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Gordon Joughin, Hong Kong Institute of Education
Although oral assessment has a long history in higher education, is a well established form of assessment in many professional fields, and is a common form of assessment in much vocational education, until recently the literature on oral assessment has not addressed how it is experienced by students. It would be true to say that little is known about oral assessment from the student’s perspective.
A phenomenographic study of theology students identified three contrasting conceptions of oral assessment - as ‘presentation’; as ‘understanding’; and as ‘a position to be argued’.
The conception of oral assessment as ‘presentation’ represents an approach to oral assessment that focuses on reproducing the ideas of others in a one-way presentation. This conception is associated with a limited sense of audience, a failure to perceive interaction as significant, and an absence of anxiety. In this case, oral assessment is seen as either similar to written assignments, or as being a more limited form of assessment than assignments. The conception of oral assessment as ‘understanding’ is associated with students actively seeking to develop their understanding of the subject, making the ideas they encounter their own, being challenged to understand these ideas because of the questioning involved in the assessment process, and seeing oral assessment as having some advantages over written assessment. The conception of oral assessment as ‘a position to be argued’ is associated with a seeing theology in terms of developing one’s own point of view, having a strong sense of audience, seeing interaction with that audience as both challenging and demanding understanding, and experiencing a heightened self-awareness. In this case, oral assessment is seen as a significantly richer and more personally engaging form of assessment than written assignments. The structural aspects of these contrasting conceptions can be understood in terms of variation in students’ experience of six aspects of oral assessment —the indirect object of learning; the direct object of learning; interaction; audience; affective responses; and comparisons with written assignments.
The conceptions of oral assessment and the aspects of oral assessment identified in this study give rise to a number of important issues regarding oral assessment, including the relationship between students’ and lecturers’ conceptions of oral assessment, how students might be brought to a more complex understanding of oral assessment, the nature of orality, and the design of oral assessment formats.