JOHOR BAHRU, 29 April 2020 – Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) has adopted video conferencing as the means of conducting oral examination (viva-voce) as part of the online learning and teaching method upon their postgraduate students during the Movement Control Order (MCO) period.
The utilisation of video conferencing for the purpose of viva-voce is allowed during MCO as the candidates or examiners may face a travel restriction, and also to abide by the SOP of MCO outlined by the Malaysian Government.
In order to do this, the faculties and schools which will be conducting viva-voce session, must ensure that the video conferencing facility or online platform is the most appropriate course of action and parallel with the interest of all parties involved.
The parties referred to are the people involved during the viva-voce session, consisting of viva chairperson, assistant chairperson, internal and external examiners, and the postgraduate student himself/herself, who is defending the Doctoral or Master’s thesis. The viva session is part of the requirements for the full research and mixed mode of postgraduate study in UTM.
Prior to this, UTM School of Graduate Studies (SPS) has come out with a special guidelines and SOP for faculties and schools in order to ensure the viva-voce session will go smoothly.
If there is a disagreement between the parties involved on the delivery method of the viva, the application of video conferencing or online platform for the oral examination, the sessions shall be postponed.
The Chair of UTM School of Graduate Studies, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Noor Hazarina binti Hashim said SPS has required a consent form to be filled up as evidence of agreements by all parties involved before the session.
Dr. Noor Hazarina also added that it is not compulsory for the external examiners to attend the full session due to the restriction of traveling by the MCO order and the external examiners may share their questions with the chairman during the discussion prior to the commencement of the viva session.
Although the university has allowed the use of video conferencing technology, some conditions still need to be complied with by the parties involved.
“It should also be noted that as a result of the MCO, all parties involved in the assessment process are allowed to be in separate places but must be present virtually at the time set by SPS,” said Dr. Noor Hazarina.
There are also several aspects that need to be taken into account if one candidate wishes to use the online oral examination.
“Besides ensuring the availability of complete documents related to viva session, among other conditions needed before the online oral examination can be carried out, the students must obtain B2, B1, or A grade in their thesis examination report.
“The parties involved also should ensure the availability of communication infrastructure and internet connections are in their ‘grasp’ before giving their consent for the candidates to select this method of examination,” said Dr. Noor Hazrina.
In addition, Dr. Noor Hazarina also emphasised that in giving the approval for the online oral examination, SPS will prioritise the applicants based on criteria such as: students who have submitted their thesis prior to MCO, sponsored students who need to finish their studies on-time, and international students who need to go back to their countries of origin.
“Students also must give their agreements on not going to use the remote online examination including the video conferencing as a ground for appeal in the case of not getting a satisfactory grade caused by technical problems of the online session.”
“The terms and conditions were all included inside the declaration form that needs to be filled by the students who opted to use this method for their oral examination,” said Dr. Noor Hazrina.
Recently, Azman Hashim International Business School (AHIBS) has conducted a viva-voce session upon one of UTM’s international doctoral student, Nawar Ali Makttoof, supervised by senior lecturer, Dr Haliyana Khalid.
During the viva session, the external examiner was Assoc. Prof. Dr. Akram Zeki from Kulliyyah of Information & Communication Technology (KICT), International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) while the internal examiner was Prof Dr. Nur Naha Abu Mansor from AHIBS, and the student obtained B2 result which was considered excellent.
Dr. Haliyana Khalid said SPS had managed to provide a clear SOP on how to conduct the viva session and encourage a trial session which was helpful to those who are involved in getting familiar with the platform.
“The usage of online oral examination is convenient and it reduces costs.
The prompt communication among the panels and organizers before and after the session has helped the online oral examination to be conducted smoothly and in a friendly environment.
However in terms of improvement, it should be provided with some guidelines or advice on how to take group photos at the end of the session,” she added.
Another online viva-voce session conducted during MCO was at the Faculty of Built Environment & Surveying UTM (FABU), Zafira Nadia binti Maaz, a local doctoral student supervised by a senior lecturer, Dr. Shamsulhadi bin Bandi.
During the viva session, there were two external examiners who were Prof. Dr. Roger Flanagan from Reading University and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mohd Wira bin Mohd Shafiei from Universiti Sains Malaysia, while the internal examiner was Assoc. Prof. Sr Dr. Sarajul Fikri bin Mohamed and the student obtained B1 result which was very excellent.
According to Zafira, the most notable advantage of online viva-voce is that it enables the VIVA sessions to be conducted quickly without having to wait for too long and also it avoids the need to travel long distances that is not convenient during the MCO period.
In addition, it makes the process smoother as students can control what they want to show during the presentation, for example research evidence and journals simply by clicking on their own laptops. This makes communication more effective.
“VIVA online also gives students greater confidence because virtual presence reduces anxiety during the presentation session compared to physical presence. Students will be more focused.
The disadvantages are of course when there are barriers to Internet service like limited access and coverage. In addition, there may be other constraints on the environment at their place, for example children crying, vehicle sounds and so on,” she said.