Oral presentations

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Oral assessments offer teachers the opportunity to assess the structure and content of a presentation as well as students’ capacity to answer any subsequent probing questions. They can be formatted as individual presentations or small-group presentations; they can be done face-to-face or online, and they can be given behind closed doors or in front of peers. The most common format involves one or two students presenting during class time with a follow-up question and answer session. Because of logistics and the demands of the curriculum, oral presentations tend to be quite short – perhaps 10 minutes for an undergraduate and 15-20 minutes for a postgraduate. Oral presentations are often used in a formative capacity but they can also be used as summative assessments. The focus of this form of assessment is not on students’ capacity to find relevant information, sources and literature but on their capacity to package such materials into a logically coherent exposition.

Advantages of oral presentations


  • Allows for probing questions that test underlying assumptions.
  • Quick to mark – immediate feedback is possible.
  • Allow students to demonstrate a logical flow/development of an idea.
  • Presentation skills are valued by employers.
  • Students are familiar with this assessment method.

Challenges of oral presentations


  • Can be stressful for some students.
  • Non-native speakers may be at a disadvantage.
  • Can be time-consuming.
  • Limited scope for inter-rater checks.
  • A danger that ‘good speakers’ get good marks.

How students might experience oral presentations

Students are often familiar with giving oral presentations and many will have done so in other courses. However, they may focus too much on certain aspects to the detriment of others. For example, some students may be overly concerned with the idea of standing up in front of their peers and may forget that their focus should be on offering a clear narrative. Other students may focus on the style of their presentation and overlook the importance of substance. Others yet may focus on what they have to say without considering the importance of an oral presentation being primarily for the benefit of the audience. The use of PowerPoint in particular should be addressed by teachers beforehand, so that students are aware that this should be a tool for supporting their presentation rather than the presentation in itself. Most oral presentations are followed by a question and answer phase – sometimes the questions will come from peers, sometimes they will come from teachers, and sometimes they will come from both. It is good practice to let students know about the format of the questions – especially if their capacity to answer them is part of the marking criteria.

Reliability, validity, fairness and inclusivity of oral presentations

Oral assessments are often marked in situ and this means that the process for allocating marks needs to be reliable, valid and fair when used under great time pressure. Through having a clearly defined marking structure with a set of pre-established, and shared, criteria, students should be aware of what they need to do to access the highest possible marks. Precise marking criteria help teachers to focus on the intended learning outcomes rather than presentational style. During oral presentations content validity is addressed through having marking criteria that focus on the quality of the points raised in the presentation itself and construct validity is addressed during the question and answer phase when the presenter is assessed for their capacity to comment on underpinning literature, theories and/or principles. One of the issues in having peer questions at the end of an oral presentation is that the teacher has very little control over what will be asked. This does not mean that such questions are not legitimate – only that teachers need to carefully consider how they mark the answers to such questions. In order to ensure equality of opportunity, teachers should ask their own questions after any peer questions, using them to fill any gaps and offer the presenter a chance to address any areas of the marking criteria that have not yet been covered. Oral presentation may challenge students with less proficiency in spoken English, and criteria should be scrutinised to support their achievement.

How to maintain and ensure rigour in oral presentations

Assessment rigour for oral presentations includes the teacher’s capacity to assess a range of presentation topics, formats and styles with an equal level of scrutiny.  Teachers should therefore develop marking criteria that focus on a student’s ability to take complex issues and present them in a clear and relatable manner rather than focus on the content covered. Throughout this whole process teachers should be involved in a form of constant reflexive scrutiny – examining if they feel that they are applying marking criteria fairly across all students. As oral presentations are ephemeral, consider how the moderator and/or external examiner will evaluate the assessment process. Can a moderator ‘double mark’ a percentage of presentations? Is there a need (or would it be helpful) to record the presentations?

How to limit possible misconduct in oral presentations

The opportunities for academic misconduct are quite low in an oral presentation – especially during the question and answer phase. If written resources are expected to be produced as part of the assessment (handouts, bibliographies, PowerPoint slides etc.) then guidance on citing and referencing should be given and marking criteria may offer marks for appropriate use of such literature. In guiding students to avoid using written scripts (except where it is deemed necessary from an inclusivity perspective) teachers will steer them aware from the possibility of reading out someone else’s thoughts as their own. Instead, students should be encouraged to use techniques such as limited cue cards to structure their presentation. The questions posed by the teacher at the end of the presentation are also a possible check on misconduct and will allow the teacher to see if the student actually knows about the content they are presenting or if they have merely memorised someone else’s words.

LSE examples

Further resources

https://twp.duke.edu/sites/twp.duke.edu/files/file-attachments/oral-presentation-handout.original.pdf

Langan, A.M., Shuker, D.M., Cullen, W.R., Penney, D., Preziosi, R.F. and Wheater, C.P. (2008) Relationships between student characteristics and self‐, peer and tutor evaluations of oral presentations. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(2): 179-190.

Dunbar, N.E., Brooks, C.F. and Kubicka-Miller, T. (2006) Oral communication skills in higher education: Using a performance-based evaluation rubric to assess communication skills. Innovative Higher Education, 31(2): 115.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRaPmO6TlaM

Implementing this method at LSE

If you’re considering using oral presentations as an assessment, this resource offers more specific information, pedagogic and practical, about implementing the method at LSE. This resource is password protected to LSE staff.

 

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