We were happy to welcome Dr Monica Ward to our campus in Brig on April 9th, 2024, for a conference and workshop on interactive oral (IO) assessments. Here is a short summary of Monica’s presentation and some resources to help you get started.

What is an IO assessment?

An IO assessment is a dynamic, two-way conversation designed to assess student learning through genuine, unscripted dialogue based on real-world scenarios. Unlike traditional oral exams that follow a rigid question-and-answer format within strict exam conditions, IOs feature natural conversational prompts and are typically conducted in authentic settings. The discussion is based on a professional scenario and the conversation should support students in showing their learning. Typically, the discussions promote higher-order thinking as students are asked to explain their choices, consider alternative situations, and apply their findings to other contexts.

An Interactive Oral is an ‘efficient and effective form of authentic assessment that promotes skill development and employability, enhances overall student engagement and personalised approach to learning and teaching, and preserves academic integrity.’ (Sotiriadou et al., 2020)

What are the benefits of IO assessments?

The benefits are clear: IOs help foster employability and higher-order cognitive skills; they are scalable (it has been tested with up to 800 students) and inclusive; and they support high standards of academic integrity. Students were shown to be engaged and less stressed during the assessment. For teachers too, the discussions were often genuinely engaging.

Student thoughts on interactive oral assessment

« I really enjoyed the interactive oral element. I found it far more beneficial to speak about and show what we had done as a group than to sit an exam. In my opinion, timed, closed-book exams are not a testament to what you learned in a subject, given the pressure, nor would an exam indicate the personal impact the CBL had. »

« … it just felt like a regular conversation which is good. … Afterwards, I felt good and that it went well. Doing something like an “oral” can be very good practice for other similar situations »

What might an IO assessment look like?

The possibilities are limitless. Examples have included students meeting with the ‘Head of Sustainability’ to discuss solutions to environmental externalities in a Sustainable Aviation module or played the role of a literary correspondent on a radio show in a French Literature and Culture module. Nursing students in their final year were given a medical case study and asked to explain or discuss the symptoms and care plan, adapting their interaction to the audience they were assigned (patient, family, head nurse, or doctor). In a Law and Neuroscience module, students took the role of experts briefing a solicitor defending a client charged with wounding with intent.

How can I develop an IO assessment for my module?

The first step is to develop a scenario for the IO based on your learning objectives. You then need to create a grading rubric and record a video of a sample IO (on a different theme).

Students can then use the rubric and video to prepare their own IO. In class or asynchronously, students watch the recording and evaluate the performance of the ‘student’ based on the rubric. A discussion with the other students and teacher follows, helping students to understand what is expected, building their ability to evaluate the work of others and their own.

For large cohorts, alternative assessors are trained using the recorded interactive oral and then a few real IOs. Alternative assessors will grade the students using the grading grid and then can compare and discuss their results to ensure coherence across assessors. Online IOs are recorded, making reviewing and discussing difficult cases easier. IOs typically take 15 minutes per student: a 10-minute discussion (roughly equivalent to a 3–4000-word essay), followed by 5 minutes for the assessor to finalise the grading and feedback using the rubric.

Where can I get help to design my first IO assessment?

If you would like to try an IO assessment in your module, the Dublin City University website has useful resources, including a user guide. UniDistance Suisse teaching teams, don’t hesitate to contact EDUDL+ for support in designing IOs for your module.


Sotiriadou, P., Logan, D., Daly, A., & Guest, R. (2020). The role of authentic assessment to preserve academic integrity and promote skill development and employability. Studies in Higher Education, 45(11), 2132–2148. doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2019.1582015

Ward, M., O’Riordan, F., Logan-Fleming, D., Cooke, D., Concannon-Gibney, T., Efthymiou, M., & Watkins, N. (2023). Interactive oral assessment case studies: An innovative, academically rigorous, authentic assessment approach. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 0(0), 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/14703297.2023.2251967

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