This review includes a brief description of the concepts of collaboration and assessment, an introduction to e-assessment approaches, a range of digital tools and their applications, and an explanation of underlying paradigms and theoretical frameworks, followed by a critical evaluation of the values and merits as well as the weak points of the book in question. The paper is intended to shed light on a new era of language educational assessment and provide reference points for relevant studies.
Book Review on Workgroups e-Assessment: Planning, Implementing and Analysing Frameworks, by Rosalina Babo, Nilanjan Dey, Amira S. Ashour, Springer, 2021, xii+258 pp.
1 General introduction
In recent years, information communication technologies (ICTs) have developed quickly, and advanced technologies such as big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality have become increasingly pervasive, influencing the way we conduct educational assessments. This became especially apparent with the outbreak of COVID-19 when many teachers were suddenly confronted with the necessity of online assessment. Tertiary institutions worldwide have accordingly realised the value of electronic assessment (e-assessment), which is usually defined as the use of ICTs for any assessment-related activities (Graff, 2003). It is therefore important for teachers to incorporate ICTs into their daily practices in order to empower this kind of assessment.
The ongoing assessment reform of higher education in China also constitutes a pertinent rationale for using ICTs. As a key discipline in the Chinese system, foreign languages have taken the lead in these changes, primarily because of their applicability to the outside world. Documents like National Standards for Teaching Quality of Foreign Language Majors in Colleges and Universities (2018) and College English Curriculum Requirements (2020) advocate the use of big data, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and so on (He, 2020) to empower assessment by innovating tools, refining management, improving quality, and standardising results (Zhang & Qi, 2021).
There is no denying that every coin has two sides. Advantages can also breed challenges, and this is true of ICTs in the educational assessment of languages. Questions about how to integrate ICTs with assessment, the theoretical frameworks or practical examples that might be followed, and factors that needs to be considered by different stakeholders in collaboration have drawn more and more attention in academic circles. Fortunately, Workgroups e-Assessment: Planning, Implementing and Analysing Frameworks (2021) is dedicated to solving these, and other problems.
2 Book introduction
The book explores the assessment of collaborative work in educational institutions that uses new frameworks and computer-based tools, reporting the challenges and fresh perspectives of developing e-assessment systems. It is written by eminent professors and researchers from a number of disciplines and peer-reviewed by editorial board members who are based in various countries. It includes two parts, Assessment and Collaboration and E-Assessment Approaches, with the first comprising five chapters on the importance of collaborative assessment. The latter part, composed of four chapters, presents different approaches and tools to implement the e-assessment process.
Chapter 1 reviews the importance of assessment literacy under a psycho-pedagogical paradigm, and the significance of ICTs tools in educational assessment is also explained. Thus, a recommendation is made for educators to undertake appropriate training in order to raise their conceptual awareness, deepen and widen their understanding, and change their daily practices of incorporating ICTs into assessment. This will subsequently improve teaching and enhance learning beyond just selecting talents and monitoring and grading students.
Chapter 2 explores collaboration and assessment in online environments. Adopting a specific four-week long MOOC course as an example, the authors stress the need to develop online assessment tools for geographically decentralised digital cohorts to conduct self and peer assessment. Empirical data from around 3,000 participants, including language students, is used to argue that the implementation of such techniques encourages virtual participation, assists team building, enhances project management, develops resourcing strategies, ensures the objectivity of the assessment results, and improves work efficiency.
Chapter 3 presents abundant literature about tools and their functionalities. Digital tools, including Web 2.0 sites, social networks like Facebook, YouTube, and Google, and e-portfolios, and educational strategies like learning through storytelling, jigsaw, forum chat, and videoconferencing are used to implement formative, summative, and self-assessment in collaborative environments for blended, mobile, or more traditional computer-supported learning. In both real and virtual communities, instructional design, implementation, and assessment are involved. The chapter analyses the collaborative possibilities between students and instructors for carrying out teaching, learning, and assessment with digital tools.
Chapter 4 explains the application of online collaborative tools, for example Google Drive and OneDrive, in a more personal way. Using a life history methodology, the authors collect and analyse the perspectives of students from different countries and academic disciplines, including foreign languages. This analysis verifies that using these tools enables shared and simultaneous editing, online recording, and auto-backup of various types of document, from text and spreadsheets to presentations, surveys, maps, and calendars. Research has also found that these collaborative digital tools can reduce the temporal, human, and financial resources and enrich the information involved in the process.
Chapter 5 provides an example of the successful implementation of a learner training project for introducing a new educational programme. The authors stress the need to monitor the project’s implementation, its compliance with planned goals, the organisation and updating of training activities, and the satisfaction level of its beneficiaries. By using free Google Forms, online questionnaires, spreadsheets, tables, and pie-charts, the chapter illustrates ways of designing, organising, implementing, and validating e-assessment, as well as data collection and interpretation, to obtain comprehensive and objective feedback from trainees.
Chapter 6 concerns the development of software solutions for electronic exams, including language tests, in a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environment covering a wide range of mobile devices, including smartphones, tablets, and computers with different operating systems. The project described in this chapter developed an application, the Framework for Flexible Electronic Examinations (FLEX), which features automatic correction, anti-cheating measures, and easy accessibility. The technical and engineering challenges of ensuring reliability and security, and other issues like legal boundary conditions, are also discussed to identify possible modifications to the examination client.
Chapter 7 begins by emphasising the importance of immediate feedback and the necessity of scaffolding to enable exploratory learning in an immersive environment, and then moves on to propose the flexible adaptive network-oriented tracking-based assessment for real-time educational simulations (Antares) by introducing its architecture and interface and assignment and assessment engines. Lastly, the chapter describes the application of Antares in a simple pendulum experiment conducted in an immersive virtual 3D laboratory. The findings indicate promising results which demonstrate that the approach could be integrated with low expenditure and the evaluation algorithm can match complex real-time procedures.
Chapter 8 outlines work oriented towards helping students prepare in advance for labs and experiments to enable their automatic and individual assessment. This approach has, for example, been carried with online quizzes in Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment (Moodle), the official learning management system (LMS) at a Portuguese higher education institution. Interviews, questionnaires, and Moodle reports all point to positive feedback, based on the students perceiving more organised and better consolidated preparatory work, having more knowledge and confidence, and seeing faster and better results when undertaking the lab classes, as well as their preference for the new paradigm.
Chapter 9 discusses the use of the Moodle plugin “Student Quiz” in a blended learning scenario to empower digital students in Austria to test, comment, and rate different kinds of exam question set by their classmates, including multiple choice, true or false, fill in the blank, and short text answers, and the possibility of including images, animation, and game elements. By giving feedback in this peer review setting, the students developed a better understanding of the learning content, improved their collaborative learning abilities, increased their assessment skills, fostered their self-regulation and reflection capacities, and enhanced their contributions to the teaching and learning process in a more active way.
3 Critical evaluation
Workgroups e-Assessment: Planning, Implementing and Analysing Frameworks provides readers and researchers in the field of educational assessment with valuable insight and practical experiences through a number of integrations, specifically, the integration of collaboration and assessment, of ICTs and assessment, and of theory and practice. Although it is aimed at all educators, it has dedicated value for language instructors and researchers, as outlined below.
Firstly, collaborative assessment makes the assessment more effective. In education generally, assessment demands collaboration, and this can improve such 21st-century skills as cooperation, critical reasoning, responsibility, planning, and communication (Binkley et al., 2012). In languages specifically, the changing nature of work and education also requires that assessment taps into a broader range of competencies that measure increasingly complex linguistic, cognitive, dispositional, and sociocultural skills (Purpura, 2016). The heart of language assessment is therefore humanistic, and it reflects the necessity of collaboration in adapting to this changing society. Consequently, language educators and practitioners should acknowledge the role of collaboration by involving more stakeholders in the assessment process.
In the assessment for learning (AfL) literature, the significance of collaboration in assessment is also highlighted. It supports motivation, creates opportunity, improves self-regulation, fosters reflection, and increases efficiency (Laveault & Allal, 2016). The goal of AfL is to monitor, accredit, diagnose, and provide timely feedback, and it has been found to improve teaching and enhance learning (Heritage, 2010). During this dynamic process, learners, teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders negotiate and agree the standards by which assessment can be jointly implemented. Educational assessment requires collaboration, and collaboration makes the assessment more effective and efficient. Language assessment is the same, and so it is urgent that researchers and practitioners to find effective ways of collaborating.
The book under review supports these claims by explaining the various functions of collaborative digital tools and applying them to online courses and in communities across countries. This will arouse the reader’s awareness of integrating collaboration with assessment, which in turn will nourish their practice. Enlightened by this knowledge, language educators and researchers can make full use of multiple ICTs to promote collaboration and enhance assessment, for example with social, communicative tools like Skype and WeChat; recording and management tools like e-portfolios and OneDrive; and purely collaborative tools like forum and videoconferencing platforms.
Secondly, the book underscores how ICTs tools can support educational assessment. In general education, the range of available applications means that educators can use them to plan teaching, develop instruments, design activities, monitor learning, collect evidence, analyse results, grade performance, and give feedback. The number of electronic assessment options has increased dramatically, and new ways to conduct summative and formative reviews will undoubtedly continue to spring up like mushrooms with the further development of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Educational researchers and practitioners must grasp this surge in ICTs to facilitate their academic work as well as their teaching practice.
In languages, advances in ICTs also have profoundly changed the ways we work, learn, and socialise, and these trends have greatly impacted the competencies that society needs and those that should be assessed. Technology allows language educators to create enriched learning environments, to use a variety of digital tools for collaboration, and even to revolutionise the construction, development, and validation process of testing and assessment with written and spoken corpora (Barker, 2014). As Shermis and Burstein (2013) argues, the development of ICTs makes it easier for teachers to design, deliver, and score assessments as well as offer feedback and report results inside the classroom and beyond, bringing abundant opportunities for researchers and practitioners to innovate in the future.
Workgroups e-Assessment highlights the strength of ICTs in supporting educational assessment, enlightening readers about specific assessment frameworks like BYOD, Antares, and FLEX. Its piloting efforts in designing, developing, validating, and applying tools in online environments set a good example for linguistic researchers and educators to follow. Its value in the post-pandemic era of higher foreign language education in China is clear, given that blended learning has become the new normal in that context (Wang, 2020). Accordingly, much attention needs to be paid to the exploration, development, and validation of e-assessment for researchers and practitioners.
Thirdly, assessment theory and practice are mutually beneficial. Practice can maintain the right track when guided by an appropriate theoretical framework, and theories can be refined and developed with practical insight. As for assessment, varying educational paradigms result in different systems of teaching and learning. This book describes how the last century witnessed the development of five psycho-pedagogical paradigms, namely behavioural, humanist, cognitive, sociocultural, and constructivist (Cooper, 1993), which have helped shape educational models to achieve particular goals and serve as a guide for implementing learning activities.
Language assessment has also experienced a paradigmatic shift from a testing to an assessment culture (Inbar-Lourie, 2008). Traditional psychometric assessment usually takes the form of tests administered at the end of instruction to measure achievements for summative purposes. However, it is impossible to measure each learner’s progress and competencies with the same ruler. Moreover, assessment should go far beyond summative testing; it is the formative assessment embedded in learning and instruction that really matters (Wiliam, 2017). Hence, the emergent area of researching classroom-based assessment, in mutually beneficial theoretical and practical form, awaits further exploration in depth and breadth.
Understanding the essence of educational practice influences how educators plan, execute, and assess their teaching, and these practical experiences and techniques help educators accumulate expertise which, in turn, (re)shape their mindsets (Tsui, 2003). Workgroups e-Assessment not only examines the sociocultural and constructivist paradigms behind collaborative educational assessment but also attempts to develop and apply contextual digital tools and systems in assessment practice. It integrates paradigmatic theory and practice and yields valuable guidance, shedding light for interested readers and relevant scholars. Language researchers and practitioners can also gain awareness and move forward along this integrated approach.
Despite its values and merits, the book nevertheless needs to be improved in certain areas. To begin, the importance of assessment literacy is acknowledged in the first chapter, but no clear definition or route to develop one is provided in the following chapters. For assessment literacy to be a magnet of the book, exploratory chapters around that theme would ensure the reader gains a deeper understanding of it. Next, the book takes STEM education as the main subject, and the humanities only account for a small proportion of the content. If more liberal arts content was included, and language assessment in particular, the number of targeted readers would be much larger. Last, the authors and reviewers are based in a variety of countries, for example Portugal, India, Egypt, Australia, and the UK, and the digital tools frequently used in those counties are from the American company Google. A more diverse context would be created if Chinese service providers like Huawei, Tencent, or Alibaba were also included.
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© 2022 the author(s), published by De Gruyter, Berlin/Boston
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