Wittenborg Held First Face-to-Face Thesis Oral Defence since Lockdown
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on higher education as institutions replaced face-to-face lectures with online learning. The lockdown due to the pandemic has also affected learning and examinations including presentations for defending theses. This presentation, which is widely known as 'Oral Defence' or 'viva voce' (Latin for "with living voice"), is an oral examination whereby final-year bachelor and master's students defend their graduation assignment (thesis) to an expert audience as part of the requirements of the degree.
The oral defence is often much desired and anticipated by students as it marks the culmination of their higher education journey. However, it can also represent the biggest challenge, an often thirty minutes to one-hour hurdle that they have to cross before they can officially be called a graduate.
Face-to-face Oral Defence vs Online Defence
At Wittenborg, oral defence had always been carried out face-to-face, in front of examiners, other faculty and students and invited friends and relatives. When the pandemic struck, it was moved to online via Microsoft Teams Meeting platform. With the lifting of most, if not all, restrictions pertaining to the pandemic, being an experiential higher education institution, the Education Board of Wittenborg has decided to revert to its classic physical oral defence this month. Wittenborg strongly believes that a physical or public oral defence is more formal, more realistic and more professional compared to the online version. This is the manifestation of all the competencies and skills that students have gained throughout their study, such as communication & presentation skills, critical thinking skills as well as other soft skills, such as confidence, persistence and preparedness.
Wittenborg's face-to-face oral defence was carried out at both of Wittenborg's study locations in Apeldoorn and Amsterdam. Babak Moghadam, Wittenborg's Examination & Student Registry Coordinator, commented that for the face-to-face oral defence, administrative-wise, it is slightly more challenging as it requires room preparation and technical set-ups as well as additional staff to administer the whole process. However, he feels that the result was more fulfilling as compared to online oral defence. "Seeing the students' happiness after their presentations was really pleasant and satisfactory. It is really nice to see them on campus at the last stage of their study journey," added Moghadam.
Commenting on the online oral defence, one of Wittenborg's external examiners, Ietje Dikken, said that in the beginning he found the online defence to be qualitatively lower compared to the face-to-face oral defence. However, it got better after a certain period of time when everyone got used to it. For Wittenborg lecturer, Bojan Georgievski, the physical or face-to-face defence, is much nicer as you get a feeling for the student and their behaviour.
Bui Hong Ngoc, a graduate from the Master of Business Management specialising in Digital Marketing & Communication, said that from her perspective she feels more confident in her oral defence as there is better interaction with the markers face to face. The formality of the occasion sparks her motivation to put in more effort and enthusiasm into her performance. Indeed, she said that she has expended much more time in her preparation for the big day, by re-reading her paper and thinking of some possible questions that the examiners might ask. She even read articles and news related to her topic to gain broader and deeper knowledge and perspectives.
When asked how she felt, now that she has finally graduated, Bui, who is from Vietnam, said, "I feel happy and am very proud of myself that I have finally completed my master's journey. This experience has not only enriched me with more knowledge but also helped me to develop further my personal, social and professional skills. I am truly grateful to all my classmates and professors."
For students who will be doing their Oral Defence in future, Bui has this advice, "The most important thing is to understand your topic and research well. If you understand deeply what you have researched and any issues related to the topic, you can answer the questions from the markers better." She also feels that students should be confident when presenting their papers, because markers can sense if they are not prepared for it. Agreeing with the point about confidence, Dikken said that students should be more aware of their appearance and gesture, i.e. not to put their hands in their pockets or to look onto the screen continuously. He also added, "Students need to realise that a presentation has to be attractive to the audience. Delivering lots of statistics and facts of the research will only make the audience fall asleep." On a different note, Georgievski said, "Students should be relaxed. Consider this as a small accomplishment and enjoy the process."
by Hanna Abdelwahab