University of Washington senior lecturer Matt McGarrity is teaching an online course on public speaking to tens of thousands of people around the world this summer. How’s he doing?
September 16, 2013 at 10:48 AM
Matt McGarrity’s free online class on public speaking, offered through the University of Washington and Coursera, ended earlier this month. I wrote about it for last weekend’s paper, but McGarrity had so many other things to say that I’m going to finish up the blog by wrapping up with these observations:
On classroom civility: We’ve all seen how open threads on websites can turn nasty in a hurry when participants are anonymous, and McGarrity was especially worried that this might happen during the peer review process, when students reviewed each other’s speeches. But as far as he knows, everyone remained civil, and students tried to be helpful and constructive. “No one was mean,” he said. “Out of thousands of people around the globe, no one was mean. That’s a major global breakthrough right there.” He doesn’t know why people were on such good behavior, but perhaps it’s because everyone was in the same situation: You couldn’t peer-review somebody else’s speech unless you had submitted one of your own.
His other worry: That people would consider the class a waste of time. That didn’t happen, either. Many students wrote him to express their gratitude for being able to take the class for free.
The class’s composition: While the class had a very international flavor, it was still dominated by U.S. students, who made up 21 percent of all participants. There was a smattering of students from all over the globe — 6 percent from India, 4 percent from Brazil, 4 percent from Australia, 2 percent from Germany, 5 percent from the UK, and on and on. Interestingly, 50 percent of the class already held a master’s degree or doctorate. “A lot of people were using this as professional development.”
What he would change: The class will be offered again for free starting Jan. 3, 2014, and McGarrity is going to redo the first few weeks of lectures — he thinks they could be better. He’s also going to suggest that students who are worried about privacy, but want to submit a speech for review, should simply cover the camera, or record only audio.
Who was impressed: McGarrity got a call from a group of climate scientists who have invited him to the University of Bergen, in Norway, to do some public speaking training. “Here’s another opportunity — a group facing real public speaking challenges. The more I expose myself as a teacher to these varied situations, the more people I’m helping, the more I’m learning.”
What he’ll do with his material: With hours and hours of recorded lectures, McGarrity can now change the very nature of his physical classroom. He can “flip” it, or have his students watch his lectures outside of class and then make the class more practice-oriented. And McGarrity now has a wealth of examples. “So much about good teaching is having lots of examples. Well, my storehouse of examples has exploded.” There’s also talk of putting the lectures on edX, another online MOOC platform.
More on why MOOCs should not substitute for the classroom experience: In the story that ran in Sunday’s Seattle Times, I wrote that McGarrity didn’t think MOOCs would ever replace class time because of the thorny issue of cheating. But there was another reason that was a little too complicated for my limited print space, and it has to do with how universities decide whether credit should transfer for a course taken at another university. McGarrity said those decisions are usually made at the departmental level; for example, if a student took a public speaking class at another college, the Department of Communication will look at the outline of that course and perhaps even call the professor before deciding to grant credit. At some schools now, college presidents are making those decisions about which MOOCs might earn a student credit, and “when you’ve got presidents signing deals, you’ve totally changed who’s making the decision about what counts, and what substitutes for what.”
My experience: No, I didn’t watch every lecture, and I didn’t submit all four assignments; I just did three of them. I never watched week 6, and ran out of time to finish week 10 (although apparently they are still available, and I may finish up later this week). But McGarrity was reassuring on that score. He said that he designed the course to be modular, so that students could watch whatever part of the course most interested them. He couldn’t get away with that for a math or science course, but it worked for speech.
Only one of The Seattle Times readers who participated in our MOOC-blogging experiment responded to my last email, and he didn’t finish either. He blamed it on the glorious summer weather we had this year — who wants to watch a computer screen in Seattle when the sun is shining and the mountain is out?
But I really did enjoy the experience, and I’m looking forward to practicing what I learned. I also just started another MOOC — on Beethoven’s piano sonatas, presented by the Curtis Institute of Music on Coursera.
August 20, 2013 at 8:49 AM
One of the things you learn in an online course on public speaking is how to evaluate a speech. If you want to become a better public speaker, it’s helpful to understand why some people are so good at it, and others are not.
But if your fellow students deliver an awful speech, how do you tell them?
It’s week nine of Matt McGarrity’s “Introduction to Public Speaking,” the free course offered by California startup Coursera and the University of Washington. This week, we have a deadline to grade our peers on the latest assignment, an informative speech.
McGarrity has talked for several weeks now about how to arrange a good informative speech, then evaluate how well others do at the job. With thousands of people talking the class, and posting their own examples of speeches on YouTube, the only way to evaluate and grade all the speeches is for students to grade one another. So-called peer review is a staple of many Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs.
So I began clicking through the speeches assigned to me; they’ve been posted privately on YouTube and then linked to the course’s website. Four speeches awaited my review.
Student #1 offered a sales pitch, not an informative speech, for a particular product. The speech was laden with jargon (“implement congruent procedures,” for example), and promised an “amazing return on investment…risk-free…100 percent free trial!”
An informative speech can certainly be about a product, but this one didn’t meet a number of the criteria. I gave her two thumbs up for her confidence and knowledge of the subject, but a much lower grade for most of the other elements of the speech.
Student #2 stood stiffly in front of the camera, mumbing his words in a monotone. Although he was the only one of my four peer-review students who sounded like a native English speaker, he was perhaps the least comprehensible. And he was young, perhaps college age.
How could I tell him in a constructive fashion that I thought his delivery was flawed? I gave him high marks for knowledge of his subject, but suggested that he think about pacing, pausing, gestures and movement — all elements of a good speech, as we have learned in this class. I also suggested rehearsing in front of a video camera, since I believe that has helped me.
Student #3 was brimming with confidence, and while his speech was a little too jargony, he was pleasant, dynamic and organized. Perhaps because I’d struggled so mightily with the other two, I gave him high marks.
Student #4 was also confident, although her speech resembled an encyclopedia entry rather than an actual speech. She looked like she was in high school, and was filming while sitting on her bed; at the end of the speech, a door opened in her room and she slammed the computer shut, so she did not give a conclusion.
I gave her a good grade for being passionate and interesting, but suggested that she do a better job of writing and arranging her speech.
I’ve never given much thought to a challenge that educators must face all the time — how to fairly evaluate a student when they are struggling with an assignment. Sending the right message, without demoralizing the student in the process, must require a lot of finesse.
August 13, 2013 at 5:47 AM
“If you’ve gotten busy and not been able to keep up with the course, this is a perfect time to reconnect,” lecturer Matt McGarrity wrote last week in his post to students taking his online class on public speaking.
Why, yes — how did you know?
Even before I headed out of town last week, I was running about a week behind on the free online class taught by McGarrity, of the University of Washington. I thought I could catch up, but while on vacation in New York, I lost WiFi access and fell further behind.
Only about 10 percent of participants complete MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, like this one. But McGarrity has done something smart here. He explains in his message: “I tried to record each video as both part of a larger curriculum and as a stand-alone unit. I hope you are using the class as a resource, mixing and matching the video lessons as you see fit.”
With that in mind, I decided to jettison the 15 lectures in week six (for now, anyway), meet the deadline for submitting an informative speech on YouTube (which I did, with about an hour to spare before the submission deadline), and start trying to catch up with weeks seven and eight, which are about preparing persuasive speeches.
I also had a moment to go back and look at how my peers in the class graded me on my impromptu speech. Peer reviews form the basis of the class grade: I used YouTube to upload a recorded speech, and three classmates reviewed my speech and gave me a grade. I did the same for three other people (not the same people), and I also completed a self-evaluation.
My peers were very kind; they gave me better grades than I gave myself. But they also seized on the same weaknesses I had observed in my self-evaluation — I needed to use better gestures, and the second point of my speech overlapped a little too closely with my first point.
One of my peers wrote his response to my speech entirely in Spanish, which was unexpected. I know enough French to be able to get the gist of written Spanish, but it was helpful to copy and paste his comments into Google Translate for a better translation.
I take it as a good sign that we all agreed on the weaknesses in my speech. Before I took this class, I’m not sure I would have zeroed in on gestures or noted the overlap between points of a speech. We’re learning something here.
August 5, 2013 at 7:04 AM
Several other higher education reporters have taken a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and written about the experience, most recently Justin Pope of the Associated Press, who took a class through MIT on global poverty:
Wrote Pope: “I learned more than I expected, and worked harder than I expected.” He found that it takes real self discipline to make yourself keep up when you’re taking a free course that offers no real credit. I’d second that observation.
Pope noted that even the biggest MOOC backers think the courses may be most effective at supplementing, not replacing, traditional courses. I’ve had that same thought myself as I’ve worked through public speaking. Especially for people who struggle with public-speaking jitters, this course might serve as a kind of prerequisite, or introduction, that would give them some skills to draw on and make a “live” class less intimidating.
Pope’s economics course was graded on his answers to multiple-choice questions.
“I never went through the thought process of examining disparate evidence, weighing it, synthesizing and articulating an argument that to my mind should be part of any course,” Pope wrote. That should be part of any college course, he argued, and it’s why an education based on MOOCs would be incomplete.
Of course, this public speaking course is all about articulating ideas, at least for the purpose of making a speech — we’re not synthesizing material about public speaking, of course; we’re creating speeches from unrelated material. But the practice and peer review component of the public speaking course is what makes it unlike the other two MOOCs I’ve taken, and has made it more interesting and also more challenging.
July 26, 2013 at 11:37 AM
One of the criticisms often leveled at MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, is that people who sign up for them often have no staying power. By one count, as many as 90 percent of those who sign up for a free online university class never finish it.
Several weeks ago, we asked Seattle Times readers planning to take the University of Washington online course “Introduction to Public Speaking” if they were interested in giving us their feedback. More than 80 people expressed an interest. We picked 20 who seemed especially committed.
This week, we had only two active participants.
What to make of this? Perhaps the stakes are so low for signing up that it’s easy to drop the class. Maybe after five weeks of videos, participants decide they have learned enough. Perhaps it dawns on people that after hours and hours of work and study, no credential will come of it.
But on to the week’s work. We’re nearly halfway through the class, and I asked our participants how taking the course online might differ from taking it in person. Often, UW senior lecturer Matt McGarrity tells us to do a quick little practice of a speech – an introduction, for example – while sitting at our computers. If we were in an actual classroom, our failure to participate would be obvious. Not so online.
I’m taking most of the course at work, so I can’t start rehearsing at my desk. Ching Yee Wong, a communications professional with Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific, admitted she too, doesn’t practice often – and certainly not when she’s catching up on viewing assignments in a public setting, as she often does.
James Ehrmann, a higher-education professional from Bellevue, also rarely practices in response to McGarrity’s prompts. “I’ve talked about my participation in the course with my wife on multiple occasions, but always find myself alone when I’m actually going through tutorials. If, perhaps, I were completing online sessions with others in the room, I might be more likely to practice with the promise of immediate feedback from peers.”
Our second speech assignment was to do an impromptu speech and upload to YouTube. If we were taking the class at the UW, we’d be doing our speeches in front of small groups of 15 students, led by a graduate student.
Wong didn’t upload a speech to YouTube. She wrote: “While the presentations improve my understanding of the theoretical structure for different public speaking approaches, it is easy to let things slide in a distant-learning class and avoid ‘homework’ aka applying this new knowledge to the practical sessions. Also I do wish to receive feedback for my practice videos from a credible source instead of a peer who may not be well-versed in the nuances of public speaking.”
Ehrmann finished and recorded his speech, but didn’t upload it because he missed the deadline. Still, he was generally pleased with the way the performance went. “The examples (in the video lectures) were helpful and I found his lectures to be valuable – I took quite a few notes that I will likely reference in the future.”
Wong wrote: “I definitely think as a student enrolled in a proper ‘live’ class, I’ll be absolutely more focused and diligent with the practice sessions and the course as a whole, But from the perspective of a working professional-mother where time is of essence, I signed up for the MOOC because it offers a flexible learning environment.”
And Ehrmann noted that while the online forum is perhaps a more comfortable platform for introverts, “it provides a false sense of security, in my opinion. Nothing can replicate human contact and immediate feedback from peers (even if in-person peers are dishonest in their verbal feedback, you’re still able to glean their facial expressions and physical reactions to your speeches) and I think that’s why ‘live’ classes are more rigorous and certainly, by extension, more valuable.”
July 22, 2013 at 9:11 AM
The speech was so painful to watch that it made my toes curl.
Three weeks into the online class “Introduction to Public Speaking,” University of Washington lecturer Matt McGarrity introduced us to a vivid example of what failure looks like.
The video clip he used featured a man testifying at a public hearing who completely, dramatically, embarrassingly lost all ability to string together a coherent thought in midsentence. For a few seconds, the speaker couldn’t breathe. (As a reporter who has covered many, many public hearings, I found the speaker’s meltdown all too familiar.)
For many people – certainly for me – overcoming public speaking apprehension is the key to this class. And this type of spectacular failure is probably at the root of my fears.
So how do you avoid a meltdown? There are no magic tricks here, McGarrity explains; a lot of the work involves practice. He’s advised us to learn how to speak conversationally to the audience instead of using a prepared text, visualize yourself doing well and learn good breathing techniques so you don’t run out of oxygen mid-sentence.
With all this in mind, I videotaped my first real speech. Perhaps the biggest revelation was that I wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. (This is not the same as saying I did well, but I wasn’t awful.)
I submitted my speech to my fellow classmates through YouTube, and next week I’ll get their feedback. But after listening to McGarrity’s lectures, I can see a few obvious problems with my delivery.
I discovered – to my surprise – that I occasionally paused in the middle of a sentence, rather than at the end. That’s an annoying habit, but it’s also one I can easily fix.
I need to do a better job of projecting my voice. I need to slow down when I reach key phrases, and I need to be more purposeful about gestures and movement.
If I’d been taking McGarrity’s public speaking class at the UW, I would have performed my impromptu speech in front of a group of about 14 other students, led by a teaching assistant. But recording my own speech with a video camera, then going back through my notes and thinking about how I sound, was a useful practice.
July 15, 2013 at 12:15 PM
A global audience of students has now finished the third week of “Introduction to Public Speaking,” the free online class being offered by the University of Washington. We decided this week to check in with senior lecturer Matt McGarrity, by email, and find out how the course is going from his side of the computer:
Q: How is the MOOC going so far, from your perspective? What’s working well, and what isn’t?
A: It’s been great! Exhausting, but great. I have been amazed at how kind and generous the students have been. I regularly correspond with students through email, Twitter and Facebook. I have had nothing but positive experiences and interactions. People (at least those who reach out to me) are just tremendously appreciative.
In week one, there was a discussion forum thread that emerged talking about my speech rate (generally fast) and gestures. The thread quickly turned into a fascinating global discussion about intercultural practices and expectations around public speaking. The introductory speech was amazing. It was a huge opportunity to just catch a glimpse of the rest of the world. I am a bit flabbergasted that thousands of people recorded and uploaded a speech for discussion.
I have been surprised at how much the students have taken the content and made this experience their own. As a teacher, I try to shape the student experience, but here there are simply too many people and things going on. As I wander through the course online, I’ll find people setting up practice groups in their native languages, discussing wildly divergent topics. Stuff I never would have anticipated, but somehow the course content prompted it.
As for what’s more of a challenge? I spend a lot of time on the discussion forums. The way Coursera set up the forum platform is difficult. There’s nothing to do about it on my end. But there are pages upon pages of threads with 2-5 posts. I hop around the forums and speak where I can, but this forum structure needs pruning.
Q: How many students are actively participating, and are more still signing up? Is the breakdown between U.S. and non-U.S. students still about 25-75, or has it shifted?
A: At last count, over 112,000 people have signed up for the class. Of those, 72,000 are classified as active students (having visited the site), under half of those were active within the past week. People are still signing up for the course daily, but the numbers have dropped off. Though the enrollment will stay open for another couple of weeks, I think we’ll end the course at around 120,000 total enrollments. (You can still enroll here.)
The last check on the survey maintained these results. I don’t have dynamic access to these demographic numbers. I’m basing my percentages here on the 20,000 people who filled out my basic informational survey. And yes, the U.S is only 23.5% of the 20K who filled out the survey. India is around 10%
Q: How does the MOOC differ from the way the live class itself is organized and run? I ask because in week 3 – and I think a few times in week 2 – you ask us to take a few minutes to prep an impromptu, or mumble an outline, or stop right now and perform an introduction. When you are running a class at the UW, do you do this as well?
A: That’s directly from the class. I actually think that works well for this material and for a MOOC. I work on the assumption that only a fraction of the enrollees will record and post their speeches. But I can probably get far more people to actually practice. The course material (especially the impromptu) is easy to have people do quick run-throughs. I like to isolate a concept, discuss it and have people practice it. This is how I teach public speaking generally, and I think it translates well to an online environment (I just can’t check to make sure students are actually doing it).
July 10, 2013 at 11:08 AM
This summer, students from around the world are learning public speaking the way it’s taught at the University of Washington. For Seattle Times readers taking “Introduction to Public Speaking,” global participation is yet another unique aspect to taking a class online.
About three-quarters of the students who signed up for the course live outside the U.S.
Is learning hampered when all the speech-making has to be done in English – a second language for many participants?
Perhaps. Although colleges are always looking for ways to expose students to other cultures, James Ehrmann isn’t sure that can be replicated in a digital environment.
“The traditional challenges these interactions present (language barriers, different social/behaviors norms) are exacerbated in an online environment,” wrote Ehrmann, a higher education professional from Bellevue. “In an online environment, the type of class may matter more (indeed, language barriers make a speech class more difficult than a calculus class where the primary medium is numbers, not words); however, communication will always be important regardless of the subject.
“I would not go so far as to suggest that the large number of non-US residents in this class detracts from my experience, but I will say that it is likely to prevent me from being as active of a participant in discussion forums,” he wrote.
But perhaps the global nature of the class is an advantage. Sandy Malone thought it was “helpful and realistic.”
“Life has a global reach so hearing others from around the world and providing feedback is helpful for both the listener and the speaker,” said Malone, of Mukilteo, a district governor for Toastmasters International.
Some technical difficulties are holding a few students back – they’re having trouble posting their recorded speeches to YouTube, the platform we’re using to upload and review each other’s speeches. But most of our reader-participants still went through the exercise of producing an introductory speech.
“I’ve written speeches before and read them out loud, but I got more out of recording my speech and then watching/listening,” wrote John Enger, who’s also a Toastmasters governor and lives in West Seattle.
Ken Dammand, a political activist from Tulalip, also had trouble with uploading to YouTube, but he did record a speech, and he found that “an informative experience in and of itself,” he wrote. “Most of us are our own harshest critics but the lectures draw one’s attention to particular aspects of the presentation that might otherwise not have been seen.”
Said Ehrmann: “I do think the repetition and reward of going through a process from an initial idea to a six-minute speech was ultimately helpful in retaining information.”
July 8, 2013 at 4:41 PM
One of the challenges of taking an online speech class with tens of thousands of other students is getting practical feedback from your peers. As I completed week 2 of “Introduction to Public Speaking,” the free online course being offered by the University of Washington through Coursera, I got my first glimpse at how we’ll go about reviewing each other’s speeches.
Peer review is an important part of many Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Since McGarrity can’t review all of the thousands of speeches submitted, he’s equipping us to evaluate our fellow students and give them feedback.
I reviewed five student speeches, randomly selected for me. My students came from Hong Kong, China, India, Brazil and Jamaica. That’s not surprising, since at least 75 percent of the students taking the introductory speech class are tuning in from outside the U.S.
Now, this was a simple one-minute introductory statement so we could become comfortable with recording and posting to YouTube – not really what you’d call a speech. And it was fascinating to have a brief peek at the lives of people living in countries I have never visited before. Most of the students recorded their speeches in their homes or apartments; Amanda, in Jamaica, did hers while sitting at a beachside café. Talk about a glimpse into another lifestyle!
But three of the speakers were clearly struggling for the right words in English. I can’t imagine how challenging it would be to attempt a speech in a foreign language. Good for them.
As the course goes on and the speeches become more challenging, I wonder how the non-native-English speakers will fare with more complex topics. Will that have any effect on my ability to learn from my peers, or will this make the experience richer and more meaningful?
July 2, 2013 at 5:35 PM
We’ve just finished the first week of classes in the University of Washington’s Introduction to Public Speaking MOOC, and the class is settling in nicely. The students have found their virtual desks, learned how to play the video lectures, and tackled their first weekly quiz and (optional) practice speech.
For the dozen or so Seattle Times readers who are taking the class with me, senior lecturer Matt McGarrity is earning solid marks at this point, with everyone enjoying his rhythm and delivery. And the ability to start and stop a lecture, or watch all of them in one sitting, has some distinct advantages over the traditional classroom.
“So far, so good!” wrote John Enger, a West Seattle resident who’s taking the class to prepare for a year as governor of the Rotary Club’s King County district. “I like the way I control the tempo and the timing of the lectures. For me to hear Matt, pause the presentation and write down what he’s posted on his PowerPoint, and then to continue playing the lecture is a terrific way for a person like me to learn. I see, I hear, I write and later read at my speed…wish college had been like that.”
Ching Yee Wong, a communications professional with Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific, thought there were too many videos, but appreciated that they were cut up into short segments. “If it were a traditional straight 1-hour lecture, I would have fallen asleep on the couch,” she wrote.
And Jason Schumacher, who runs academic programs at a software company, was pleased that he could catch up to all the lectures after a busy week of traveling.
Several students said they enjoyed McGarrity’s conversational, natural style. That was one of the important points I took away from the first set of lectures – the difference between a communication orientation and a performance orientation. Adopting a communication orientation means using a minimal outline, interacting with the audience and adapting to the situation. McGarrity says that if you practice and become comfortable with the method, it’s a much safer way of delivering a speech than trying to recite from memory. And it sounds more natural and conversational than reading a written speech.
“Too often, you come across a dull scripted, heavily edited and/or glossy presentation,” Wong wrote. “Matt practices what he teaches in an honest way and he explains why, because in a given public speaking situation, you will not be able to stop, rewind and restart. Even though he may ramble at times, endearingly so, his presentations are structured to optimize the intake of information, one digestible clip at a time.”
James Ehrmann of Bellevue, a higher education professional, had a similar reaction. “It is comforting that Matt frequently says ‘um’ or has moments where he loses his train of thought – it validates his assertion that public speaking should reflect the personalities of the speaker and puts participants at ease. If the professor isn’t perfect, how can we expect to be perfect?”
A few of us ventured into the discussion forums and were overwhelmed by the number of conversations going on. It was fascinating, but not very helpful.
“The discussion forum is way too chaotic to venture into with multiple threads on the same topic,” Wong said. “So far I’ve only been a passive reader – there’s a finite amount of time and I’m going to be selective with what I want to venture into.”
“Given the amount of students, I was overwhelmed as to where to start,” Ehrmann said. “There were hundreds of discussion threads detailing the intricacies of each speech and I wasn’t sure that I would be able to contribute anything to the conversation – much less get any useful feedback from peers. This confirmed an initial suspicion that I had about MOOCs: if there were 19 other students in this class, I’d likely participate. With thousands of students, the incentive for me to share my ideas is diminished.”
At the end of the first week of lectures, McGarrity invited us to post simple introductory speeches for peer review. Some of our readers recorded a video for review, but others haven’t. (“Just need to work up the courage,” one student said.)
Rene Stratton, who is taking the course to learn how to avoid hitting “choke moments” when doing public presentations, found that posting a video was unnerving. “Although we are not speaking in front of an audience,” she wrote, “hitting the submit button to post the video of your speech where it can be viewed over and over again requires a large shot of courage.”
Wong thinks the course is off to a promising start, and she believes you’ll only benefit if you put in the work – that is, “complete the practical tasks diligently without cringing during playback, develop a solid thick skin and post up your videos for all to view and critique. And then pray hard that your workmates or friends will not find your videos online and circulate them or play them at public events. Oh the irony.”