Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Audio assignments for students?

A previous post (Audio feedback on written assignments) listed a few examples of tutors giving feedback to students in audio form. (Collective feedback, as a podcast to an entire class, is common; individual audio feedback is rarer and I think more interesting.)

I've since found out that in my own faculty (Education and Language Studies) tutors on the language courses give audio feedback quite regularly - which should not be surprising: these being distance learning courses, students make audio recordings to practice their language productive skills, so it's natural for tutors to give feedback in the same medium.

But reading about some highly successful podcasts by a philosophy lecturer at Glasgow made me wonder whether this model of spoken-assignment, spoken-feedback could be extended further. Why are these podcasts so popular? Of course, it may just be that she's a brilliant lecturer. But there's another possible reason, to do with the nature of philosophy itself: that it's a discipline which is practiced through language. To do philosophy is to talk. One can do philosophy through writing, of course, but talking is the original technology through which philosophy was created, and through which its business (the persuasive engagement of another soul) is most intimately conducted.

If it were not for the traditions of the modern university, which since about 1800 have based their systems of assessment on written examinations, we might place more value on the spoken production of language. Philosophy is just one discipline where we might reasonably expect students to be able not only to think and write persuasively but to speak persuasively. Management is another (eg the team briefing, the strategy presentation, the three-minute business case to the Board). In fact, most professional disciplines have a communicative and persuasive component, which in practical situations is more often conducted in speech than in writing. Perhaps it's time that our assessment methods reflected this?

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