Using e-portfolios and rubrics to assess speaking competence in a Telecollaborative exchange between Chinese and English language learners
In our increasingly globalised world, English language proficiency is regarded as crucial for future social and economic success. No more so is that evident than in China, a rapidly developing economy with bold ambitions to become the world’s next superpower (Hynes, 1998; Wen, 2015). But despite being home to the largest education system in the world, China’s examination-based ideology, which focuses on grammar instruction above practical teaching methodology (Edwards & Li, 2011, p4), means that student’s productive skills of English speaking and writing, rarely develop beyond the elementary plateau (Yi, 2007).
With this in mind, it is clear that oral production and interaction in the English language classroom today, would help Chinese students when they enter the international workforce in the future. But the reality in China is that, with large, monolingual classes the norm, there are mixed perceptions of the value of communicative activities (Rao, 2002; Pan & Block, 2011), when there is little opportunity to practice with an ‘expert’ native speaker. In this way, Telecollaboration,”…through the use of online communication tools to bring together language learners in different countries for the development of collaborative work and intercultural exchange” (O’Dowd & Ritter, 2006, p623) may provide a solution. This digital method of interacting with native speakers, or with peers using one language as a lingua franca, may motivate learners, presenting them with scenarios that are personally meaningful.
But how to determine if knowledge acquisition has taken place? A study by Gaytan & McEwen (2007) recommends a variety of assessment types for effective online assessments, including projects, portfolios, self-assessments, peer evaluations, weekly assignments with immediate feedback, timed tests and quizzes, discussion boards and the use of rubrics. And it is suggested that, “The most effective inquiry-based approaches use a combination of informal ongoing formative assessment and project rubrics that communicate high standards and help teachers make judgements about the multiple dimensions of project work” (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2008, p4).
Although effective assessment techniques (Gaytan & McEwen, 2007) are multifarious, this topic has attracted less attention in the arena of Telecollaboration (Lamy & Hampel, 2007, p88). Indeed, Helm’s 2015 survey into the practices and challenges of Telecollaboration in Higher Education in Europe reveal that the main methods for assessment are evaluating student reflections in essays or presentations (44%) and the content of student’s online interactions (43%)(See Appendix 1).The least common amongst these is evaluating a student’s portfolio (22%). Of equal relevance is that aspects of intercultural competence were assessed more frequently (40%) than foreign language fluency (29%)(See Appendix 2)(Helm, 2015, p208).
In this way, Telecollaboration (Belz, 2003; O’Dowd, 2006) could be exploited to enhance foreign language speaking skills through the curation of e-portfolios: a system whereby participants create, develop and store their online work. Allowing students to, not only personally select items for final assessment, but also self-assess against a clear rubric of linguistic achievement goals, would instil participants with a certain autonomy, a transferable skill for lifelong learning (Trim, 1988).
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Iven, William. Https://Hd.Unsplash.Com/Photo-1426024120108-99Cc76989c71. 2015. Print.