News Flash: MARGINS Discovery Student Presentations

Laura Reiser Wetzel, Eckerd College
Acknowledgments: Many thanks to Cindy Palinkas, Stacia Gordon, and Lonnie Liethold for helpful comments to revise assignment at the 2009 MARGINS Mini-Lessons Workshop

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Each student interprets one MARGINS study that he/she finds particularly interesting, describing the study in a two to four minute oral presentation in class. Students may present one, and only one, visual aid as an overhead or PowerPoint figure. Students are directed to approach this presentation as a "news flash," a feature presentation made on an evening news program.

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Learning Goals

  1. To explore cutting-edge research facilitated by the MARGINS program.
  2. To present scientific information in a clear and concise oral presentation.
  3. To develop reading skills, including interpreting and synthesizing scientific information.
  4. To illustrate that geoscientists are constantly making new discoveries in a dynamic, modern, ever-changing field.

Context for Use

Short "news flash" oral presentations may be assigned to students at any level, however, material in the MARGINS "nuggets" are most appropriate for mid- to upper-level students. The activity is general enough that an instructor can narrow topics to a particular area (e.g., geophysics, tectonics, or structural geology) or leave the possibilities broad (e.g., any topic addressed in the MARGINS website). For a small class, assigning multiple short presentations on different topics throughout the semester would be particularly effective in improving student skills.
Instructors are encouraged to discuss how to give effective oral presentations and how to distill a lot of technical information into a concise and clear summary for an audience of their peers.

Description and Teaching Materials

The MARGINS website contains a wealth of information. I highly recommend that students start with the one-page descriptions that the MARGINS program refers to as "nuggets". Each "nugget" is focused on one research project and typically contains one high-quality figure.
Continental margins are the transition zone from continents to the deep sea. Active margins coincide with plate boundaries, marking an abrupt change in oceanic bathymetry. At passive margins, the sea floor gradually deepens across the continental shelf, slope, and rise. The MARGINS program promotes continental margin research through funding by the National Science Foundation. 
To prepare for the oral presentation, students must have access to a computer with an internet connection to access the MARGINS website. Each student gives a two- to four-minute talk in class. Ideally, students would have access to PowerPoint or an overhead projector during their presentations. The assignment handout includes a one-page description of the activity and a series of instructor/peer evaluation criteria. 
Student Handout and Peer Evaluation Form, WORD Version (Microsoft Word 36kB May28 09)
Student Handout and Peer Evaluation Form, PDF Version (Acrobat (PDF) 52kB May28 09)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Synthesizing and summarizing scientific information in a short oral presentation will be particularly challenging for most students. Despite pleas from students, stick to requiring one figure and one figure only for the presentations. This allows students to concentrate on the substance of their talks instead of flashy PowerPoint figures. To this end, direct students to follow these guidelines. Like a news program feature, your presentation should have the following characteristics:

  • Attract and hold your audience's attention.
  • Report on a relevant and interesting topic.
  • Employ a smooth delivery, with extensive eye contact and minimal reliance on notes.
  • Fit in a tight time frame, in this case two to four minutes.
  • Start with an introduction and end with a conclusion.
  • Contain clear, concise, and complete scientific explanations.
  • Recognize the sources of your information, both verbally and written on your visual aids.

Target Audience:

  • This activity is best suited to mid- to upper-level geoscience courses because the MARGINS "nuggest" contain fairly technical information. 
  • The "news flash" approach, however courses, instructors might choose the MARGINS "nuggets" in advance to ensure that students can understand the geologic concepts.

Adapting the "News Flash" Approach

  • "News flashes" may be adapted for student presentations based on research affiliated with other geoscience programs and organizations such as RIDGE, IRIS, EarthScope, IODP, USGS, UCAR, Neptune, and NASA. The NSF also offers abstracts of funded research.
  • Instructors might focus on a specific MARGINS initiative (SEIZE, S2S, RCL, or SubFac).
  • For introductory level courses, students could report "new flashes" on geoscience in the popular press (e.g., magazine, newspapers).

Peer Evaluation Form: 

  • To encourage students to fill out the peer evaluation form, I offer class participation credit. (Note that a peer evaluation form is included with the Assignment Handout.)
  • Instructors may also use this same form for evaluation, or they may choose to develop a more comprehensive rubric. (See Oral Presentation Tips for Instructorsavailable on the SERC website


Instructor/Peer evaluation criteria are included with the assignment handout file.

References and Resources