Significant challenges for instructors at the university level are found in assessing students’ progress in a course, adapting the course to fit student learning pace and style, and providing adequate feedback that motivates students. Grades and paper corrections of written assignments and exams are often delayed and underutilized by students. It is questionable how much such assessment instruments help students to reflect on their understandings of the subject and adapt their learning behaviors. The numerical scores given to these assignments and exams could distract, and sometimes discourage, students from actual learning. From the instructor’s perspective, written exams may not give an accurate evaluation of students’ understandings as many different factors may interfere with a student’s ability to answer written exam questions. One alternative assessment instrument that has not been widely adopted in STEM fields in US higher education is oral assessment. An oral assessment provides a number of benefits to both instructor and students. The instructor is able to directly and progressively probe a student’s level of understanding, and provide immediate guidance and clarification to a student who has any confusion on the course topics. Questions in an oral exam may be adapted during the meeting to suit the student’s level of understanding and uncover areas of weakness. It thus allows the instructor to assess the class level throughout the semester and identify topics that may need further explanation, which can then be given immediately. It also allows the instructor to connect with each student on a personal level and make students feel valued, which can be a significant motivational tool. Finally, the oral assessment promotes improvement in the “C” student by discouraging apathy and providing interactive feedback. The ultimate goal of the oral assessment is not to divide students into separate letter groups, but to motivate all students to learn the necessary material to become proficient engineers, while still advancing the top students further.
This paper describes the implementation of an oral assessment over two semesters, together with lessons learned, in Numerical Methods for Engineers for civil engineering students at the Arizona State University. Taught in a traditional lecture style classroom environment five years ago, this course has transitioned to an active, recitation style classroom with written assessments, and finally to an interactive class with recitations and both oral and written assessments.
This paper explores the effects of oral assessments on the learning environment, student motivation and engagement, student self-efficacy and mastery of learning objectives. The benefits of this transition are examined through surveys, student learning behavior data, and a final written exam. In the first semester of implementation, it was observed that students were more engaged in class, studied more outside of class, performed better on the final written exam, and were more positive about learning and felt that the instructor cared about their individual success. Currently in the second semester of implementation, additional survey and behavior data is being collected to quantify these benefits.
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