Fiona Orel– International Study and Language Institute (ISLI)
ISLI’s Test of English for Educational Purposes (TEEP) is administered at the end of pre-sessional courses as a measure of students’ academic English proficiency. The speaking test has traditionally been an academic discussion between two students that is facilitated by an interlocutor and marked by an observer.
This case study outlines the process of creating a version of the TEEP speaking test for 1-1 online delivery.
- To create an online TEEP speaking test that could be administered at the beginning of June to 95 students
- To ensure reliability and security of results
- To support students and teachers with the transition
The Pre-sessional English course 3 (PSE 3) started in April during the period of lockdown. At the end of the course all students sit a TEEP test which includes a test of speaking skills. We realised that we wouldn’t be able to administer the usual two student + two teachers test given the constraints with technology and the changes in teaching and learning which reduced to a certain degree the students’ opportunities for oral interaction and that we would need to develop a new 1-1 test that maintained the validity and reliability of the original TEEP Speaking test.
We had two main objectives: to create a valid online 1-1 speaking test, and to make sure that the technology we used to administer the test was simple and straight-forward for both teachers and students, and would have reasonably reliable connectivity in the regions where students were based (China, Middle East and UK).
The first thing we needed to do was to return to our test specifications – what exactly were we hoping to assess through the oral exam? The original face-to-face test had five criteria: overall communication, interaction, fluency, accuracy and range, and intelligibility. We knew that interaction had been impacted by the move online, but decided that the aspect of responding appropriately to others was a crucial aspect of interaction that needed to remain and included this in the ‘overall communication’ criteria. Recognising also that interlocutors would also need to be examiners, we worked on streamlining the criteria to remove redundancy and repetition and to ensure that each block contained the same type of description in the same order thereby making it easier for tutors to skim and recall.
We then worked out exactly what functions and skills in speaking that we wanted to test and how we could do that while mostly working with existing resources. We aligned with the original test specifications by testing students’ ability to:
- Provide appropriate responses to questions and prompt
- Describe experiences and things
- Give and justify an opinion by, for example, stating an opinion, explaining causes and effects, comparing, evaluating.
The test format that enabled this was:
- Part one: an interview with the student about their studies and experience of studying online
- Part two: problem solving scenario: Students are introduced to a problem which the teacher screen shares with them and they are given three possible solutions to compare, evaluate and rank most to least effective
- Part three: abstract discussion building on the talk given in part two
The final stage was trialling a platform to conduct the tests. We had considered Zoom due to its reliability but discounted it due to security concerns. BB Collaborate had connectivity issues in China so we decided to use Teams as connectivity was generally better and students and teachers were familiar with the platform as they had been using it for tutorials. Due to the spread of students over time zones, we decided to spread the speaking tests over three mornings finishing by 11:00 BST on each day. We kept the final slot on Friday free for all teachers to enable rescheduling of tests for any student experiencing issues with connectivity on the day.
Finally, we needed to help teachers and students prepare for the tests. For students, learning materials were produced with videos of a sample test, there was a well-attended webinar to introduce the format and requirements, and the recording of this webinar was made available to all students along with a document on their BB course. This instructed them what to do before test day and what to expect on test day.
The test format and procedures were introduced to teachers with instructions for tasks to do before the test, during the test, and after the test. There was also an examiner’s script prepared with integrated instructions and speech to standardise how the tests were administered. Each test was recorded to ensure security and to enable moderation. All students had to verify their identity at the start of the test. The test recording caused some problems as we knew that the video would have to be downloaded and deleted from Stream before anyone else or the student in the Team meeting who had been tested could access it. For this reason we allowed 40 minutes for each 20 minute interview as downloading was sometimes a lengthy process depending on internet speeds. We had 2 or 3 people available each day to pick up any problems such as a teacher being unwell or having tech issues, and/or a student experiencing problems. This worked well and on the first two days we did have to reschedule a number of tests, fortunately, all worked well on the final day. The teachers were fully committed and worked hard to put students at ease, informal feedback from students was the appreciation of an opportunity to talk 1-1 with a tutor, and tutors said that the test format allowed for plenty of evidence upon which to base a decision.
The test was successful overall and there were fewer technical issues than we had anticipated. Teachers and students were happy with it as an assessment measure and we were able to award valid and reliable grades.
Working together collaboratively with the teachers and the Programme Director was incredibly rewarding and meant that we had a wide resource base of talent and experience when we did run into any problems.
Incredibly detailed planning, the sharing of information across Assessment and Pre-sessional Teams, and much appreciated support from the TEL team helped to make the test a success. Students and teachers had very clear and detailed instructions and knew exactly what was expected and how the tests would be conducted. The sharing of expertise across teams meant that problems were solved quickly and creatively, and it is good to see this practice becoming the norm.
We need to work on the issue of downloading and deleting the video after each test as this caused some anxiety for some teachers with slower internet connection. We also need to have more technical support available, especially on the first day. Most students had tested their equipment as instructed but some who hadn’t experienced issues. It would be even better if a similar activity could be built into the course so that teachers and students experience the test situation before the final test.
ISLI’s Assessment Team is now preparing to administer the same tests to a much larger cohort of students at the end of August. We will apply the lessons learned during this administration and work to make the process easier for teachers.