Progressive Scaffolding and Evaluation

ScaffoldingI use the term Progressive Scaffolding and Evaluation (PSE) to describe a skills development process  where students are participants in a process to help each other while developing the evaluation criteria which will be used in their final project assessment.

This is a strategy I use in OD-650 Strategic Communication where students develop live or online video presentation skills depending on the format of the course. These student presentations are on topics related to diversity, communicating effectively, persuasion, negotiation, and managing conflict. The presentations are an important knowledge sharing component within the design of the course but also are designed to help students develop professional presentation skills.

Effectively communicating is a complex endeavor. There is no set process guaranteeing success and often students have little in the way of heuristics that guides them in what is acceptable and not acceptable in professional presentations. This approach not only helps build presenting skills but more importantly it help conceptualize best practices.

Associate Learning Theory

Constructivism: learners are actively involved in the construction of knowledge. It requires critical thinking and is most successful through a scaffolding strategy (e.g. zone of proximal development) where students help each other.


The approach works best in situations where students are developing knowledge and skills in complex domains. In this example students conceptualize heuristics or best practices of presenting. It requires students to research, discuss, and think critically about what is acceptable and not acceptable in professional presentations.

The technique is less effective where tasks are already clearly defined and compliance to set standards are required though it could be used to help students understand why such restrictions are in place.

Learning Outcomes

Strategic Communication requires a number of communication and higher level thinking ILOs that can be accomplished through the presentation skills development components within the course. These include:

  • Employ active listening techniques, including summarizing, paraphrasing, questioning, and nonverbal response.

  • Make a clear, well-organized verbal presentation.

  • Use group process skills.

  • Make and evaluate decisions based on appropriate criteria and projected consequences.

Assessment Strategy

Students are asked to make three short presentations. The first two presentations are graded on participation only while the third presentation is graded on an evaluation rubric constructed by the students.

Instructional Strategy

  • Process of skills development transitions from low-risk activities to graded performance activity. Time for failure, feedback, and corrections.

  • Scaffolding process transitions from individual assignment to dyadic interactions to group presentations.

  • Students are engaged throughout the process in identifying and refining criterion used in the final evaluation of professional presentations.

Example in OD-650 Strategic Communication

This example occurs in four phases:

  1. Within  few days of starting the course students are asked to give a 30 second or less presentation instructing themselves to the class as part of an ice-breaker activity. No guidance, no expectations, and no grades; therefore no risk. For online courses this helps identify any students who may have technical challenges in creating an online media file giving us enough time to resolve problems if needed.

  2. The first speaking assignment is a 1 minute presentation created on video whether in class or online. I let the students know that the only person who will review is the instructor. The only grade is for participation. This is a low risk activity designed to give initial feedback. From this students are aware of themselves and possible criteria that may be used to describe levels of accomplishment. Following this assignment students are formed into groups and asked to create an evaluation rubric for professional presentations. The deliverable is an initial draft of the rubric. Grading for both the presentation and collaboration are based on participation only. Students have practical experience that helps as they engage in abstract conceptualization.

  3. The second speaking assignment is a 3 minute presentation which students make within their groups. Students use the first draft of the valuation rubric to evaluate each other. Group activities include time to discuss and refine their rubric criteria. Grading is based on participation only. In terms of Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, the collaboration helps students learn how to improve their presentation skills which they unlikely would have difficulty doing on their own.

  4. The third speaking assignment is a 5 minute presentation to the class. Students are allowed to give constructive feedback to each other and the actual grade for the assignment is based on a rubric that was constructed from the individual group efforts. Whether online or in class, the presentations are recorded so students can review their own performance afterwards based on the evaluation criteria they collaborated on during the process.