Concerns About "Teaching" at Professional Conferences

Baron Perlman and Lee I. McCann
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

 

Abstract

Faculty, as "students," at professional meetings, expect high quality "teaching." We obtained their peeves about the "teaching" they received at conferences and found concerns across the teaching spectrum. These concerns can serve as guidelines for presenters to improve the quality of their presentations and pedagogy.

 

 

Concerns About "Teaching" at Professional Conferences

Most efforts to improve teaching involve undergraduate and graduate instruction. But other pedagogy, largely ignored in the literature, occurs when we teach and learn at professional meetings and conferences. How might this teaching be improved? Brookfield (1995) argues that we do not really understand the outcome and impact of our teaching, nor how to improve it, until we ask students how they perceive our pedagogy. Asking undergraduate students their pet peeves about faculty teaching is one example (e.g., Perlman & McCann, 1998). We used this technique with faculty in the role of "student" attendees at professional psychology forums. Their opinions should prove useful for any presenter interested in enhancing the quality of their conference "teaching."

Method

Participants

We surveyed attendees at a state (N = 29, response rate = 100%), regional (N = 78, response rate = 63%), and national (N = 400, response rate = 12%) teaching conference and colleagues at two doctoral and two master's departments (N = 18). One hundred forty-one responded; 134 contributed usable data.

Procedure

All attendees responded individually during one session at the state teaching conference. At the regional meeting we distributed a brief questionnaire to all participants to be completed and returned before the conference ended. At the national meeting an announcement indicated a questionnaire was available at the registration desk and could be returned there. We also distributed questionnaires to faculty in our own department and asked colleagues to do the same in three other departments.

Potential participants were told:

"We are interested in the quality of teaching that takes place at conferences. What are your pet peeves (major dislikes and annoyances) about conference workshops, symposia and other presentations you have attended over the past few years (e.g., APA, APS, NITOP). Take a few minutes and write down your two or three major pet peeves about such presentations. What bothers you or annoys you the most?"

Results and Discussion

Respondents provided an average of 2.0 pet peeves (SD = 0.70, Median and Mode = 2). Table 1 categorizes 265 responses in four categories: preparation and content, style and rapport, managing time/ audience/questions/interchange, and visual aids. The six most frequently listed concerns fall across all four categories: poor rapport with audience (n = 33, 12%), illegible visual aids (n = 30, 11%), presentation too long or starting late (n = 21, 8%), disorganized presentation (n = 21, 8%), lack of congruence between titles/abstracts and content presented (n = 19, 7%), and little or no time for questions/interchange (n = 19, 7%). Balance seems important. Attendees complained about both too much and too little material, some audience members monopolizing or too little opportunity to participate, and so forth.

Preparation and practice are important as few presentations exceed one hour, and there is little if any opportunity to correct deficiencies, a process we call "one trial teaching." We recommend that conference "teachers" keep in mind that attendees have often traveled long distances to hear them, often choosing not to attend attractive concurrent sessions. In looking at many of the concerns, we conclude that "less may be more." Attendees can always read in depth, contact presenters, and continue their learning after the conference. First, however, they need a clear, concise presentation of the important issues, and they expect to obtain this through quality teaching at the meetings they attend.

References

Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Perlman, B., & McCann, L. I. (1998). Students' pet peeves about teaching. Teaching of Psychology, 28, 201-203.

Notes

1. We acknowledge the assistance of conference attendees and our colleagues. This article is based on a poster to be presented at the 2002 Annual National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology, St. Petersburg Beach, FL.

2. Address correspondence to Baron Perlman, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Oshkosh, WI 54901; e-mail: Perlman@uwosh.edu.

Table 1

Audience Pet Peeves About Conference Presentations

Na
%b

______

______

Preparation and Content

Disorganized (e.g., no outline or summary, no themes or content integration, no take home message)

21
8

Title/Abstract do not accurately describe content

19
7

Lack of content (e.g., too much intro/small talk, audience generates content, use of icebreakers)

17
6

Content choice (e.g., too high/low or technical, expertdoes not share expertise, lack of depth, conclusions not supported by data, no theory, too theoretical, no examples )

16
6

Handouts (e.g., too few, incomplete, irrelevant)

14
5

Unprepared presenter/discussant

10
4

Too much material

8
3

Total

105
40

Style and Rapport

Poor rapport with audience (e.g., reading verbatim)

33
12

Speaking style (e.g., monotone voice, boring, no enthusiasm, no humor, talks too fast or slowly)

18
7

Lack of respect (e.g., pompous, arrogant, talk down to audience, not approachable, do not send promised materials after conference)

8
3

Total

59
22

Managing Time/Audience/Questions/Interchange

Run too long, start late

21
8

No/little time for questions or interchange

19
7

Not managing audience well (e.g., audience "experts" pontificate, muddy issues, audience comments take too much time)

11
4

Not repeating inaudible questions

3
1

Total

54
20

Visual Aids

Illegible (e.g., print too small)

30
11

Too much on overheads/slides/PowerPoint

8
3

PowerPoint: too fancy, distracting

5
2

Other (e.g., no visual aids, struggle to use technology)

4
2

Total

47
18

Total

265c

______________________________________________________________________________________

a Attendees (n = 134) usually gave more than one peeve per category. Responses represent number of peeves, not attendees.

b Percent = number of responses/total number given.

c Total percentage may not equal sum of item percentages due to rounding.

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