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Student experience of oral communication assessment tasks online from a multi-disciplinary trial

Bonnie McBain (School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia)
Antony Drew (Faculty of Business & Law, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia)
Carole James (Faculty of Health and Medicine, School of Health Sciences, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia)
Liam Phelan (University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia)
Keith M Harris (School of Psychology, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia)
Jennifer Archer (Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia)

Education + Training

ISSN: 0040-0912

Article publication date: 8 February 2016



The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the experiences of tertiary students learning oral presentation skills in a range of online and blended learning contexts across diverse disciplines.


The research was designed as a “federation” of trials of diverse online oral communications assessment tasks (OOCATs). Tasks were set in ten courses offered across all five faculties at University of Newcastle, Australia. The authors collected and analysed data about students’ experiences of tasks they completed through an anonymous online survey.


Students’ engagement with the task was extremely positive but also highly varied. This diversity of student experience can inform teaching, and in doing so, can support student equity. By understanding what students think hinders or facilitates their learning, and which students have these experiences, instructors are able to make adjustments to their teaching which address both real and perceived issues. Student experience in this study highlighted five very clear themes in relation to the student experience of undertaking online oral communications tasks which all benefit from nuanced responses by the instructor: relevance; capacity; technology; time; and support.

Practical implications

Using well-designed OOCATs that diverge from more traditional written assessments can help students successfully engage with course content and develop oral communication skills. The student experience can be used to inform teaching by catering for different student learning styles and experience. Student centred approaches such as this allows instructors to reflect upon the assumptions they hold about their students and how they learn. This understanding can help inform adjustments to teaching approaches to support improved student experience of learning oral communications tasks.


The importance of learning oral communication skills in tertiary education is widely acknowledged internationally, however, there is limited research on how to teach these skills online in a way that is student centred. This research makes a contribution toward addressing that gap.



This study was funded by a small University of Newcastle teaching and learning grant. The authors thank colleagues for providing instrumental support to the project: Luke Boulton, Bronwyn Hemsley, Nimay Kalyani, Terry Burns and Megan Rollo. YouSeeU provided access to their platform for the purposes of the trial. This study received approval from the University of Newcastle Ethics Review Board under quality assurance number QA72.


McBain, B., Drew, A., James, C., Phelan, L., Harris, K.M. and Archer, J. (2016), "Student experience of oral communication assessment tasks online from a multi-disciplinary trial", Education + Training, Vol. 58 No. 2, pp. 134-149.



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