Comparing face-to-face and online active learning experiences
Elevator pitch: (LUMSA)

Brief description of method

Communication skills are very important for any kind of job. In different ways, they are important both for future teachers and for students of scientific disciplines. This is why we carried out specific pilots in two different courses, one for pre-service teachers and one for future Nutrition scientists. During these experiences we tested the Elevator Pitch, a quick persuasive speech that is used to create interest in a project, a concept, or people.

An elevator pitch is meant to last the duration of an elevator ride, which can vary in length from approximately 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Therefore, the main focus of an elevator pitch should be making it short and direct.

Usually an “elevator pitch” is a short, verbal presentation during the recruitment process intended to focus on the candidate’s education, skill set, background and interests. In Higher Education this method can be used as an activity to summarize the most important information from previous classes and present them to other people in the class, in the form of a short speech.

How it was implemented face-to-face

The first pilot was carried out in November 2019, face-to-face, at Lumsa University, in a new branch of the University which was opened some years ago in the South of Italy, Palermo. The course involved was a pre-service teacher training course, Metodologie didattiche delle attività motorie e sportive (Teaching methodologies for motor and sport activities). During this course students need to learn how to teach the basis of sport. Furthermore, they have to know how to create games with their kids in the classroom; they have to know how to communicate effectively with their kids and how to manage a group.

The idea of using the Elevator Pitch was aimed at offering students a more engaging activity in order to facilitate deeper understanding and, by consequence, memorization of what we have done in previous lessons with the empowerment of their Critical thinking ability.

Moreover, through this method, the teacher wanted also to potentiate teamwork and personal skills because these skills are very important for future teachers.

We made this experiment at the end of the first “module” of the course that was about theoretical information of motor activity, sport activity, student safety during sport activities and life skills.
They had to select the most important topics presented during lessons and present them in the little bit of time of the Elevator Pitch. This is an important way that leads them to reflect critically because they have to review everything they remember and then decide what is important to say, trashing irrelevant secondary information.

The activity has been developed in two different phases: in the first one, students are asked to develop an elevator pitch individually summarizing what has been explained in the last lesson while, in the second, the elevator pitch was made by a small group of students synthesize the first “module” of the course (6 lessons). Each group designed a short presentation with summaries of the most important information from the previous module that they study. Each group of students chose a temporary leader, who presented their results in a form of “elevator pitch” not longer than 5 minutes.

The individual elevator pitch has been recorded and videos were uploaded in the Google classroom page of the course. Then we commented together on some randomly chosen videos.

How it was implemented online

The second Pilot was carried out during the pandemic lockdown, in March 2020, with first year students of Science of Nutrition at Campus Bio-Medico University in Rome. The course, called Teaching and Communication Methodologies, is chosen by students on a voluntary basis, i.e. it is among the optional courses that they can choose and normally 80-90 students attend it. The main idea is to equip students with those skills they need in order to successfully enter the job market and communication is one of the most important, according to different researches (for example, Flynn et al., 2012).

Among the different activities that we propose in this course, the Elevator Pitch is one exercise that we already used to do in the previous years, after a specific communication training.

The activity begins with a brainstorming with students, discussing the reasons for writing and practicing a formal speech. Then we introduce the basic element of a speech: the opening, the body and the conclusion. I then provide some “tips” in order to make those parts more effective.
After this part, we ask students to think of a subject or an issue that they can present in two minutes (120 seconds) in order to produce an elevator statement, or elevator pitch, i.e. a short summary to quickly and simply define a product, service, or organization and its value proposition. This part begins with a brainstorming to answer the question: “What makes a good elevator pitch?”
We then present some basic rules and provide examples of Elevator Pitches (from International Competitions).

The students have one week time to produce a storyboard, record a video and upload it in a shared folder. During the following lesson I provide feedback and we comment together some of the videos.
In the previous years, we used to have some students presenting their speech in presence. This year, due to the lockdown, we couldn’t perform the activities in presence and we decided to create a peer-assessment activity, using Moodle Workshop, in order to allow students to see some of their colleagues’ video and give them some feedback.

Comparison between face-to-face and online modalities

It was not difficult to adapt these activities for the online transitions, since many activities – particularly in large classrooms – were already carried out using technologies: for the recording of the videos, the uploading of them in Google Classroom, in Moodle or in a Dropbox folder.
Nevertheless, the challenge was to find an effective way of sharing the speeches (the recordings) and, furthermore, help students reflect on them. This is why we decided to use a tool of Moodle, Workshop, in order to foster peer assessment and reflection on the activity.
Each student submitted his or her own speech (recording) and the assignment was then reviewed by peer reviewers..

Implementing the workshop consists of four phases: Setup phase, Submission phase, Assessment phase and Grading evaluation phase.
One you have saved your settings for the workshop activity, you will see a screen with the following phases:

In the submission phase, you can choose to manually assign students to peer review groups or to have Moodle randomly assign students. We chose the second option. The teacher has the ability to change random group assignments if necessary. You also choose how many assessments a student will make.

Conclusions

The exercise was very useful and students expressed very positive feedback. What they appreciated most was:

“Seeing the abilities of other colleagues”
“Being evaluated by colleagues to improve my work”

Last but not least, some students observed that this kind of activities were more useful and entertaining, compared to the traditional lessons.

“Compared to the contents of other classes, I appreciated the immediate usefulness in everyday life of the Elevator Pitch”

“Being able to work in a group has helped made more ‘fun” given the COVID situation”.

We think that one of the most important things in this kind of experience is to “engage” students. Active learning requires not only an extra effort to the teachers but also to the students. This is why I suggest, first of all, to explain them “why” we are doing these activities. Even if they can’t see the “value” of these activities, they have to know that training their soft skills will be useful for their future and is directly linked to their employability.

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