Last week it was my pleasure to take part in the Edinburgh University MSc in digital education dissertation festival, where I presented a summary of my research findings. (Updated abstract now lives here BTW.)
I found that preparing for, and taking part in, the dissertation festival helped me in a number of ways.
First of all, condensing down my argument into a few bullet points on a handful of slides really helped me focus in on what I was trying to say. There’s nothing like the thought of presenting to an (invisible and geographically dispersed, but no less ‘real’) audience to make you wonder if your definitions of key terms are discursively expansive or just hopelessly woolly.
The organisers asked us to go one step further by writing a haiku, which felt a bit like cramming a herd of elephants into a phone box. I think in my case the process was more useful than the product, but here it is anyway:
A tool or a spur;
an old tree, a new veneer.
Useful? It depends.
The second benefit was the feedback I received on my presentation, which translated into improvements to my dissertation during the editing phase – e.g. talking more directly about the importance of assumptions about exams, and providing more information about the types of online exams that participants were describing (while protecting their anonymity).
Thirdly, the other presentations from fellow students and tutors provided helpful tips about the writing process, such as the importance of structuring and signposting, not losing sight of your specific focus and stating explicitly why a quotation is important rather than letting it make your point for you.
If I was doing the presentation again I’d probably make more use of individual examples or quotations from the data to make a handful of points, rather than trying to race through everything in ten minutes. But my dissertation should be stronger for the experience of preparing and presenting my findings, and getting feedback on them.