Chalk Talks


In Systems Biology 201, in an effort to prevent paper regurgitation, students were pre-assigned to present "chalk talks" of the reading at each session.

SB 201 is a graduate-level discussion seminar, and every class meeting began with a 12-15 minute presentation on the assigned paper.  As explained on the syllabus, chalk talks provide the "background, motivation, approach, and key findings of the paper," with a focus on explaining where the paper fits into the field at large.  The chalk talks were not to be mere summaries.  Students are expected to have read 2-4 additional background papers in preparing for their chalk talk.  Throughout the semester, students had to do 2 chalk talks, which together counted for 20% of their grade.

The idea and design of chalk talks came from Angela DePace and Sean Megason.

Teaching Fellow Max Staller implemented their idea.  He explains that this was a chance to set up what was happening in the field before this paper, the big question the paper was trying to ask, and the important development.  He notes that the chalk talks would set the tone for the subsequent discussion and would force students to boil down the concepts and debate into much simpler pieces.  Many students ended up using cartoons and/or diagrams to illustrate the goal of the paper.  The time they spent drawing tended to be when the students listening asked questions.  Moreover, that time was helpful because it allowed students to consider the concepts.  Max found that chalk talks involving drawing were very engaging and tended to stay on the board and be referred to throughout the entire class, but the talks ended up taking longer then the allotted time with questions.

Prior to class, Max would have students practice the presentation once with him in order to be sure that the content was correct and to provide feedback on presentation style.

Attached is a document with the expectations and a checklist for the chalk talks.

document.pdf58 KB