Oral Communication

Defining Oral Communication in HE

A glance at a selection of module outlines and program specifications indicates the array of HE learning and teaching activities that involve oral communication, including seminar and small group discussions, mock interviews, moots, role plays, group and individual oral presentations and project and dissertation vivas. Oral communication is considered to be a core aspect of employability (Knight and Yorke, 2006)* and in recognition of its importance for university students and graduates all QAA (2006) subject benchmark statements also include, under transferable or non-subject specific skills, the need for students to be able to present information orally. Hughes and Large (1993) found that a number of students have a level of oral communication considerably discrepant from their written communication and argue that, if both written and oral forms of communication are required of graduates by employers, both should be developed through degree programmes and should contribute to the final degree class awarded.

Although written assessment forms overwhelmingly outnumber oral assessment forms within HE curricula, oral assessment has held a longstanding important role, particularly in professional education such as medicine and law (Joughin, 1998). Oral assessment might simply be defined as the process of assessing a person's ability to communicate coherently and appropriately and to support their arguments/opinions effectively through the use of spoken communication. Oral assessment is often used as a tool for testing people's knowledge in a way that allows assessors to probe and scrutinize them, for example through a viva, which they are otherwise unable to do through the use of exams and coursework.

*See the Oral Communication Literature Review (or Literature Review Summary ) for full references and further details of the key discussions about oral communication, including:

  • the current nature of oral communication and its assessment in HE;
  • supporting learners in developing oral communication practices (e.g. delivering presentations, participating in seminars);
  • intercultural communication;
  • ensuring inclusivity when developing and assessing oral communication practices.




Brunel University (West London)