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The Massive Classroom

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?

July 8, 2013 at 4:41 PM

Speech prep — in class so big you have to peer-review speeches of others

Matt McGarrity's lectures are being sent to computers around the world. (Photo by Ken Lambert)

Matt McGarrity’s lectures are being sent to computers around the world. (Photo by Ken Lambert)

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?

Comments | Topics: MOOC, public speaking

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