Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) has adopted video conferencing to conduct oral examinations (viva voce) for postgraduate students defending their doctoral or master's thesis due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The move was made to address travel restrictions that candidates or examiners may face, and to abide by the standard operating procedures (SOP) of the Movement Control Order (MCO) outlined by the government.
To ensure online viva voce sessions go smoothly, UTM School of Graduate Studies (SPS) has set guidelines and SOP for faculties and schools.
SPS chairman Associate Professor Dr Noor Hazarina Hashim said for students to be considered for online viva voce, they must first fulfill several criteria. Among which the students had submitted their thesis prior to the MCO, are sponsored students who need to finish their studies on time and international students who need to return to their countries.
Besides ensuring the availability of complete documents related to the viva sessions, students must obtain grades of B2, B1, or A in their thesis examination reports before the online oral examination could be carried out.
Noor Hazarina said for the oral examinations to commence, all parties involved were required to fill up a consent form as evidence of agreement by all parties.
The parties referred to are the people involved in the viva voce session, comprising the viva chairman, assistant chairman, internal and external examiners, and the postgraduate student who is defending his thesis.
"The parties involved also should ensure the availability of communication infrastructure and that Internet connections are in their 'grasp' before giving their consent for the candidates to select this method of examination," said Noor Hazrina.
"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 session shall be postponed.
"Students also must give their agreement not to use the remote online examination method, including the video conferencing method, as a ground for appeal in the case of not getting a satisfactory grade caused by technical problems of the online session," she highlighted.
UTM Azman Hashim International Business School (AHIBS) recently conducted a viva voce session involving international doctoral student Nawar Ali Makttoof, who is supervised by senior lecturer Dr Haliyana Khalid.
During the viva session, the external examiner was Associate Professor Dr Akram Zeki from International Islamic University Malaysia's Kulliyyah of Information and Communication Technology, while the internal examiner was Professor Dr Nur Naha Abu Mansor from AHIBS.
Haliyana said SPS had provided a clear SOP on how to conduct the viva session.
"The usage of online oral examination is convenient and it reduces costs. The prompt communication among panel members and organisers before and after the session has helped the online oral examination be conducted smoothly and in a friendly environment," she said.
"However in terms of improvement, there should be some guidelines or advice on how to take group photos at the end of the session."
Another online viva voce session conducted during the MCO was at the UTM's Faculty of Built Environment and Surveying, involving Zafira Nadia Maaz, a local doctoral student supervised by senior lecturer Dr Shamsulhadi Bandi.
During the viva session, there were two external examiners, Professor Dr Roger Flanagan from Reading University and Associate Professor Dr Mohd Wira Mohd Shafiei from Universiti Sains Malaysia. The internal examiner was Associate Professor Sr Dr Sarajul Fikri bin Mohamed.
Zafira said the most notable advantage of online oral examination was that it enabled the viva sessions to be conducted quickly without having to wait for too long and it avoided the need to travel long distances, which was inconvenient during the MCO.
She added that it made the process smoother as students could control what they wanted to show during the presentation simply by clicking on their laptops, making communication more effective.
"Online viva sessions also give students greater confidence because virtual presence reduces anxiety during the presentation, compared with physical presence. Students will be more focused.
"The disadvantages include barriers to Internet service, like limited access and coverage. In addition, there may be other constraints on the environment, like crying children, noisy vehicles and so on."