WebCEF: An Online Collaboration Tool for Assessing Foreign Language Proficiency

WebCEF: An Online Collaboration Tool for Assessing Foreign Language Proficiency

Lut Baten (KULeuven, Leuven Language Institute, Belgium), Ana Beaven (Università di Bologna CILTA, Italy), John Osborne (Université de Savoie, LLS France, France) and Jan Van Maele (Leuven Engineering College, Belgium)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2122-0.ch048

Abstract

The main outcome of the WebCEF project (2006-2009) is an online collaboration tool for self-, peer-, and expert assessment of oral proficiency in the foreign language using the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). One distinctive feature of WebCEF is that it brings together learners and assessors in virtual communities of practice, locally and internationally. Thanks to the use of low-threshold technology, this tool – available freely online – has been used successfully in formal, non-formal, and informal learning. Attesting to its continued relevance, WebCEF was awarded the European Language Label in 2011. In this chapter, the authors discuss an experience involving trainee teachers of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) of the University of Leuven (Belgium), EFL students at the Université de Savoie (France), and language teachers in France. It will be demonstrated how WebCEF can be a powerful platform for professional development through social mediation and a support for learner autonomy through assessment for learning.
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Introduction

The Common European Framework for Languages (CEFR, Council of Europe, 2001; North, 2008) was designed to build a shared framework and vocabulary that could help discuss foreign language competence at a European level. The framework also encourages its adaptation to the local context. The aim of the European project WebCEF was therefore twofold: its first purpose was to provide a platform where teachers, teacher trainees and students could familiarise themselves with the scales and levels of the CEFR (http://www.webcef.eu/) gives information about the project and access to a showcase of representative assessed samples of oral production in various European languages and at different CEFR levels, designed to illustrate how collaborative assessment works. But the heart of the WebCEF project is the online assessment tool, which contains five rating scales taken from the CEFR: an overall scale for oral production or interaction, and four specific ‘qualitative’ scales for range, accuracy, fluency, and coherence. As assessors watch a recorded speech sample, they select the most fitting descriptor for each scale. An annotation feature allows assessors to explain their ratings by commenting on specific segments of the speech samples. The ratings on the different scales are visualised in a rating grid per assessor. For each speech sample the members of the community can consult an overview of the different rating grids.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Collaborative Assessment: A situation in which two or more people attempt to assess something (e.g. each other’s performance) together.

Community of Practice (CoP): A group of people who share an interest, a craft or a profession. Through sharing their practice, group members learn from each other and develop personally or professionally.

Learner Autonomy: According to Holec (1981) it is “the ability to take charge of one’s own learning.”

Speaking Skills: The skills involved in oral production and interaction, such as fluency, accuracy, coherence etc.

Assessment: A tool to support learning and to evaluate progress towards the achievement of specific learning outcomes.

Reflexivity: The process of reflecting critically about one’s actions, in order to improve one’s professional practice or one’s further learning.

Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR): A comprehensive description of learning, teaching and assessing languages, produced by the Council of Europe and published in 2001.

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