Combining Pecha Kucha with Speed-Networking to Facilitate Students as Producers

by Professor Michael Bromby, Truman Bodden Law School of the Cayman Islands


This blog post is based on a presentation given to the CUHK Directions in Legal Education Conference in June 2020. It described how the fast-paced Pecha Kucha format was adapted to a one-to-one speed networking format where students gave the same presentation on three separate occasions to three other students. During the Covid-19 unexpected and necessary move to online learning, this format was particularly useful as a revision exercise to consolidate and review lecture content that was not necessarily delivered in a traditional face-to-face lecture.

This adaptation was applied to an undergraduate LLB course in English Law, delivered to students in the Cayman Islands as validated by the University of Liverpool in the UK. The module was a final year elective in Employment Law, assessed by an unseen exam. During the second semester, teaching was interrupted in week 7 of a 12 week teaching period and moved to an online distance-delivery mode.

Encouraging students to become the researchers, authors and producers of content that had a rigid and formal structure, resulted in bite-sized student generated content. Sharing this content in a synchronous format gave participants a sense of connection and cohesion when students may otherwise have felt distant and isolated from the module and their peers. Furthermore, the process was energized with an element of fun through competitions for the best image, funniest slide and best presentation to foster a sense of informality and community spirit which had been lost in the sudden move to distance learning.

Compiling a bibliography of the educational use of Pecha Kucha indicated that this format was most frequently reported in medical and language instruction. It has also been used, for example, in a course on Tax Policy. Not only are transferable skills engaged in this manner of presentation, but discipline specific knowledge and skills were enhanced as well as promoting self-directed learning. The novel combination with speed-networking in this paper serves to combat some of the negative aspects reported in the literature by allowing repeated performance to a much smaller audience to hone presentation skills.

[Figure 1- available via license: CC BY]

Dale’s Cone of Experience indicates that two weeks after a lecture, students typically remember only 20% of what they hear. Whilst criticisms surround the empirical evidence to support the overlaying of retention rates in the Learning Pyramid, the general principle is that experiential or active learning can be more effective than passive approaches to learning.

The long practised teaching methods of delivering a lecture and providing directed reading may result in lower student retention rates, if not supported by further learning activities. Hence, the theme of students as producers has attempted to engage students in some of the more rewarding teaching methods that result in higher retention rates. Notably, the active elements of ‘doing’ and ‘teaching‘ are the effective methods, hence the rise of law clinics, student law reviews and a range of learning by doing activities where students produce content or services that are aimed at the external public or at their own internal peers.

This method of combining Pecha Kucha with Speed Networking aims to harness all layers of the learning pyramid, sequentially, as students use the lecture content and reading materials to generate an audiovisual narrative and presentation that is then delivered, or demonstrated in a sense, to a fellow student who may then generate discussion that informs a second and third iteration of the presentation to different students so that there is repeated practice and this results in a teaching or revision process using student-generated content.

Pecha Kucha Format

For those who are not familiar, Pecha Kucha is a fast-paced presentation style that employs a fixed amount of 20 PowerPoint slides that are displayed for only 20 seconds each. Originating in the Japanese architecture industry as an image-based alternative to text-based presentations, this format has become popular with other industries and as a form of entertainment in dedicated Pecha Kucha Nights.

It has spread to academic conferences as it is not dissimilar to the short and inspirational TED Talks that may convey the motivational narrative of a keynote speaker. Similarily short 5 minute Ignite or Lightning Talks involve an overall time restriction, but with more flexibility within the presentation for the speaker to change their slide transition pace through the slides in comparison to the rather rigid Pecha Kucha format.

[Figure 2 - Free for personal and commercial purpose with attribution]

Indeed, the use of only 20 slides is restrictive in terms of the overal volume of visual content that can be shown. Furthermore each slide should have only a single image that has some relevance to the accompanying narrative, which is even more restrictive or rigid in format. This does have the effect of moving away from ‘death by PowerPoint’ or overreliance on reading text-based content from the screen. Instead, interesting, eye-catching graphics are encouraged which can facilitate memory recall and a different type of visually stimulised learning.

More frequently reported in business, medical, nursing and English language teaching literature, positive findings for the use of Pecha Kucha in higher education have ranged from an increase in students’ speaking skills, improved self confidence and time management and higher individual and group assessment marks in comparison to a more traditional presentation format. Negative reporting has included an increase in anxiety from the rigidity of the format and that the time limitation had a negative impact on communication effectiveness.

In an attempt to reduce the reported negative aspects, the individualised one-to-one presentation method was used in this case study along with repeat presentations in a speed-dating or speed-networking format to develop a more effective model.

Speed Networking Format

The benefits to demonstrating, discussing and practicing arise from more effective learning experiences found in the cone of experience or learning pyramid, above. Whilst the ultimate purpose of the Pecha Kucha presentations was as a revision exercise, there were many transferable skills and additional benefits to be gained through the speed networking format.

[Figure 3 - Blogger/Google terms of service allow attribution]

Firstly, this design allowed students to be more comfortable in a smaller setting in order to counter some of the reported negative findings from the literature. Arguably, there may still be apprehension, nervousness or anxiety about giving a presentation to a smaller audience which should, perhaps, not be designed out as there ought to be some inherent intepidation with the development of oral presentation skills.

Secondly, the model can be scaled to work with a range of participants. The diagram above shows eight presenters and eight listeners, but this can be modified, or large classes can be split into a number of circles such as that shown. Topics must be allocated carefully to avoid overlap or repetition between adjacent presenters and also avoiding the listener hearing a topic they have prepared themselves.

Running three iterative Pecha Kucha presentations appeared to be the most effective mechanism to encourage small tweaks and development by the presenter. Time between each iteration allowed for brief discussion between the presenter and listener to reflect on how effective the session was and ask further questions. In this format, each student would therefore present on one topic and listen to three further topics thereby covering a significant portion of the syllabus.