Blended Assessments in Efl: Blended Language Learning

Introduction

The advent of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) has revolutionized the way things are performed in contemporary society in all aspects of life. Nonetheless, education which is one of the core aspects of human life has been transformed by development taking place in this field. According to Gruba et al (2009:168), modern technologies are viewed to be “the basis of innovative language teaching although their role in assessment often appears to be vexed and controversial”. Therefore, it is relatively important to acknowledge that ICT plays a critical role in the teaching and instructional process of languages. Nonetheless, they can not be entirely relied upon during the assessment process. The process, therefore, calls for integration with rudimentary traditional techniques to be able to carry out effective assessment exercises.

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In the present times, learning takes place in a wide variety of social environments. These include web 2.0 technologies that comprise social sites such as Facebook, Twitter among others that act as a platform where learners learn through apprenticeship through social interactions. Nonetheless, despite increased online interaction that aids in learning foreign languages, classroom teaching still forms the foundation for learning in most educational institutions. However, there are increased efforts to have a hybrid system that integrates both faces to face with online approaches that are currently being fronted by some education institutions (Gruba et al, 2009).

On the other hand, it is opined by Garrison and Norman (2008) that blended learning is much more than just incorporating ICT into existing pedagogy or merely using it to deliver the same content of English foreign learning (EFL) differently.

However, blended language learning and assessment can be taken to be the new theoretical and philosophical approach to instruction and assessment where there is the convergence of the traditional classroom and ICT. All these efforts aim at transforming EFL for the better. Moreover, these new approaches of learning and assessment incorporate the strengths of the traditional face-to-face and the contemporary online learning and assessment in a more synergistic way to create a more congruent approach that addresses the needs and demands of the contemporary society (Laborda, 2007).

Literature Review

Development of Blended Assessment (BA) in English Foreign Language

In contemporary society, computer technologies such as the internet are currently used as a complement to the traditional teaching process in English foreign language (EFL). For instance, online resources social sites such as Twitter, electronic mail, video conferencing are some of the blended learning strategies that are employed to enhance EFL in its instructions process. These efforts, therefore, complement the traditional methods hence acting as a blend in learning EFL.

In addition, in terms of blended assessment, the application of computer tests has been in operation for the last 20 years (Laborda, 2007). Nonetheless, the potential of these computer-aided language assessments has been somehow challenging since it has been difficult to develop a computer assessment system that can facilitate corrections of the tests done.

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On the other hand, Douglas (2000) opines that traditional methods of assessment in teaching EFL are likely to cease with the advent of modern technologies in the field of ICT due to developments taking place in education. For instance, there is a high rate of distance learning that is being carried out through online program technologies. Therefore, assessment should be done in the same way. Nonetheless, effective blended learning is determined by several factors. For example, there must be supplement tools such as a class page for the entire class that can help learners’ interactions in EFL. Moreover, it is affirmed by Garrison and Bass (2008) that blended learning that involves online systems on the World Wide Web (WWW) promotes sharing of ideas and information among learners.

Nonetheless, it is relatively important to acknowledge that in any learning environment, successful learning exercise is determined through an evaluation process that normally seeks to establish the level of learners’ understanding of the concept taught. Therefore, as a result of this, blended learning requires a blended approach to assessment. As a result, electronic evaluation which is used as a complement to the traditional assessment process is applied in order to have a blended assessment approach. However, Gruba, et al (2009) opine that when carrying out a blended assessment, it is relatively important to consider how the language is taught which also requires considering the professional appearance of the course content to determine whether it meets academic requirements in terms of its content.

How Blended Assessment should be done to achieve Blended Language Learning

With respect to blended language learning, Brindley (2001) holds that its assessment needs to begin right from its course outline. This should be done to help provide a course outline whose content meets the academic standards required. In addition, the assessor must also be able to evaluate the organization of the modules by determining whether the content is presented in the right format, whether the content is adaptable and whether it is relevant to the learner.

Nevertheless, it is important as an assessor in blended language learning to determine whether skills elements are balanced in the blended language learning curricula (Garrison & Bass, 2008). For instance, given the fact that blended learning techniques that are offered on the internet are global content that can be accessed by people of different cultural backgrounds, the assessor needs to ensure that the content being offered are suitable to these people from the diverse cultural and social background.

Therefore, this implies that learning materials for blended language learning should not advance the ideals of any specific group of the cultural divide. According to Garrison and Bass (2008), blended learning content must therefore be communicative, neutral, and professional to attain intended results among its learners. For that reason, an assessor must prioritize this factor when evaluating blended language learning content to ensure that it is worthy for the instruction process.

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Once the content of the blended language learning curriculum has been professionally drafted, other issues of blended assessment usually rise. For instance, it becomes relatively important for the assessor to determine how learners will be assessed during the learning process. To this effect, some institutions are at times guided by the assessment programs which in most cases determine their blended learning program. Nonetheless, in some institutions, it is vice versa where blended assessment is determined by the blended learning process in place. Consequently, Laborda (2007) opines that whatever the approach taken by the institution, the common goal in blended assessment exercise should always be geared towards offering feedback that intends to improve the whole program of blended language learning especially if it is EFL.

Furthermore, it is affirmed by Dickins (2011) that any teaching technique must entail an assessment process. Therefore, it is imperative to plan the assessment process right from the design of the learning curriculum. In relation to this, assessors in blended assessment need to establish the strengths and weaknesses of the blended learning materials that have been proposed to be used. This is likely to aid in determining the best assessment approach in a blended learning environment.

Relationship between Blended Language Learning and Blended Assessment

There exists a close relationship between blended language learning and blended assessment since they both seek to accomplish the same goal of effectiveness and efficiency in EFL. According to Garrison and Bass (2008), blended assessment has a greater impact on blended language learning curricula content since the assessments are done on tasks, assignments, tests and final examinations provide feedback that informs the curricula developers of the best-blended teaching content which will help achieve the best-desired results.

On the other hand, Edelenbos and Vinje (2000) postulate that the main relationship that exists between blended assessment and blended language learning is the ever-changing requirements and needs of both learners and instructors. For instance, there is always a continued pressure for better learning outcomes and as a result, there is the demand for increased and frequent assessment. Therefore, ICT has however come in as a prerequisite to increase productivity and as a result, there have been efforts made towards automation of assessment exercises of EFL. Nonetheless, it is broadly acknowledged that assessment acts as a catalyst in the students learning process since it informs them on the areas that need emphasis. Therefore, ICT has been identified as the biggest promoter of blended learning and assessment to EFL and another area of interest.

Moreover, according to Laborda (2007), it must be understood that assessment is usually done for summative or formative purposes. In terms of summative, blended assessment is usually done to determine the grade of learners or when an instructor wants to categorize the potential of his or her students. On the other hand, formative assessment usually takes place when the instructor or the teacher wants to get feedback to aid in the learning process. Therefore, in respect to formative blended assessment, an instructor is able to evaluate learners and get the best feedback that helps to improve the entire learning process that helps attain efficiency and effectiveness in EFL.

Benefits of ICT in Blended Learning and Blended Assessment

According to Wilson (2000), ICT is taking over operations in every aspect of life in contemporary society. Nonetheless, ICT is widely used in education which is a critical sector in society. For instance, as earlier noted it is currently being applied in form of blended learning and blended assessment. However, there are several ways in which ICT has contributed to effectiveness and efficiency in this learning and assessment process.

Due to the advancement in technology, there have been positive transformations that ICT has contributed to both learning and assessment. According to Laborda (2007), technology has changed language testing since many language tests can now be delivered by a computer system on any aspect of language testing.

Furthermore, according to Banados (2007), the use of ICT in blended learning and assessment of English foreign language learning is used to reimburse for insufficient communication of foreign learners with the native speakers since it creates a range of learning opportunities. Nonetheless, ICT facilities such as the internet promote self-evaluation and assessment whereby learners are able to personally monitor their ability, improvement and therefore strengthen their level of efficiency and effectiveness in English learning as a foreign language. This is due to the fact that they can be able to carry out a self-assessment that is available at their disposal on the internet at any time.

Technology Challenges Facing Blended Language Learning and Assessment

There exist a number of challenges that face the integration of technology in the assessment of the second language learning process. For instance, to integrate technology in learning English as a foreign language (Birch & Michael, 2007), learners must be vexed by a number of factors that may derail efforts for successful integration to realize effectiveness and efficiency in learning and assessment.

In relation to blended learning and assessment of EFL, measuring the success of the whole process is based on the quantity and quality of learners’ participation within the community of language learning. Consequently, according to Wilson (2000), other factors determine the extent of students’ participation in these community-based systems. For instance, socio-economic factors such as the extent of availability of technology resources become big challenging factors to learners since some of them can not comfortably access or own this technology sophistication. This becomes a big barrier in integrating technology in the blended learning and assessment process in other regions.

Nonetheless, another major challenge that hinders the integration of technology in the blended assessment process of foreign languages such as English relates to instructors related complications. According to Jamieson (2005), teachers tend to be too critical of the techniques of assessment where they usually focus on the accuracy of grammar and vocabulary. This is so since these teachers see such techniques to be capable of distorting learners’ profiles by devaluing their abilities which usually results in setting standards that are much far beyond the ability of foreign students.

Moreover, blended language learning together with assessment usually involves a set of computer-based systems with limited teacher-student interaction which in itself discourages creativity among learners (Brindley, 2001). This becomes a major problem in foreign language learning where one is required to be more inquisitive to learn more from the native speakers of the language. It, therefore, has a risk of suppressing the good communication and interpersonal skills of these students since they become more interested in computer-based systems than human communication that is a recipe for efficient and effective communication in any language.

In addition, according to Douglas (2006), assessment of speaking and listening skills is usually problematic in blended learning and assessment of English as a foreign language, especially when using ICT techniques as compared to traditional methods. In relation to this, Birch and Michael (2007) believe that language is well enjoyed during the learning and assessment process through a form of face-to-face where interlocutors interact with each other. When new techniques of learning such as video clips are introduced to assess the listening skills of learners, it becomes an unfair method since the natural face-to-face connection of the two groups involved is eliminated.

Nevertheless, Banados (2007) alludes that the practice of students sitting in front of the computer or using any ICT components all the time in learning English as a foreign language especially if it’s their second language is less likely to motivate learners. This is so since once learners feel that they are isolated, they are likely to give up their lessons early before any meaningful assessment process is achieved. According to Canole and Bill (2005), this behavior can be attributed to the elimination of motivating factors that are associated with the traditional method of face to face such as good study habits that is usually attained through regular meeting at the same place and time in a classroom which is usually blended with physical interaction and socialization with classmates. Nonetheless, with respect to traditional methods, there is inspirational advice that learners receive from their teachers.

Additionally, a blended assessment that employs the use of computer systems is exposed to security risks. This is a greater danger to the integrity of tests that are used during the assessment process. As a result, learners may have prior knowledge of the assessment tests hence affecting its veracity. In addition, Bachman and Cohen (1998) opine that computer systems are vulnerable to virus attacks and malfunctions which may, in turn, jeopardize the whole process of blended language learning and its assessment.

Furthermore, according to Brindley (2001), blended assessment of English foreign language that is performed using computer-related systems may at times fail to provide the actual ability of the learner. This makes this approach less popular to other stakeholders since they feel that the method unlike the traditional one is not in a position to evaluate the learner and gauge their exact potential. Therefore, it does not meet the primary needs of assessment.

Conclusion

The teaching of foreign languages has over time used several support tools to blend the traditional methods of instructions (Barret & Sharma, 2007). These traditional methods have not been able to improve foreign language learning in institutions with respect to their effectiveness. In respect to this, several institutions have adopted several computer-based systems to act as a blend to both the learning and assessment process. Therefore, the increased concern of using multimedia and web-based technologies to help build the basis of English foreign language learning has led to focus on learners’ pedagogy in blended learning and assessment.

Moreover, learners and instructors of English foreign language have always been interested in applying modern technologies such as the powerful World Wide Web in their learning and assessment exercise (Gruba et al, 2009). Nevertheless, these technologies have always increased motivation since they have continually provided learners with autonomy in learning English as their second foreign language.

In terms of learning, students are given a wider platform from the internet to learn the English language as per the curriculum through collaboration with their native peers (Garrison & Bass, 2008). This is commonly facilitated via social communication sites such as Facebook, Twitter among others. Nonetheless, the evaluation and assessment process is also facilitated through computer-based systems that facilitate the personal and individual assessment of learners hence acting as a platform for improvement to achieve efficiency and effectiveness in the English language by foreign learners.

Nonetheless, as blended language learning and assessment gain momentum at a phenomenal rate, educational institutions must be keen to ensure that the quality of education offered is efficient and effective in addressing the needs of their students in respect to English foreign language needs (Edelenbos & Vinje, 2000). Therefore, it is relatively important for these institutions to ensure that their blended learning curricula in terms of content and the assessment process are up to the standards.

Nevertheless, it is imperative to affirm that blended language learning and assessment of the English language can be effectively accomplished through blended methods of modern ICT techniques. Nonetheless, according to Banados (2007), it is also important that these techniques be incorporated with the traditional learning and assessment techniques to have a more viable approach that is geared towards effectiveness and efficiency in teaching and assessing English as a foreign language.

A Summary Table of the Literature Reviewed

No. Quote Missing Facts
1 Gruba et al (2009:168) holds that modern technologies are viewed to be “the basis of innovative language teaching although their role in assessment often appears to be vexed and controversial”. Gruba et al (2009) failed to acknowledge innovativeness that can also be explored using traditional methods in teaching and assessing languages.
2 Gruba et al (2009) affirms that there are increased efforts to have a hybrid system that integrates both face to face with online approaches that are currently being fronted by some education institutions Gruba et al (2009) takes a hybrid system to be a panacea to effectiveness in blended learning and assessment process without noting some of the limitations associated with the method.
3 Laborda (2007) new approaches of learning and assessment incorporate strengths of the traditional face to face and the contemporary online learning and assessment in a more synergistic way in order to create a more congruent approach It is a fact that not all these approaches lead to synergistic way of creating a congruent approach since at times there is a mismatch of these approaches.
4 Douglas (2000) opines that traditional methods of assessment in teaching EFL are likely to cease with the advent of modern technologies in the field of ICT due to developments taking place in education However, Douglas fails to acknowledge the fact that there is digital divide that will continue to exist. This makes traditional methods the only option for regions that have less technology accessibility.
5 According to Garrison and Bass (2008), blended learning content must be communicative, neutral and professional to attain intended results among its learners. Nonetheless, these are the ideal situation of blended learning content but the Garrison and Bass fail to appreciate loopholes like ICT professional jargon that affects effective communication to learners.
6 Edelenbos and Vinje (2000) postulates that the main relationship that exists between blended assessment and blended language learning is the ever-changing requirements and needs of both learners and instructors On the other hand, the author fails to acknowledge also the ever-changing trends of blended techniques of technology since they also keep changing from time to time.
7 Banados (2007) postulates that use of ICT in blended learning and assessment of English foreign language learning is used to reimburse for insufficient communication of foreign learners with the native speakers since it creates a range of opportunities for learning. Nonetheless, the author fails to note the missing element of personal face to face communication which is a recipe for human understanding that helps develop affinity to between communicators.
8 Jamieson (2005) believes that teachers tend to be too critical of the techniques of assessment where they usually focus on accuracy of grammar and vocabulary. However, Jamieson fails to appreciate other techniques such as interpersonal communication skills that are also emphasized by teachers in assessment.
9 Birch and Michael (2007) opine that language is well enjoyed during learning and assessment process through a form of face to face where interlocutors interact with each other. Birch and Michael did not acknowledge other learners who purely enjoy other learning and assessment techniques other than the traditional ones. For instance, some learners only enjoy computer-based learning and assessment process.
10 Banados (2007) alludes that the practice of students sitting in front of the computer or using any ICT components all the time in learning English as foreign language especially if its their second language is less likely to motivate learners. However, the author fails to understand that there are some students who appreciate pure computer learning environment than the traditional methods.

References

  1. Bachman, L.F. & Cohen, A.D. (1998). Interfaces between second language acquisition and language testing research. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Banados, E. (2007). A Blended Learning Pedagogical Model for Teaching and Learning EFL Successfully through an Online Interactive Multimedia Environment. CALICO Journal, 23,(3), 533-550.
  3. Barret, B. & Sharma, P. (2007). Blended Learning: Using Technology Inside and beyond the Language Classroom. New York: Macmillan.
  4. Birch, D. & Michael, V. (2007). Assessment of Online Reflections: Engaging English Second Language Students. Australasian Journal of Education Technology, 23(3),.291-306.
  5. Brindley, G. (2001). Outcomes-Based Assessment in Practice: Some Examples and Emerging Insights. Language Testing,.18, 393-408.
  6. Brindley, G. (2001). Outcomes-based assessment in practice: some examples and emerging insights. Language Testing, 18, 393-408.
  7. Canole, G. & Bill, W. (2005). A Review of Computer Assisted Assessment. Research in Learning Technology,.13, (1), 17-31.
  8. Douglas, C.A.C. (2006). Assessing Language through Computer Technology. UK: Cambridge University Press.
  9. Douglas, D. (2000). Assessing Languages for Specific Purposes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  10. Edelenbos, P. & Vinje, M. (2000). The assessment of foreign language at the end of primary (elementary) education. Language Testing, (17),144, 62.
  11. Garrison, D.R. & Bass, J. (2008). Blended Learning in Higher Education. Canadian Journal of Universityy Continuing Education, 35(2), 109-123.
  12. Gruba, P. et al (2009). Perception of Technologies in the Assessment of Foreign Languages. New York: Macmillan.
  13. Jamieson, J. (2005). Trends in Computer Based Language Assessment. Annual Review of Applied Linguistic, 25, 228-242.
  14. Laborda, J.G. (2007). Introduing Standardized EFL/ESL Exams. Language Learning &Technology, 11, (2), 3-9.
  15. Wilson, C.C. (2000). E-Learning, E-Teaching, E-Assessment: Aspect of Course Design for Onlinne Web Based Courses Used with EFL/ESL Learners. UAE: Center for Excellence in Applied Research and Technology.
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