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Published May 6, 2020 | Chemistry

The One-On-One Interview as an Innovative Assessment Method

This article is a translation of an article first published in Profweb’s French edition.

The one-on-one interview ensures equity when we evaluate our students’ learning. In the context of distance education, this innovative method of evaluation could allow us to circumvent the potential integrity problems that distance evaluation can create. Here we discuss how to implement it, with tips and advice drawn from our practice.

Why evaluate learning by interview?

In chemistry courses, most lab reports are done in teams. We have implemented individual interview assessment in almost every course in our department to ensure individual achievement of proficiency. The interview:

  • allows us to validate the originality of the work and to ensure the integrity of the evaluation.
  • facilitates in-depth analysis of student thinking, which is not possible in a lab report or exam.
  • offers the flexibility to adapt our questions to the students' answers.
  • allows us to save time on marking

It is true that assessing all students individually can be time consuming, especially for large groups, and the interview setting can be intimidating for students. However, we believe that the advantages outweigh these disadvantages.

In a distance education context, the issue of evaluation integrity is of concern to many teachers. How can we ensure that students do not copy from one another or consult the Internet if they are given a traditional exam? As Lucie Audet wrote in a report prepared for the Réseau d'enseignement francophone à distance [PDF in French], the individual interview is one of the solutions to get around this problem.

How do you do it?

Planning for the one-on-one interview must be done carefully, considering that there are tasks to be carried out before, during and after the assessment act itself.

Before the interview

To make sure that the interview goes smoothly, we present the evaluation criteria to the students and explain how the interview will be conducted. We also show them a video clip that presents situations that could arise during their interview and suggests solutions.

Tips for a one-on-one interview - Capsule for students [in French]

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have produced a companion video aimed at both teachers and students. In it, we present some tips specific to videoconference interviews.

Additional Tips for a One-on-One Interview in Confinement - Capsule for Teachers and Students [in French]

Students then make an appointment for the individual interview, either on paper or in a digital calendar (Doodle, Calendly, Teams), during or outside of class hours. We don't schedule too many interviews in a row and keep a buffer time between each one.

At the beginning of the interview

At the time of the interview, we re-explain the process to the student, to reassure them and allow them to ask questions if necessary. At the end of the interview, the student will be asked if they want to revise their answers or add anything. This allows the student to anticipate the end of the interview and thus they will not be confused when asked if they have anything to add.

To build the student's confidence, it may be a good idea to start by asking an easy question that will start the discussion.

During the interview

Interviews are always audio recorded, but it is still a good idea to take notes. This avoids the need to listen to the recordings of all of the students. The recordings are necessary to keep a record in the event of a request for a grade review or to help us decide in a difficult case, but we rarely actually listen to them again.

It can be difficult to sequence questions or to choose the right probing questions. Over the years, we have encountered various problems in this regard. Here's how we handle them.

  • Problem 1: No Answer

    If the student does not give an answer, or if they hesitate, give the student time to think and refrain from continuing to speak to fill the silence. As the great François Pérusse rightly said, "the art of interviewing is the art of making the guest speak". To help the student, we can:

    • develop the question a little or give the beginning of the answer, so as to allow them to show what they know, even if it is not enough to succeed perfectly.
    • reduce the level of difficulty of the question
    • move on to the next question and indicate that we can come back to this one later
  • Problem 2: Evasive answer

    Sometimes the student gives a vague answer, which does not allow us to know if they have understood or not. This may be a strategy, conscious or unconscious, to avoid answering the question clearly. We can then force them to answer by asking a closed question (which would be answered by yes or no for example), and then ask to explain the answer.

    To facilitate the formulation of a clear answer, an example or an application problem can be submitted which would then force the student to give a concrete answer.

  • Problem 3: Incorrect answer

    When answering orally, students may make a mistake that is more of a distraction than a real problem in understanding the material. If an error is heard, it may be a good idea to subtly rephrase the answer and ask the student to validate that we understood it correctly. This may be an opportunity for the student to correct themselves or to confirm the error, allowing us to make a more confident judgment.

At the end of the interview

At the end, the teacher should announce that the interview is coming to a close and ask the student if there is anything more to add or if there are any questions.

The student can then be provided with immediate feedback on our overall impression. Be considerate when giving feedback, regardless of its content.

As soon as the interview is over, be prepared to give a grade, even if it is approximate, while the interview is fresh in our minds. To do this, as recommended by France Côté [in French], we use descriptive evaluation grids that we have developed for this purpose.

Descriptive grid used for the individual interview for the Comprehensive Assessment [in French]

Following the interview

After all students have been interviewed, they are given the completed marking grid with their grades.

If the grade is in dispute, an abbreviated version of the comments noted during the interview may be provided to explain our judgment. Finally, if a student requests a grade review, the committee may listen to the interview again.

The key word: benevolence

As in any act of evaluation, our actions must always be benevolent, to maintain a good classroom climate and to preserve the students' self-esteem. If we wish to debrief errors, it may be a good idea to wait until after the evaluation, perhaps in a large group, where the most common errors are mentioned to all the students, taking care, of course, not to reveal who made them and taking care not to ridicule those people.

Assessment by one-on-one interview can seem intimidating at first glance, for both teachers and students. However, after applying it in a variety of contexts, we are satisfied that it provides assurance that our evaluative judgment is sound. As a result, the interview has become one of our favourite tools. In addition, students seem to benefit from these in-depth exchanges with their teacher.

About the Authors

Caroline Cormier has been teaching chemistry at Cégep André-Laurendeau since 2008. She has always been interested in research, and has led several projects, notably on alternative designs, the flipped class and oral scientific communication. One of her priorities is that her research results be applied in professional practice. To this end, she and the teachers in her department are very active in pedagogical conferences such as those of the Association pour l'enseignement de la science et de la technologie au Québec (AESTQ) or the Association québécoise de pédagogie collégiale (AQPC). One of their important dossiers is the development of autonomy for students in a laboratory of the courses in the Natural Sciences program.

Véronique Turcotte has been teaching chemistry at the college since 2009. Her interest in pedagogical innovation leads her to integrate several teaching methods in her practice such as active learning. She has participated in the production of several video capsules for the use of the flipped class in chemistry with Caroline Cormier [in French]. She has also been involved in the screening and follow-up of at-risk students in the Natural Sciences program.

François Arseneault-Hubert has been teaching chemistry at Cégep André-Laurendeau since 2013. He is a versatile teacher who finds his pedagogical ideas in various places, in the college network, with First Nations, in high school, in applied research, in philosophy and ethics, in role-playing, in his traumatic experience as a Belgian student, and for the past 2 happy years, with a little guy who gives him a hard time like none of his students before him. Only chronic sleep deprivation prevents François from changing the world.

Bruno Voisard is a biochemist by training and has been teaching chemistry at Cégep André-Laurendeau since 2001, where he is also department coordinator. Pedagogical innovation in the teaching of difficult concepts motivates his approach to teaching. His relentless passion for chemistry drives him to keep abreast of the latest research breakthroughs, which he shares with his students in the classroom. He is the author of the textbook Chimie organique, published in 2013 by Éditions CEC. Over the years, he has been called upon to collaborate on various tasks related to the Natural Sciences program, including program revision, evaluation and management.

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