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Oral PhD examinations: an opportunity for new approaches to building HDR students’ oral communication skills

Wednesday 3 July: Conference day one, 4:00pm – 4:30pm parallel session



Room 1 – 302-G20, Case Room



Dr Kylie Stevenson
Edith Cowan University, Australia

Dr Michael Stein
Edith Cowan University, Australia

Dr Jo McFarlane
Edith Cowan University, Australia



Oral examinations were introduced as a compulsory element of the doctoral thesis examination process at Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Perth, Western Australia, from January 2018. At the same time, ECU began work on implementing a whole-of-institution communication skills framework in the undergraduate and postgraduate coursework space (though not yet at doctoral level). Initially, this institution wide approach to communication skills assessment included an English language proficiency (ELP) rubric on every assessment coversheet; however, the current approach sees the development of a standardised rubric for use across the university that refers to communication skills, rather than ELP. With these factors in mind, ECU’s higher degree by research (HDR) Learning Support team have initiated a two-pronged approach to support the oral communication skills development for HDR candidates at ECU, shown in this showcase: the oral examination training program and the oral skills development scaffold.


The issue

In developing this Learning Support for HDR students, we needed to address the Australian Qualification Framework (2013, p.64) requirement for graduates to have communications skills sufficient to “present cogently a complex investigation of originality or original research for external examination …[and] communicate results to peers and the community”. In addition, we paid attention to the ACOLA review of Australia’s research training system, which identified communication skills as one of the most highly regarded skills by employers (2016, p.37); public submissions to the review called for HDR graduates to be equipped with “oral communication to diverse audiences” (p.38). Therefore, we positioned oral communications skills development as a pathway to meet AQF and ACOLA review guidelines.


Intended outcome

This presentation will showcase the ECU oral skills development scaffold for HDR students, which consists of five modules: everyday speaking; speaking skills for EAL HDR students; speaking about your research; 3MT-related communicating research; and oral skills for PhD examination. These five modules are designed to both build confidence and skills in oral communication. The ECU oral PhD examination training program, which forms the fifth module of this scaffold, is itself a five session program and is also showcased.



McHagh, J.; Marsh, H., Western, M., Thomas, P. Hastings, A., Mihailova, M. & Wenham, M. (2016). Review of Australia’s Research Training System. Melbourne, Australia.: Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA)
Arkoudis, S., Harris, A. Kelly, P. Hunter, K, & Lynch, A. (2018). Strengthening the evidence base for English language practices in higher education. Canberra, Australia: Office for Learning and Teaching. Retrieved from
Australian Qualifications Framework Council (2013). Australian Qualifications Framework, 2nd edition 2013. Adelaide, Australia: Australian Qualifications Framework Council. Retrieved from


Presentation topic

Students – Learning

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