Assessing Language in an E-Learning Environment

Assessing Language in an E-Learning Environment

Rebecca LaPlante (Arizona State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6986-2.ch012


The aim of this chapter is to help guide language instructors with assessment strategies for online courses. The chapter is based on the theoretical background of constructivism and principles for distance learning. Assessment strategies for both formative and summative assessments include tools for implementing discussion boards, wikis, e-portfolios, integrated skills assessment, synchronous and asynchronous communication, and scoring tools. This guided chapter is appropriate for instructors with little to no experience in online testing, or for the more experienced with topics including scenario-based assessments and gamification. Furthermore, the chapter covers implementation strategies that can affect test performance and validity in regards to screen design, security, and directions.
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First, it is important to understand which foundational theories are seen in online learning. When computer-based learning first began, most course designs were rooted in behaviorism methodologies; however, today we see a blend of behaviorist, cognitivist, and constructivist paradigms in online learning (Alley, 2008). But how does this look for learning a language online? How do instructors effectively assess all four-core skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) using an online platform? First, any online learning must develop courses grounded in instructional design principles. According to Merrill’s (2013) five principles of online instruction, new skills need to be demonstrated. For example, new grammar structures in a writing task, or choosing an appropriate response between interlocutors. Additionally, Ring and Mathieux (2002) assert that online learning needs to be in an authentic context. In the field of language learning, Guariento and Morley (2001) explain that a demonstration or output production should simulate a real-world use of the language for the test or task to be authentic. Chapelle and Douglas (2006) note that test developers need to consider both situational authenticity and interactional authenticity. Authentic tasks are critical in language development because they model real-world interactions in which the learner needs to use the language. Thus, this chapter will look at developing assessment strategies for online courses that are designed primarily using constructivist methods.

Constructivism is a derivative of constructionism that emphasizes social interaction to create meaning (Kim, 2001). Vygotsky’s (1978) theory of social constructivism emphasizes social interaction to develop understanding and negotiate meaning. Language instructors in a face-to-face classroom utilize interactions between themselves and other students to create a language-learning context-based on social interactions. Social constructivist methods rely on the importance of interaction to learn not only context but also culture (Kim, 2001). Anderson (2003) asserts that interaction is a critical component of educational learning and has had high value for distance learning. Is this interaction still possible for language learning and assessments online? The answer is yes. Online courses have the ability to facilitate interaction with peers and the instructor across distances for both synchronous and asynchronous communication, which can be used for formative assessment and feedback.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Integrated Assessment: The learner is asked to respond to a prompt that incorporates two or more skills, such reading a passage and then writing their response to the passage.

MOOCs: Massive open online courses are online courses developed for open enrollment, free of charge. If and when the learner decides they want credit for the course, or earn a certificate then they pay for the course.

Asynchronous Communication: In distance learning this refers to any interaction that does not happen in real-time.

Gamification: Web-based activity that employs a rewards system such as points or leveling.

Learning Management Systems (LMSs): Software programs typically used in educational systems that allow for the administration and creation of course content with a tracking system for grades.

Independent Assessment: The learner is asked to respond in either writing or speaking to a prompt that is not connected to another skill, set such as reading.

SCORM: Sharable content object reference model is a list of references for the technological design of online learning software so that the software is compatible with LMSs. It is not involved with curriculum or pedagogical implications but only software design so that the software can be used easily with a variety of LMSs.

Interactional Authenticity: Interaction among participants and or the test itself and the participant.

Formative Assessment: Any tasks or activity that provides information on current learning gains.

Synchronous Communication: Any interaction that happens in real time.

Situational Authenticity: Considers the context, participants, and the tone.

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