The technology of today allows people to change the way they perform tasks. There are different ways by which technology eases the everyday tasks that people complete. Various fields have numerous ways by which they can utilize technology.
In the field of education, technology has allowed educational institutions to expand their reach primarily by allowing schools to launch online courses and conduct online classes. Moreover, technology has made testing and assessment easier for teachers and professors. There is no longer a need for teachers and students to sit in one classroom to hold classes. The teacher and the student can now be in two separate continents and still conduct classes and examinations as well. (Hostedware Corporation, 2004) Such luxury is brought on by the development of online assessment systems.
Benefit of online assessment systems
It must be noted that online assessment systems are not merely for online classes and virtual classrooms. The traditional classroom style can also make use of online assessment and testing systems. Such a system allows teachers to conduct tests without the hassle of coming up with testing sheets. Furthermore, teachers need not correct the exams of students one by one since they can input the correct answers in the system. In other words, the system will correct and grade the tests by itself. This is beneficial for both students and teachers since both parties can know the scores in real time. (LLS, 2007).
Online assessment systems reduce and completely remove the waiting time between taking the test and getting one’s scores. This would mean that the students and the teacher will have more time to discuss and focus on the lessons and topics that need to be covered in class. In effect, online testing systems greatly benefit the learning process by creating a greater amount of time for classroom discussion and activities. (LLS, 2007).
Choosing the right online assessment system
The choice of an online assessment system relies on the consideration of several factors. Primarily, the needs and specifications of the course and of the educational institution need to be considered. Such specifications include the type of student that will use the software as well as the available hardware that the institution has. Also, the budget is a big consideration since certain online assessment systems may require the acquisition of certain software and hardware. Moreover, additional training for the staff may be required so as to properly orient them with how the system works and how they can utilize it.
This paper will serve as a discussion of the online assessment systems that Birmingham Language Centre may use in their effort of introducing online testing as part of their delivery of English courses. The primary goal of this discussion is to come up with a recommendation with regards to the most appropriate online assessment system that BLC may utilize.
BLC requirements and specifications
It has been stated that the online assessment system will initially be utilized for testing young learners. The tests must be able to assess the knowledge of the students in both written and spoken English. Thus, the system must allow for the insertion of audio files that the students can listen to as well as for the recording of audio files so as to gauge the English speaking capabilities of the learners. Furthermore, the tests must be delivered securely and are to be conducted at designate testing centres in each country that BLC is found in. Such test centres will be equipped with networked computers. Listening and reading will involve multiple choice, gap-fill exercises and true/false type questions. The tests will likewise include a section on writing which the candidate will complete directly on the computer. Finally, the tests must be automatically timed. Based on these requirements the following online assessments systems have been considered.
Hosted Test is the developed of an online testing system that can be customized to suit the needs of the client. It offers its clients the ability to customized their tests based on their preferences. Various forms of testing can be administered in Hosted Test. These include various forms of multiple-choice type of questions and essay or open-ended questions. Although it does not specifically say that it can record audio answers for speaking tests, the developers can come up with a custom programming scheme that will create such type of test for an additional fee. (Hostedware Corporation, 2004).
Furthermore, links to multimedia materials such as audio recordings can be added to test the different skills of the students including listening. Time limits can likewise be placed on the tests. More importantly, the tests can be designed with relative ease since a point and click web interface is provided. This takes out the need for instructors to learn complicated programming languages just to produce the required tests. Hosted Test provides various options with regards to host and to manage the online tests. Organizations can outsource the hosting and managing of the website to Hosted Test and simply take charge of the design and administration of the tests. Also, organizations can opt to host and manage the Hosted Test application in their own data centres or intranet environments.
Based on the said features, Hosted Test is a viable option for BLC. Furthermore, the price range suits the budget of the company. It is not too expensive. Another important consideration is that it has a user-friendly interface which means that the instructors need no undergo intensive training in order to use the system. More importantly, Hosted Test provides various options with regards to how the software and system can be managed and hosted.
Language Learning Solutions
Language Learning Solutions offers various products to test language proficiency. STAMP or STAndards-based Measurement of Proficiency is one of their products. It is a web-based foreign language assessment tool that can be utilized as a placement or a summative test. Developed by The Center for Applied Second Language Studies at the University of Oregon, the items in the questions database of STAMP were validated through field testing involving 30,000 students. (LLS, 2007) Some of its benefits are stated as follows:
- Reliable, externally graded measure of proficiency provides validated data necessary to make relative comparisons between classes, schools, districts and states.
- Facilitates data driven decision-making about programs. Used for progress checking, program evaluation, standards review, curriculum and staff development, remedial instructional planning, action research, etc.
- Aggregated data is easily downloaded to spreadsheet for merging with student information systems.
- Demonstrates the value of an early start in foreign language.
- Uncovers disparities in topic proficiencies from class to class.
- Enables action-research to test a hypothesis, standards, expectations, compare teaching methods, etc. (LLS, 2007).
Although STAMP was developed especially for language learning, it is not appropriate for the needs of BLC. The primary reason is that STAMP does not allow for customized testing questions. Instructors can only choose from those questions found in the database. Furthermore, STAMP was developed for testing American English proficiency. Therefore, it cannot be utilized in areas where British English is used.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Based on the analysis of the available software in the market, it is recommended that Birmingham Language Centre acquire the Hosted Test application as its online assessment system. Not only does Hosted Test allow for customized testing, it provides user-friendly tools for designing such tests. However, the management must specify that a section on speaking tests be developed which Hosted Test is fully capable of doing.
Also, it is recommended that Birmingham acquire Hosted Test Plan that will outsource the hosting and the management of the system. This is the most convenient form especially since BLC staff are not well-adept with online testing. This would mean that there is not much need for intensive training since the system provides for easy designing of the tests.
Hosted Test meets all the needs of BLC. It is affordable and easy to use. It allows for full customization without the hassle of managing and hosting the system. It is for these reasons that it is recommended that Hosted Test be used as the online assessment system.
Hostedware Corporation. Hosted Test™ Features & Benefits. 2007. Web.
Hostedware Corporation. Training and Education. 2007. Web.
Language Learning Solutions. STAMP. 2004. Web.
Language Learning Solutions. ELP Testing- Time and Cost Savings over Paper & Pencil. 2004. Web.