Prof. Dr. Debora Weber-Wulff  Teaching Ideas

Using Skype for a German Colloquium Examination

Due to the Covid-19 virus that has caused a shutdown of much of society in 2020, we are having to virtualize many parts of what we do at university. Here is a description of how a colleague and I conducted a final oral Bachelor's examination for the International Media and Computing program at the HTW Berlin on 2020-03-23.

We decided to use Skype as our technology, as I have been holding video conferences with 5-6 people during the past couple of years, and it seemed to be rather stable.

I requested that the student prepare slides for her presentation, and that she find a good internet connection. She was lucky that she was able to be at her place of work for the exam, I was on a broadband connection in Sweden and my colleage was on a mediocre connection from Berlin. I had previously requested from the examination board a PDF with the official transcript, I was able to print that out, as I could also print out my expertise. I prepared pages similar to the written transcript of the colloquium, noting the time, place and participants in the exam, as well as the special circumstances. My colleage also sent me a digital copy of the thesis, as he had the thesis + SD card with him at home, I had my copy at work and could not access it.

I contacted the student in a Skype chat so that I could be sure that she was online. Then I called my colleague on a video conference call and we spoke as we always do about the grade that we were giving for the written thesis. We agreed on a grade, I entered it into the form and then had the student join the call. Since we had just chatted all that I had to do was click on the plus sign to add a person, then select her from my recent contacts, and then click on the "add" button. She was added to the conversation.

We greeted each other, and it would have been possible for her to hold ID to the camera, but since we don't check ID in a face-to-face exam (we know the student), we didn't. It was clear that it was her. I then asked her if she agreed to have her final oral exam via Skype. She said yes. Then I asked her if she was healthy enough to take the exam, she also said yes.

She then set up desktop sharing on her computer. It took us a few minutes of fussing to get it to show right on the screen, as she had a second screen set up. It would have been easier if she just had one screen. We turned off our video and she gave the presentation.

We then went into questioning mode, and both examiners turned our video streams back on for this. I made notes on the examination form as normal, the only problem was when I was asking questions I had to note them down myself, as normally the examiners take turns taking notes. The questioning went very smoothly. Since both examiners has a digital copy of the thesis, we could quickly find the pages the other was asking questions on, and the student was easily able to turn screensharing back on in order to demonstrate this or that aspect that had not been covered in the talk.

When the questioning was over we explained to the student how we were going to proceed. We dropped her from the call so that just the two of us could discuss the oral grade. When we agreed and I had entered this grade into the form, I then calculated the final grade and added her back to the call.

Normally I would shake her hand and declare her a bachelor of science, I had to just leave it at the declaration. We gave her the final grade, explained our grading, and then asked her if she wanted her thesis in the library or the archive. I also requested that she send me her information for the alumni database, which I recorded on the examination sheet.

I will now pack all the documents that I signed---official grading sheet, my expertise, my hand-written transcript---into an envelope and will post them to my colleague this afternoon. He will sign and send them on to the university when they are able to deal with paper again. I also sent an email to the dean's office stating that she has passed today. We don't have the document that I normally sign and give to the student that confirms that they have passed this day. If I had that document digitally, I could print it, sign it, and send the student a picture of the document. Otherwise I have offered to have her company write to me by email and I can confirm that she is now a Bachelor of Science from this day.

Summary: It is possible and not that much extra work to hold a colloquium by Skype.

P.S. My school now has the forms available online.

Update 2020-05-28: Rather by accident I discovered that if someone had participated in a call, even if they were no longer in the call, they get sent the chat messages. So do not use the chat window at all to discuss grades or any such! Since the chat is only for all call participants, it is also not possible to chat with just one person. During another exam I needed to urgently discuss with the other examiner how to deal with the examinee. We ended up exchanging emails with each other. In other video conferencing solutions it is possible to chat with just one person and not with all participants.