able to clearly explain your project, while also being able to respond effectively to unanticipated questions. It takes practice and a deep knowledge of your topic to do this—even the best speakers get flustered once in a while. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer and always offer to follow up on a question.
- Class Presentation/Speech. As with the class paper, a class presentation is one of the first experiences most students will have with verbally presenting their projects. One great benefit of this type of presentation is that you will most likely receive detailed feedback on how well it was received and perhaps even get some suggestions on how to improve your delivery. Your fellow students will also be faced with the same task and can even provide this type of feedback before the actual presentation takes place.
- Conference Presentation or Poster Session. As your expertise on a topic grows, you may want to reach a wider audience. You will also want to reach an audience that is interested in your topic. An excellent place to find this audience is at a professional conference in your field. Aside from the many other benefits of attending professional conferences, presenting at a conference will help you begin to make yourself known to other researchers in similar subject areas. Responding to audience questions will give you the chance to prove that you really know your material or, alternately, can point out gaps in your knowledge that may lead to new research opportunities. Poster sessions are a great way to get your feet wet, as your poster will be available for you to refer to and the atmosphere is not quite as overwhelming as standing in front of a full audience for a presentation.
Visual images can have an immediate impact on how your audience reacts to and understands your presentation. Choose them wisely and use them at appropriate times! You can read more about how different visualizations of information affect the way that information is received in the Visual Literacy chapter. Below are just a few brief thoughts about how you might use visuals in your presentations.
- Powerpoint/Prezi/Other Presentation Software. Powerpoint has been around long enough that most everyone knows it. For many purposes a slideshow that you speak over, or even a slideshow that is posted online for individual viewing, can succinctly get your point across. Newer presentation tools such as Prezi use a similar underlying idea but enable you to create more dynamic presentations directly online. Keep in mind that in most cases, tools such as these are meant to accompany a speaker and to use them effectively takes forethought and practice.
- Images. Images can be powerful tools to grab attention, condense information, and tell your story. Different types of images can be useful in different contexts. In an art class you may use reproductions of famous paintings or drawings, or images you’ve created on your own. In a business class, graphs and charts may be more appropriate. Just make sure the images you choose actually make your presentation more effective rather than distracting attention from your main point.
- Song. Keeping your audience in mind, don’t be afraid to present your material in an unusual manner. If you can create a song (as one example), you may make your audience curious enough to stay around for more detailed information later!
- Video. With the tools available now, it is possible to create a quality video product to present your information without extensive training or a lot of money. New online tools are constantly being introduced (and retired, unfortunately) which enable you to enter your content (words, images, video, etc.) and have it processed into a completed video in a short amount of time. Your library is also likely to have tools available for you to use to create video and audio projects, including not only the editing software, but often the video cameras, microphones, and hard drives you’ll need to create original content. Don’t hesitate to ask a librarian for both access and help using these resources. Many libraries also offer introductory courses on the software they provide to get you off to a running start.
You are an Active Agent
During the project development process, at times it can feel as if you are just collecting or repeating what others have written or done, and that your presentation is just going to repeat what is already known about the wicked problem. While this may be somewhat true, your unique experience and perspective about your project is new.
Before the advent of online tools, publishing your new information was difficult and often expensive. It was hard to reach a large audience because of the physical limitations of producing and distributing paper copies of publications. Now anyone can publish anything and make it available to the entire Internet-connected world in a matter of seconds. This means that you have a great opportunity to share your ideas and to communicate with people around the world who are interested in similar topics. It also means that you have to carefully consider what you publish because anyone, even an unintended audience, can find what you’ve published.
In addition to being able to share information freely, you also have access to tools to create and edit audio and video materials that were prohibitively expensive to create or adapt not too long ago. You can now share more interactive and engaging material with a wider audience than ever before. This is a great opportunity and a great responsibility— use it wisely!
When you begin to share your own work, you gain insight into the processes of producing and publishing information, which will help you the next time you need to find sources for a research or other type of project. Now that you know what it took for you to produce information in a given format, you know what other creators had to do to produce their work. This can help you decide which sources will be most reliable and valuable for your own research.
Presenting your information is usually considered the final step in the project development process. You tell the audience what you’ve done and what you’ve found out and you go home. However, as we’ve seen, sometimes in the process of presenting or preparing to present, you uncover new questions and need to Identify that new information need. Or you may discover that what you thought was a reliable source was not so reliable and you need to Evaluate a little more. The project development process is not linear, but a continuous cycle with various entry and exit points that change depending on your goals, topic, and methods. Ideally, for those who enjoy it, it never ends!