Oral assessments can unlock student authenticity--and represent a greater opportunity to remake the online college classroom as we know it.

Reimagining oral assessment in the age of AI

Oral assessments can unlock student authenticity and inquiry--and represent a greater opportunity to remake the online college classroom as we know it

Key points:

Given the rapid proliferation and adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots across higher education in 2023, online instruction now stands at a crossroads. Faculty can continue teaching and assessing as they have been – leaving both their students and their colleges responsible for the direct and indirect consequences of potential academic misconduct – or they can embrace digital disruption alongside their learners in pursuit of the maturation of their online classrooms. Our understanding of what online learning is, how it is accomplished, and how it is assessed must now adapt to the age of AI.

Oral assessment of student learning, sometimes referred to with the Latin term viva voce, has waned in popularity in recent decades. So-called oral exams were once a mainstay of face-to-face courses but are generally only still in use at the graduate level. Asking undergraduate students to record and submit their responses in the digital learning environment, while novel, would simultaneously foster new kinds of active learning in the online classroom and address the growing threat of so-called AI-giarism head-on.

Today’s online courses now commonly include micro-lectures from the instructor, and video introductions have been shown to improve student engagement in online courses. Ubiquitous digital recording tools (cameras, microphones, and screen-sharing technologies) allow today’s students to produce, capture, and distribute knowledge in ways that enrich the online classroom. Most learning management systems feature simple browser or smartphone app-based recording tools that allow learners to capture and share personal recordings with the instructor or with the entire class with minimal technical friction.

By embracing the disruption of generative AI and encouraging students to represent their knowledge authentically, educators can facilitate a higher level of student ownership and engagement in the online learning process.

When instructors provide learners with new opportunities to represent their knowledge, students can take greater ownership of their learning. Oral assessments complement traditional written assessments and require students to apply similar communication and critical thinking skills. Student-generated assessment asks learners to talk openly and out loud about their knowledge gains. Before making their submissions, students will naturally practice and review multiple self-recordings, enhancing their grasp of course materials. The widespread adoption of video conferencing tools since the COVID-19 pandemic will likely accelerate the pivot toward oral assessment in the online classroom.

The use of proctoring software is already widespread across high-stakes academic programs. Incorporating video, audio, and screen-recorded assessments in general education courses would promote important digital literacy skills for students across academic disciplines. In addition, allowing students to submit self-recordings would promote flexibility, which may be beneficial for some students with disabilities. In an era where nearly any quiz, exam, essay, or academic paper can be aced by a student misusing an AI chatbot, there are myriad potential benefits to reimagining oral assessment in 2024.

The potential to unlock student authenticity and inquiry through the adoption of oral assessment represents a greater opportunity to remake the online college classroom as we know it. Instructors willing to embrace some level of recorded oral assessment would simultaneously defend the integrity of their online classrooms while allowing learners to begin to break free from the confines of the HTML text editor.

Online instructors now have an opportunity to harness the forces of disruption and reimagine a digital learning environment that is more resilient, adaptive, and integrous. We can use this moment to improve upon academic rigor during an unprecedented time of change in higher education.

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