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Educators predict testing shakeup is permanent

Educators anticipate the shift to remote English testing for university admission will be one Covid-19 pivot that will remain after the pandemic, speakers at a PIE event have suggested.

Photo: The PIE News

"We looked at how the students were doing in the last academic year and they did really well"

Speaking at The PIE webinar – Building Back: Recruitment and Recovery after Covid-19 – executive director of international student enrolment, education & inclusion at Canada’s Ryerson University, Isaac Garcia-Sitton, said the pandemic forced institutions to make decisions quickly.

“To institutionally get approval for online proctoring and having all of the different service units provide their opinions around all sorts of different decision points used take years,” he recalled.

“[During Covid-19] we actually had to make decisions in weeks. We all became experts at the outset around evaluating proctoring services.

“I think that this has continued emerging,” he added.

Testing providers – including ETS which revealed its TOEFL Essentials earlier this year – made a “very fast pivot so that we could continue to test students”, associate provost of global learning and international affairs at Western Kentucky University, John Sunnygard, highlighted.

“[Irish] visa authorities will outline exactly what exams are acceptable,” director of UL Global at the University of Limerick in Ireland, Josephine Page, said.

Traditional, non-digital English language exams accepted in Ireland include IELTS, TOEFL among 12 others for Ireland, but this changed temporarily during the pandemic.

“We had been asked for a number of years would we accept the Duolingo, and we always said no because we had all of these very well tested programs in place.”

After internal discussions, UL made the decision to accept it and then lobby government to put it on the list for accepted tests for September 2020.

“We looked at how the students were doing in the last academic year and they did really well,” Page said.

The Irish sector will now lobby for permanent inclusion, with educators in the position to go to government “with a very good reason and good evidence to say that it has been a success”.

“Technology allows you to really connect with students as much or as little as you need”

The pandemic also disrupted the status quo around learning modes, Garcia-Sitton added.

“I’m really hoping that [online learning] will get the recognition [of] the value that it brings on a daily basis to support the students and to support us all as we’re delivering our programming.

“The fact is that technology allows you to really connect with them as much or as little as you need. So there is something great around how we’re going to continue engaging with students.”

The long-term impact on study abroad programs remains unclear however, as displayed by UL’s most recent participant numbers.

“Our study abroad program was decimated,” Page explained. “But this year the results are stunning… they were 40% up on last year on 2019, and 2019 was a good year.”

“I was talking to my other colleagues at other universities… and it’s the same across the board.”

At the same time, the European Union is really pushing universities to be far more digitally aware and to look at blended and virtual exchange, she added.

“We’re all going to be doing awful lot more of that and training for it. So a lot of things are happening at the same time. That would mean this would be a very, very dynamic and innovative space.”

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