Assessing Oral Presentations in Distance and Open Learning

Stefanie Sinclair
The Open University, United Kingdom


In light of the predominance of written communication skills in distance learning settings, there is a need to extend and improve opportunities for distance learning students to practice, develop and demonstrate their oral communication skills. Sophisticated oral communication skills are valued as important graduate skills within many academic disciplines and subject areas (HEA, 2009, p. 13). They are recognised as significant transferable skills with clear links to employability (Race, 1995). Indeed ‘most careers require [oral] communication skills; some require them far more than the kind of written skills fostered through written exams and essay assessments’ (HEA, n.d.). Furthermore, studies have shown that ‘oral presentations also promote other personal skills, such as self-confidence’ (HEA, n.d.). Joughin (1999) and Race (1995) highlight the potential impact of oral forms of assessment on students’ approaches to learning. Joughin argues, for example, that oral forms of assessment encourage deep approaches to learning that are focused on understanding, rather on than merely coping with the demands of the module or on the intention to achieve high grades (Joughin, 1999, p.151).It is also widely recognised that the diversification of methods of assessment leads to fairer, more reliable assessment of students as they can be rewarded for a broader range of skills and aptitudes (van der Vleuten, 2014; Race, 2005; HEA, n.d.). From this point of view, the assessment of oral presentations can provide ‘rewarding opportunities for students who believe they have an aptitude for oral expression and communication [...and...] work to refine those skills’ (HEA, n.d.).

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