Preparing for Final Exams, The Sound of Silence

Last week, I asked my students in my 200-level “Creativity on Demand” course “how will you prepare for the final oral presentation to ensure it is professional?” You could have heard a pin drop. Hmm, I wondered, why were they all looking at me, but no one was responding? I waited the requisite 8 seconds and asked the question again. Crickets, nothing! Has this ever happened to you?

As you prepare your students for final exams, final presentations, and final projects, we can consider that sometimes the way that we ask questions can pose a challenge to undergraduate students. Trying to begin a discussion with a question that has “correct” answers can cause concern for students who do not want to look badly in the eyes or their peers. In this circumstance, students may wait it out until the instructor provides the answer to the question themselves. Something I did to my chagrin!

To solicit greater feedback, I could have asked the class something that they have all experienced. In my example above, perhaps I could have asked “what pitfalls have you seen that have made a presentation unprofessional?” Asking the question in this manner allows students to draw on experiences not necessarily central to themselves. I could have also written a concept on the board and asked students to suggest examples, either verbally or in small groups. For example, I could have written the words professional presentation on the board and asked students to suggest examples. This would have provided a wider option for responses rather than a very limited set of correct answers. Lastly, I could have asked the students to relate to examples of professional presentations (and unprofessional examples) that they may have read about in previous course materials. In this manner, students would have drawn on previous course material to think about their future presentation.

Next time you hear the sound of silence to a question that you pose, perhaps consider a different way to present the question to the students. I certainly will!


Sara Marcketti, Interim Director
Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Full Teaching Tip

View the published CELT Teaching Tip: Preparing for Final Exams, The Sound of Silence (April 12, 2018 – Constant Contact) website.

Prefer a Print version?

To view the Teaching Tip as a printable document with web addresses, download the Teaching Tip April 12 (PDF)