The viva voce (meaning ‘with living voice’ in Mediaeval Latin) is a common form of assessment in many universities and disciplines. From the PhD defence, to music teaching and occupational therapy, an oral assessment allows students to demonstrate their ability to reflect, to analyse and to clearly communicate complex ideas, while providing examiners with a dynamic environment in which to identify in-depth learning.
An increasing interest in oral assessments has grown out of the emergence of COVID-19 and the resulting move to emergency remote teaching. This move has led to a renewed focus on academic integrity and the problems associated with identifying and deterring contract cheating. The reactive nature of live, oral assessments that are run via a video-conferencing platform offers a way to be more certain that students have attained subject learning outcomes – the format allows examiners to draw on what students have said and to probe their understandings in real time.
Because of these benefits, there has been a notable increase in the use of oral exams at UTS. Amanda White, from the Accounting Discipline Group in the Business School, designed a 15-minute, interactive oral assessment in place of a paper-based supplementary exam. Students were given a short newspaper article to read and three set questions to begin their exam. They were also asked follow-up questions, some of which related to their answers and others related to the entire subject.
Interestingly, Amanda found that students who had not passed the exam were not at all surprised as their short-comings were more evident to both themselves and their examiner than in a written exam. So would she use oral exams again? Definitely.
Guidelines from the LX.lab
With this increased interest in, and use of, online oral exams, the LX.lab team has produced this set of guidelines to help you design and run them effectively.
- Give students an example (video) and/or (in-class) practice of the format so that they can be prepared, & therefore less anxious
- Make sure the time limit is clearly stated and that assessors stick to it; anything longer than 20 minutes risks causing marker fatigue,
- Ensure that the viva/online oral exam is designed so that it assesses the same intended learning outcomes of the paper assessment if being used as an alternative
- When preparing questions, use ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions that elicit students understanding of processes & reasons; to increase integrity, ask follow-up questions, especially relating to students’ use of discipline-specific vocabulary.
- Have your designated faculty assessor (if available) to review the viva assessment content and delivery
- Remind students to test their equipment before starting the exam and of expectations on the day (eg. attire, exam duration, Zoom set-up)
- Consider using online scheduling tools (eg. Canvas Calendar, MS Bookings) to manage the logistics of multiple bookings on the day and ensure the schedule readily accessible to students
- If there are multiple markers on the panel, agree on a private communication channel in case discussions need to take place during the exam.
On the day
- Make sure students are able to identify themselves with appropriate documentation (eg. government issued face IDS, UTS provided ID) at the beginning of the exam
- Record all vivas/online oral exams, and students’ consent to doing so, so that the assessment can be retained for the required record-keeping duration for disputes, grade moderation, etc. (Check with your Faculty about what these requirements are as they may vary by course)
- Explain the task and ensure the students understand expectations
- If images are needed, make sure students can see them clearly when you share your screen
- For large cohorts, have one Zoom link (to reduce admin time), but run the exam in a breakout room to reduce the risk of interruptions – consider including a PowerPoint background in the main meeting room using screenshare with instructions so that students are aware that they are in the right exam/location/meeting
- Store all relevant recordings in a secure location, such as your subject site in the LMS or your faculty SharePoint
- Upload all student grades into your subject site so that marks can be correctly calculated, weighted & finalised
Dig deeper with these articles on online oral exams:
Dumbaugh, D. (2020) Revitalizing classes through oral exams. Insidehighered.com