October 3 Day 209: Oral Fixation

Let me be completely honest, last Spring when I decided to administer oral final exams in my Matrix Algebra class, it was because I needed to create a situation where I was testing my students’ understanding of mathematics and not their core principles with respect to academic honesty. In my mind, oral exams did just that. I provided a detailed post June 11 Day 95: Finals. Part II.

Faced with remote teaching yet again, I am determined to improve the experience for my current students. So how am I doing things differently in Calculus II this quarter?

I plan to have several oral assessments throughout the term to familiarize students with the process and expectations. This should reduce anxiety, which was a huge factor previously. The first oral assessment will be administered this coming week and covers prerequisite material—specifically derivatives involving the product, quotient, and chain rules for differentiation.

To scale the process from 26 students last spring to 64 students this fall, I am administering the early oral assessments to teams of students. Preassigned groups of three to four students to be interviewed and graded together. By emphasizing group work and responsibility in the first full week of our quarter, I hope to instill the value of collaboration while building community.

Here is my plan:

  • I randomly assigned students to groups through our course management system and provided directions, grading rubric, and six questions from which the oral interview will be drawn.
  • Each team is to book a 20 minute interview window through calendly.com, linked to my Outlook calendar. All team members will be notified of the time by calendly (and sent a reminder 24 hours prior to the event). So I have no additional demands on my time to do or communicate about scheduling.
  • Team members arrive at the interview knowing the order that members will present their solutions.
  • Questions will be assigned by a randomly generated ordering.

Each presentation will be graded holistically according to the following rubric:

Correct solution from presenter. Communicated complete understanding behind process. Minor errors identified by group members and corrected by presenter.
Correct or nearly correct solution from presenter. Some minor errors not recognized or corrected. Nontrivial errors identified by group members and corrected by presenter.
Corrected or nearly corrected solution with help of group. Presenter does not show full understanding behind process even if the procedure is valid. Numerous minor errors. Nontrivial errors corrected by other group members.
Needs Work
Flawed Execution. Fundamental errors and deep misunderstandings. Group does not recognize or is unable to correct nontrivial errors.
No evidence of understanding or preparation.

At the end of the assessment, a group’s presentation scores will be averaged to determine the number of points earned out of 20. I will illustrate with a few examples:

  • A group of three earning Exceeding, Emerging, and Needs Work has an average of 73.3%. Groups members earn 14.6/20 points.
  • A group of four earning Meeting, Meeting, Needs Works, and Needs Work has an average of 67.5%. Group members earn 13.5/20 points.
  • A group of any size where each member earns Exceeding has an average of 95%. Group members earn 19/20 points.

There is an opportunity to earn one additional point by completing a self-reflection on the assessment after the interview. So a perfect score of 20/20 is possible.

The grading scheme should encourage teams to prepare together, reviewing/teaching one another other until satisfied with their overall knowledge. It encourages group members to pay attention during presentations and allows others to help during the interview by identifying errors. If the presenter can correct errors the penalty is small; otherwise a teammate can help for a more substantial penalty.

Fingers crossed that this works the way I planned. Wish me luck.

Published by Jenny Quinn

Mathematician. Mother. Wife. Leader. I am a professor of mathematics at the University of Washington Tacoma. Mother of Anson and Zachary. Wife to Mark. President of the Mathematical Association of America.

4 thoughts on “October 3 Day 209: Oral Fixation

  1. I am very much looking forward trying this for a midterm. I tried individual interviews and really want to bring in the collaborative aspect. Thank you for your reflections.


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