At a livestream event by the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) in 2020, speakers and professors Attila Brungs and Margaret Gardner argued that Australia’s education sector was the nation’s fourth-largest export in 2019 and has been a key contributor to the national economy.

Fast-forward a few months, and headlining newspapers across Australia and the world in 2020 is the financial impact of COVID-19 on the higher education sector. The dramatic impact of the pandemic on the nation’s higher education sector has accelerated new thinking and innovation and is transforming the way it operates and delivers education.

Assessments in the COVID-19 era

As the ripple effect of the drop in international student numbers and significant changes to government support for the sector are assessed, universities are investigating the implications of radical cost-cutting measures, including the rationalisation of course offerings and assessment designs to meet targets in reducing employee costs and address online delivery requirements.

As a result, the pandemic has created significant challenges for the global higher education community. We felt that these challenges presented a significant opportunity to offer creative and innovative models of content and assessment design delivery. As Dr Crawford from the University of Tasmania explained, the pandemic presented us with a chance to learn from the pedagogical developments of other universities, in order to strengthen our collective response to COVID-19 now and beyond.

In our case, it was COVID-19 that accelerated the work on innovative assessment designs as alternative and authentic pieces of assessment that we have been investing time and effort researching, designing and implementing since 2016, and brought to the fore the benefits and pertinence of Interactive Oral (IO) Assessments.

Specifically, amid COVID-19, large-scale lectures and big exam halls are prohibited by both common sense and law, leaving a mix of non-invigilated assessment modalities and where necessary exams, that may be proctored online, as the only options. The shift to these alternate forms of assessment may foster a culture of commercial contract cheating and escalates the workload associated with the detection and investigation of these cases by academic staff. 

The Rise of Interactive Orals

As institutions and academics are compelled to assess skill development and enhance employability prospects whilst offering assessment tasks online without compromising student engagement, out of this seemingly impossible situation has arisen an unlikely hero and viable model: Interactive Oral Assessments.

Interactive Orals (IOs) are engaging forms of assessments set in a workplace environment/scenario that offer authentic opportunities for students to engage in genuine, unscripted conversation(s). As our empirical research findings support, IOs are an “efficient and effective form of authentic assessment that promotes skill development and employability, enhances overall student engagement and a personalised approach to learning and teaching, and preserves academic integrity”. 


The challenges COVID-19 has presented for higher education assessments have revitalised interest in a cross-disciplinary study on IO Assessments, undertaken by us as a viable alternative or transformative assessment solution.
Interactive Assessment
Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash
IO in Practice

We have 20 examples of IOs that illustrate different design and applications. An example to illustrate an IO is an assessment designed in a capstone in the Bachelor of International Tourism and Hotel Management as a 30-minute group IO at the end of the course. During the term, students in groups manage the simulated service operations of a hotel.

This 12-week simulation sees each student allocated to a particular service operation where they will be responsible for making agile decisions based on changing data each week for the period of the term. The students are assessed on various aspects of the process throughout the simulation and their final assessment is an IO in the form of a Shareholder Meeting where students are asked to defend their decisions about their assigned service operations. 

It’s a beautifully scaffolded, industry-based assignment, with authentic design that also aids moderation as it prevents social loafing—one of the main reasons groups are sometimes less productive than the combined performance of their members working as individuals. In this example, students must engage throughout the term to be able to deliver at the end. If they haven’t been making their decisions during the 12 weeks, they are not able to defend them during the IO.

According to our testing, the more relevant the assessment is to a real-world scenario, the less likely students are to experience exam anxiety or engage in academic misconduct. Students tell us that not only is it difficult to cheat because IOs are so personalised in their design but that they don’t have any intention to cheat because they see the relevance of the IO assessments to the real world and know that the skills they will develop through IOs will set them up in their careers. Furthermore, as the IOs are scaffolded, when the time comes, students are well prepared to perform well and achieve great outcomes because they have been building to that moment.

Global dissemination and uptake

The challenges that COVID-19 has presented to higher education assessments has revitalised interest in disseminating the ‘know-how’ on how we design and manage IO assessments as a viable alternative.

To address the demand, we have been invited to deliver several workshops and webinars on global and Australasian platforms such as ASCILITE Transforming Assessment Webinar, SMAANZ 2020, BbWorld20, Blackboard TLC 20 Asia-Pacific and a Blackboard academy webinar. During webinars, we have run design workshop activities via a Padlet workspace (at times with more than 360 participants) that actively engaged attendees in considering applications of IOs appropriate to their discipline.

As we have shared our unique assessment model with the world as a potential COVID-19 workaround for providing invigilated assurance of online student learning at scale under lockdown, IOs have been taken up and are now used in other schools at Griffith University—including the School of Education and Professional Studies—and at other universities in Australia, as colleagues learn to design and adopt IO Assessments as a result of our research/innovation.

Beyond this institutional and Australia-wide impact, at an international scale, other institutions are also actively implementing IOs, including the Dublin City University (Ireland) and the Institute of Technology (Singapore). 


Danielle LoganDanielle Logan is a Learning and Teaching Consultant at Griffith University, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and is an expert international panellist contributing to the annual Higher Education Horizon Report (EDUCAUSE) 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Follow Danielle on Twitter.

Popi SotiriadouPopi Sotiriadou is an Associate Professor for Sport Management, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education 

Follow Popi on Twitter.Academy and the co-editor for the Journal of Sport Policy and Politics.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

You might also like