Imagine the next scenario.

You are a student and enter a room or Zoom meeting. A panel of examiners who’ve read your essay or viewed your performance, are waiting inside.

You answer a series of questions as they probe your knowledge and skills. You leave. The examiners then consider the preliminary pre-oral exam grade and if an adjustment up or down is required.

You are called back to receive your final grade.

This variety of oral assessment – or because it was known in Latin – is a tried and tested type of educational assessment.

No need to sit down in an exam hall, no fear of plagiarism accusations or concerns with students submitting essays generated by a man-made intelligence (AI) chatbot. Integrity is 100% assured, in a good, reliable and authentic manner that can be easily used to evaluate multiple individual or group assignments.

As services like ChatGPT proceed to grow by way of each its capabilities and usage – including in education and academia – is it high time for universities to revert to the time-tested oral exam?

The rise and fall of oral exams

The oral exam has a history dating back to the traditional Greeks over 2,000 years ago. Philosophers defended their knowledge within the ritual of a public oral defence.

By the tenth century, oral assessment was also a crucial tool in the event of Muslim law and medicine. Those who were experts in (the Islamic term for debates or disputes) were greatly esteemed.

At the medieval University of Paris within the thirteenth century, students were apprenticed to a master and, when considered ready, they took a public to graduate.

For centuries, the University of Oxford has hosted viva voce examinations in its Convocation House.

However, the oral exam experienced a decline as universities began to gravitate toward written assessments within the 1700s.

Academics on the time considered written exams more efficient, with the chance to numerically grade students individually. This contrasted with the complicated system of placing students in broad class categories that reflected their performance in oral examinations.

Examining written papers was also a silent process, and gave ample time for examiners to grade within the comfort of their very own homes.

Finding renewed relevance

However, there are countries and institutions that also embrace the within the contemporary age.

As I explained in my 2018 book, Assessing the Viva in Higher Education, Norway uses the in its postgraduate programs, and until recently it has been extensively utilized in undergraduate education.

High school students must also sit in a minimum of one oral exam in a random subject. This is finished in Year 10 (junior highschool) and Year 13 (senior highschool).

I video recorded these pre- examiners meetings, the tests themselves, and the post-test conversations on grading. Through evaluation of spoken and bodily language, I argue that the is a wealthy type of assessment that takes into consideration content quality and the answering skills of scholars.

It also offers students the chance to clarify and make clear what they’d submitted. This isn’t possible in a purely written assessment.

What’s interesting was that in my study, I never got here across cases of cheating: of scholars mimicking work undertaken by others, concealing crib sheets of their clothes, or writing on their forearms.

Similarly, Ken Purnell, a professor of education at CQUniversity in Australia, suggests how students could be asked to create and verbally share a reflective journal – akin to how their learning in educational neuroscience is applied to tell their practice.

Chatbots cannot replicate this type of task, ensuring student authenticity.

Another colleague at my university also recounted how she and her co-lecturers had introduced the for the primary time.

They assessed 600 oral exams in under per week in a big first-year undergraduate literacy course for pre-service teachers. Apart from there being no integrity issues, lecturers were also rewarded with a weekend free from a pile of papers to mark.

Was it tiring for the examiners? Of course. But it was also fulfilling, as they might observe students turning their thoughts into words.

For the scholars in my study, the experience was nerve-racking and stuffed with emotion. They remember the vividly, including the atmosphere and the questions. Much like in a job interview, they achieved a way of relief and mastery after completion.

For students, the experience of a viva was nerve-racking and stuffed with emotion – but ultimately rewarding.
(Shutterstock/Chay Tee)

It left an enduring imprint on these students’ minds, and to them, it was a chance to grow as an individual.

I argue that it’s time to change our conversation to be more about assessment that truly involves a “conversation”.

Writing would still be essential, but we should always learn to re-appreciate the importance of how a student can talk concerning the knowledge and skills they acquired. Successfully completing a could turn into certainly one of our graduate attributes, because it once was.

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