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English assessment at universities in a post-crisis world

It’s been a disruptive 12 months for the university sector. As we start to move to a post crisis world – it’s a good time for universities to stop and ask: how can we attract students from new source markets to diversify our international student population?

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"We’ve developed AI-powered online learning and assessment solutions that are already working in practice to make automated ratings and provide feedback successfully"

And, how will the last year shape the future of language learning and assessment?

Diversifying admissions 

As universities look to the future, how can they ensure they attract students from new sources to help boost their international student population? One way of helping to achieve this is through the English tests you use for admissions purposes.

IELTS remains the pre-eminent choice for most universities but student’s may have already taken or have access to other examinations that certificate their proficiency level for study purposes.

The widely available Cambridge English Qualifications, for example, are designed to test skills that students need, not only to cope with the demands of university life, but also to develop the communications skills that ensure a positive study experience in another country.

For example, the exams are based on real life situations and include an interactive speaking test that is taken face-to-face, thus encouraging learners to speak with confidence.

They are also recognised and available globally, so choosing to recognise a relevant Cambridge English Qualification for university entry can help admissions officers to increase the pool of students they have access to. This can help diversify their admissions processes and encourage greater access to their courses.

How will the pandemic shape the future for universities?

Looking longer term, a second question relates to the impact of the crisis on the future and how it might shape the future of language learning and assessment. Let’s consider some of the lessons learnt in the last twelve months.

Our colleagues in the Gulf region recently looked at many of these challenges and success stories emerging from the crisis at an event they held called The Future of Digital Assessment in the Post Pandemic World.  One interesting observation they made was that in spite of all the restrictions the sector has faced, the discussion is now shifting to how we deliver even better language education in the future. A reason for optimism in the sector.

“Staff generally found the transition to online remote learning generally smoother than expected”

Universities who took part in the event reported how their staff generally found the transition to online remote learning generally smoother than expected, mainly due to their wide-ranging experiences of learning management systems.

Interestingly many agreed that the transition posed more challenges for students, particularly as some new students never got the chance to experience a face-to-face university class. Other challenges included the difficulties of online observation for teachers, IT competencies and the practicality of delivering lessons remotely.

They also discussed the benefits of online testing, such as our fully automated Linguaskill test that provides an effective solution for remote testing, and the growing importance of English for employability in a post-crisis world.

But what does this mean more long-term for assessment?

It would be impossible to cover every piece of edtech that is going to make an impact in the future in this article, but I would like to focus on the importance of artificial intelligence as the one to watch.

I firmly believe that there is a huge opportunity to improve learning outcomes with the appropriate use of AI designed for educational purposes – so edtech plus EdAI.

At Cambridge we have extensive experience of using technology to support language learning, and we’ve developed AI-powered online learning and assessment solutions that are already working in practice to make automated ratings and provide feedback successfully.

For example, Write & Improve is a tool that gives instant feedback on students’ writing for learning purposes, and our AI-powered Linguaskill is increasingly being used by universities to measure the English language progress students have made during their courses.

I think it’s fair to say that many new digital approaches for English learning and assessment have been road tested during the restrictions of Covid-19, and it’s given us all of us a glimpse into the future.

This is a sponsored post written by Nick Saville, Director of Research and Thought Leadership at Cambridge Assessment English.

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