Why not Oral Finals?

Had a very productive meeting with an independent study student this afternoon that really made me think that oral examinations are the way to go.

We had such a nice productive session of question and answer, argument and response and investigation of ideas one to one. It was low stress and very productive, and ended with agreement as to what was to be written and how it would be assessed.  Why can't I do this with every student? And what stands in the way? I think the opponent is tradition.

Finals is a week of stress, consumption of bad food and drink, and tree slaughter. How many huge, unreflective and bad thoughts will be sadly tattooed in inkjet across the corpses of trees? How many will really care about the words they are reading? Or the person behind those words?

I struggle every semester to think about alternative assessment and the final exam. While I back up my school laptop to my flashdrive before heading home for the weekend, I thought I would share a few observations from the one course where I always give an oral final: Public speaking.

See in that class it's semmetrical and just makes sense. It's a class about speaking publicly so the oral final is a no-brainer. But what about other courses?

In my public speaking class some students have reflected on this since the assignment is to argue for or against a final exam and what that final exam should look like.

here is a short list of suggestions from them: Listening exams, sharing and re-doing drafts, a group speech, engaging a topic previously spoken about from the other side, and others. 

It's a great way to see how the students think but also some of these things are really good ideas for a course anyway.

In the rhetoric field I think we are lucky to have courses that so easily fit into the idea of an oral examination, but the trick is how to do other courses this way.

Earlier I was speaking with the director of our honors program who showed me a video of some music recitals from the internet to discuss with me a point about poetic language.

It made me think: With the internet as an archive of performance and evaluation, why not include things like that in the final examination?  Why not have students evaluate other performances as a part of their own evaluation? This is a way of getting oral examinations into most any course.

And a nice way of avoiding all that stress and waste!