PhD Oral Exam - Larissa Buss, Education
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
This dissertation explores issues related to the development and evaluation of second language (L2) oral performance and to teacher training in L2 pronunciation pedagogy. Study 1 investigated naturalistic changes in L2 graduate student presentations given at the beginning and end of the students’ first two terms of study at an English-medium university. The presentations were evaluated for accentedness, comprehensibility, fluency, topic structure clarity, and overall quality by native English listeners. Links between the listener evaluations and the speakers’ use of paratones (measured as pitch increase at topic shifts) were also explored. The participants became significantly less accented and more comprehensible, but no other changes were found, and pitch increase values were not correlated with any of the listener ratings. Listener comments provided more intricate insights into the role of intonation in perceptions of structural clarity and overall quality of L2 presentations.
Study 2 involved participants from the same pool as those in Study 1, but examined longitudinal changes over four time points. Samples taken from L2 graduate student presentations mostly in engineering and computer science were evaluated for accentedness, comprehensibility, fluency, content, organization, and speaking style by two groups of listeners: content specialists and non-specialists. Overall, no significant changes were found, but an analysis of individual performance revealed that some speakers appeared to improve in fluency and speaking style. The main difference between the listener groups was that specialists valued content and organization more than non-specialists, and their comments tended to be more specific and mention a wider range of assessment criteria.
Study 3 explored the effects of training in pronunciation pedagogy on student teacher cognitions. Pre-service teachers from one university attended a course in phonology and pronunciation teaching, while a comparable group from another university received no specific training in pronunciation teaching. Data were collected through questionnaires and interviews. The treatment participants developed more favorable views of explicit pronunciation teaching and became more confident in their ability to teach pronunciation than the comparison group. The interviews revealed other cognition changes and several positive aspects of the course that influenced cognition development, as well as potential areas for improvement.