This blog post is co-authored by Dimity Wehr and Leslie McInnes. It is the first post in a two part series, and you can read the second post here: Remote oral presentations: bringing the OSCE online.

In the shift to remote teaching, assessment of oral communication tasks, or presentations, presented significant challenges across disciplines. The improvised responses to these challenges, however, were often surprisingly successful. In the first two of three webinars hosted by Leslie McInnes and Dimity Wehr (IML), five academics shared their experiences of implementing practical alternatives to face-to-face oral assessments. In this post, we outline the scenarios and briefly discuss some emerging themes.

1. Group presentations in Journalism and Communications

Jenna Price (FASS) encourages students to develop their oral skills along with their writing. She devised a task on Zoom where groups were required to both present to, and critique their peers. Each group of four presented to the class, after which the observing groups conducted reviews in separate breakout rooms. Once re-assembled, the presenting group received feedback from every other group. The student response was positive, and Jenna saw the activity as a valuable task for building confidence in oral presentation, giving and receiving feedback and collaborating with peers. The main challenge Jenna encountered was the amount of time it took to prepare and manage the process for an online environment.

2. Oral presentation and role play in genetic counselling

Chris Jacobs (Health) teaches in an online Master’s course that includes campus-based assessments. With the shift to entirely remote teaching, two oral tasks were conducted on Zoom for the first time. 

In the first task, students could choose to deliver a three-minute thesis, a conference poster with a talk, or a brief summary. At an allocated time, students were called from a Zoom waiting room and each presented to a panel composed of a staff member, a professional counsellor and a lay person. A major benefit for markers was the ability to grade students on the spot and for students, the instant feedback they received.

The second task was a role-play that involved a 15-minute simulation between a counsellor (student) and a patient (actor) conducted on Zoom with the entire class present and observing, but muted with cameras off. Chris sees remote consulting as a very authentic activity in the health professional context, as counsellors often engage with clients via telehealth. Student feedback was positive, with some students even preferring the online option.

3. Studio presentations in design

Samantha Donnelly (DAB) was faced with the challenge of transforming a studio experience where students collaborate closely and receive ongoing feedback into the online space. Samantha opted to conduct the studios over Zoom and reduced the normal length of tutorials and the size of groups to provide smaller safer spaces. Challenges for students included creating models with only found objects at home; communication issues for those with English as an additional language; and the lack of face-to-face interaction with peers. The studio group assessment, however, was transformed from an on-campus presentation into a pre-recorded 3 minute video with great success. The videos were presented via Zoom to a panel of academics, peers and industry practitioners and followed up with synchronous Q & A and feedback. Samantha commented that the video option resulted in much tighter presentations and far better questions from students than in previous sessions. In addition, panellists could join from any location.

4. Recorded presentations and synchronous online pitching

Krithika Randhawa (Business) conducted an assessment task requiring students groups to select and solve an authentic, industry-based problem.  The normal full day block mode delivery was re-imagined in day-long Zoom sessions, and students also collaborated in Microsoft Teams. The project involved a series of scaffolded milestone tasks culminating in an elevator pitch to a ‘shark tank’ of venture capitalists and investors. At each milestone, students presented, critiqued their peers, and gained valuable feedback to inform their next stage. 

The series began with a pre-recorded team video of the problem space, uploaded to YouTube and linked via Teams. Students reviewed each video and offered feedback in their own time. The quality of the videos and the level of peer engagement was high, and the feedback informed preparation for Stage 2, an Interim Oral Pitch of the solution delivered on Zoom.

Peers and industry mentors could immediately rate each talk on a matrix with two dimensions: 1. How desirable is the solution? and 2: How easy is it to implement? Krithika found the immediate visibility of the online whiteboard to be an improvement on the usual post-it note responses on classroom walls.  The Interim Pitch also required two teams in each breakout room to critique proposals in depth, to play devil’s advocate and offer constructive feedback.

In the third and final oral pitch task, teams used screen sharing on Zoom to present to a panel of venture capitalists and investors who could ask questions and give feedback. The use of Polly in MS Teams and online polls in Zoom worked really well here as the audience could respond quickly to survey questions, select the winner of a People’s Choice award and provide anonymous comments. Krithika commented that some processes in the session worked far better than in the pre-Covid environment.

5. Recorded presentations for streamlined asynchronous marking

Ephraim Patrick is an industry partner in the Advanced MBA who coordinates a subject focussing on the future of work. This subject requires a researched, evidence-based written assignment but is scaffolded by the prior delivery of a narrated presentation, offering valuable formative feedback.

Students were highly engaged with the online content and apart from some minor technical glitches with file formats, the narrated presentation video segment went well. However, it carried its own set of unforeseen complications. While the video was a required part of the separate written assessment task some students mistakenly conflated the two and expected much higher grades for their written work on the basis of doing well in the presentation.  Ephraim has since added ‘be extremely clear about grading expectations’ to his lessons learnt portfolio! 

While encouraged by the utility of the technologies available, Ephraim believes strongly in the energy generated by face-to-face meetings with students and industry professionals. He is concerned that some of this immediacy and the scope for ad hoc networking may be lost in the online equivalent on Zoom.

Emerging themes

A number of common themes emerged from this generous sharing by practitioners in different disciplines:

  • The design and implementation of online oral assessment tasks involves a lot of thought and time but  the results can be very successful. 
  • Thoughtful use of technology can enhance presentations, support team-building and provide very effective feedback channels for peers, teachers and industry. 
  • There are ample opportunities for creating truly authentic experiences online.
  • Students respond positively when oral assessments include time to critique and reflect, involve real world scenarios and give them progressive formative feedback.

Find out more

These webinar events are now available to view on YouTube:

Remote oral assessment: Part 1 (52 mins)
Remote oral assessment: Part 2 (59 mins)

Keen to hear more about presentations in online learning environments? Stay tuned for part two of this post, coming soon!

Feature image by Freepik.

  • What a great post Dimity and Leslie! It’s great to hear about the way Samantha Donnelly has managed Architecture Studios. And great approach by Jenna Price with her Communications students. Thanks for sharing these tips.

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