Teaching with Technology

Computing & Information Services

Remote thesis oral exams

Although remote oral exams represent a shift from the familiar in-person exam, proper preparation and planning can make for a good experience. 

As you plan for thesis orals, keep in mind that students may not have access to high-speed internet, a quiet, distraction-free place to join a videoconference session, or tools like a tablet to simulate board work. They may also be several time zones away from you and other orals board participants. 

Even under perfect conditions, a 90-minute videoconference can feel much longer than an in-person discussion. Consider building in one or more breaks, or using less than the entire allotted time.

If you or your students have questions about the technical aspects of remote thesis orals, please contact its@reed.edu.

[Note:  These guidelines focus on the use of Zoom for videoconferencing.  If you are accustomed to using Google Meet and wish to use that tool for oral exams, please contact its@reed.edu if you have questions or need assistance.]

Scheduling

As a thesis adviser, the easiest way to schedule a Zoom meeting for an oral is to add the Zoom meeting to your Google Calendar and then invite the student, other readers, and the Faculty Administrative Coordinator as guests to the meeting. 

To schedule a Zoom meeting for a thesis oral:

  • Open the Zoom app and sign in (if prompted)
  • Click Schedule and fill in the appropriate meeting name, date, and start and end times.
  • Select the option to require a password to secure your meeting. More on Zoom security
  • In the Audio section, make sure Telephone and Computer Audio is selected.
  • In the Calendar section, select Google Calendar.
  • Click Schedule; Google Calendar will open and create a calendar event with your meeting information.
  • In the Guests area of the Google Calendar event, type the names of your advisee, other readers, and your Faculty Administrative Coordinator.
  • When you have added everyone, click the Save button near the top of the window to put the event on your Google Calendar and send calendar invitations to other participants.

Elements of a thesis oral 

Presentation

For a live presentation with slides or other visual elements, students can share their computer screen in Zoom to present the visuals as they speak. 

  • The adviser may need to grant the student permission to share their screen; click Security in the meeting controls at the bottom of the window and make sure Allow participants to > Share Screen is selected.
  • The student can see board members’ video windows while presenting.

Alternatively, students could record a presentation ahead of time and share it with their orals board for asynchronous viewing.

Discussion 

Zoom allows both video and audio conferencing. For students who have limited internet bandwidth or don’t have access to a webcam, audio-only conferencing may be the best option. In some cases, students may need to use a telephone to call in to the conference, rather than participating via a computer.

Work “at the board”

Since very few students will have access to a whiteboard or chalkboard, board work will look quite different than usual. Having the student practice in advance with the preferred option(s) is strongly recommended. Some of these tools can be tricky to use and the student should be as comfortable as possible before using them in an oral.  Listed below are some suggested options, ordered by technical complexity (more simple to more complex).

  • Students who have a webcam can either point it at their work while they write or draw on a piece of paper or board, or hold their work up to the camera after they finish writing.
  • Students who do not have a webcam can write/draw on a piece of paper, use a smartphone camera to take a picture of their work, then email their work to their board members.
  • Students who have access to an iPad (and, ideally, a stylus) can share the iPad’s screen and write or draw on it in real time.  
  • Students can open a Zoom whiteboard and write or draw on it in real time, although free-form drawing can be difficult with a trackpad or mouse.
  • Students can use Zoom’s annotation tools to draw or write on a prepared figure or other image; again, free-form drawing may be difficult. 

Private discussion among orals board members

When it is time for the orals board to discuss the student’s work, the adviser can send the student to the meeting’s waiting room:

  • Click Security in the meeting controls at the bottom of the window and make sure Enable waiting room is selected
  • Click Participants in the meeting controls at the bottom of the window
  • Select the student’s name > More… > Put in waiting room

While in the waiting room, the student will not see or hear what is going on in the meeting. 

When the discussion is over, the adviser can bring the student back into the meeting:

  • Click Participants in the meeting controls at the bottom of the window
  • You’ll see the waiting room window; click Admit and the student will be able to rejoin the meeting.

Troubleshooting

Low video or audio quality

If audio quality is low, ask participants to turn off their video feeds to increase audio bandwidth. In some cases, joining the conference via telephone audio may result in a better connection. A dial-in telephone number is included in the meeting invitation.

Leaving and rejoining a meeting

If a participant’s internet connection is unexpectedly disrupted, they may suddenly leave the meeting. If this happens, they can rejoin the meeting by going back to the meeting invitation and clicking the meeting link, or by calling the phone number listed on the invitation.