Assessment, evaluations and testing are commonly confused terms. For the purpose of this book, assessment refers to the testing of learner performance, and evaluation is used to mean any means of getting information about the course. The latter can refer to whether the material is appropriate to the level, how the learners are coping with the workload or whether the methodology used is appropriate. As such, assessment of learners is often undertaken before evaluation can take place.
Assessment, for many teachers, means testing, followed by grade giving. Grades and marks, however, offer limited information to both learners and teacher, whereas complimentary written comments, indicating where learners can improve and where they are doing well, can be more enlightening.
Lucantoni (2002:57) states there are three reasons for assessment:
- Formative assessment. The purpose of this type of assessment is to evaluate the current progress of learners, in order to determine what needs to be done in the future. Formative assessment is undertaken regularly and is an ongoing process. The main focus is on helping learners with the learning process.
- Summative assessment. The reason for this type of assessment is to measure how much learners have achieved up to a certain point in time. Summative assessment is done occasionally, at the end of a term or year. The challenge with these low-stakes tests (i.e.tests that are internal, not leading to qualifications) is to create meaningful tests that show corrections of mistakes and provide comments to help learners know how to improve.
- Formal qualification. Undertaken through external examination, formal qualification depends on the learners’ language level and needs. Preparing learners for these tests is often an important part of a teacher’s role. More and more examinations for formal qualifications (high-stakes tests, i.e. those which could have a major impact on learners’ lives) are being conducted now through computer-based and internet- based testing.
Exploiting technology for formative assessment can be learner-centred and used to give learners extra practice. An example in this chapter is the use of screen-capture software to give individual feedback on writing. Not only is this software an example of technology being used to save the teacher time when marketing writing (spoken feedback is provided, which is quicker than written feedback), but the learners receive both extra listening practice and individualized attention.
Formative assessment as we move towards the idea of lifelong learning (i.e.learning that continues learning beyond school and university). Another way in which technology can support the idea of lifelong learning is through the use of electronic portfolios (or e-portfolios), such as the European Language Portfolio (Council of Europe, 2000). Portfolios have long been a standard way for a number of professionals (artist, architects, ect.) to collect and showcase their work. Increasingly, portfolios are being used by teachers and learners of all subjects.One way of using online e-portfolios is presented in this chapter. The advantages of using online e-portfolios, rather than paper copies, include portability (i.e. they can be easily accessed and shared), and the potential for multimedia (including digital images of learners work, and audio and video files of learners speaking, etc.). E-portfolios can also be used for summative assessment of learners, as the e-portfolio becomes an ongoing record of learners progress.
Another activity in this chapter that deals with summative assessment is 11.2., which proposes using the idea of gamification (i.e. the use of game-design techiniques and game thinking to enhance non-game contexts to add fun to assessment. As Lee Sheldon states in The Multiplayer Classroom, assessment ‘tends to focus attention more on grades than content’, and this is why assessment is often disliked by learners. Few learners look forward to tests with relish because traditional assessment usually highlights the mistakes learners make, punishing them for their failutre, rather than rewarding them for their success. One way of remedying this problem, through the awarding of badges, is presented in this activity.
Gamification can also help with formal assessment, especially when dealing with young learners and teenagers. The adoption of experience points, and a level system more usually found in a computer adventure game than in a classroomm , is suggested in 11.9 – to make practising for formal examinations more fun.
Formal assessment is also dealt with in Activities 11.3., 11.4. and 11.5, which look at ways in which technology can be used with testing to encourage learners to reflect on assessment, and to make assessment more learner-centred.
Evaluation of a language course is often left until the last moment, and, more than not, evaluation seems to be an afterthough. This doesn’t have to be the case, however, and information about the choice of teaching materials, ect. can be collected throughout the course. One way of collecting this information is through the use of surveys, and there is an example activity in this chapter focusing on information collection.