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Language assessment in virtual mobility initiatives at tertiary level – teachers’ beliefs, practices and perceptions

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ASSESSnet (Language assessment in virtual mobility initiatives at tertiary level – teachers’ beliefs, practices and perceptions)

Berichtszeitraum: 2019-10-01 bis 2021-09-30

Virtual mobility (VM), also termed as telecollaborative or virtual exchange (VE), entails a situation, in which students from geographically distant locations interact, cooperate, and thus engage in intercultural exchange, by means of online communication tools in order to complete course/project objectives. Because VM is a relatively new trend in education, and there is a scarcity of publications and training opportunities that target assessment in such courses, the need for empirical research is manifest.

Mobility initiatives, including VM, are viewed as a valuable contribution to plurilingual and intercultural education, which constitute a key issue of European language policy. In European Union, FL skills are perceived as a factor determining mobility and employability of young people. Additionally, VM is seen as a tool of increasing internationalisation and global engagement of higher education, which became particularly visible during the covid-19 pandemic. The project results offer concrete solutions that may contribute to improving the quality of not only assessment, but also to the design and implementation of VM projects on the whole. Additionally, although it must be underlined that VM is not tantamount to distance education, as these two pedagogies use similar tools, the results of the ASSESSnet project can be also applicable in other technology-enhanced contexts. Finally, VM promotes inclusive education and social equity, which are key topics for today's society, as these educational environments are easily accessible to students from different cultural, geographical, linguistic and economic backgrounds, as well as to students with disabilities.

On the research level, the project focused on the following central objectives: (1) exploring the planning of the assessment process in VM projects in FL education at tertiary level; (2) investigating the implementation of the assessment process in VM projects; (3) analysing the form of assessment in VM projects at tertiary level; (4) identifying the content of assessment in VM projects; (5) examining teachers’ beliefs and perceptions of the assessment practices; (6) establishing the impact of gender and place of residence on assessment practices and teachers’ perceptions and beliefs. The overall goal of the ASSESSnet project was to support foreign language (FL) practitioners in the process of assessing student learning, particularly in terms of selecting appropriate assessment content, criteria and tools. Quantitative and qualitative data collected and analysed in the study helped to formulate practical teaching recommendations and to the publication of an edited volume of case studies that illustrate different approaches to assessment in VE. Another important project objective, central to the MSCA Fellowships, was the researcher’s training and personal development, aimed at enabling the fellow to become a mature and independent member of the academic society
The MSCA Research Fellow, Anna Czura, PhD, worked at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), in the Department of Language & Literature Education and Social Science Education under the supervision of Professor Melinda Dooly from 2019 till 2022. The fellow became a member and collaborated closely with GREIP (Research Group on Plurilingual Interaction and Teaching).

The data was principally collected by means of an online questionnaire and interviews with teachers involved in VM. The FL language teachers who took part in the study teach in a wide range of higher education institutions (HEIs) in Europe and beyond (e.g. United States, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Oman). The questionnaire was available in four languages (English, Spanish, Catalan and Polish) and aimed to explore teacher beliefs as regards assessment objectives, tools and content. In-depth oral interviews of experts centred on the teachers’ attitudes to assessment and grading, as well as their assessment practices, instruments and strategies in courses involving elements of virtual exchange. The combination of these two instruments gave us a more thorough understanding of the assessment procedures used in different contexts. These data were supplemented with the analysis of assessment-related resources and documents (e.g. syllabi, assessment rubrics, descriptions of assessment tools) provided by a sub-group of the research participants.

The ASSESSnet study revealed that the approaches to assessment are highly diversified across contexts and tend to differ from institution to institution, but also from teacher to teacher. Yet, some common observations can be made as regards teachers’ approaches to assessment, the use of particular assessment tools, but also problems practitioners struggle with assessing student learning in VE. The data suggests that parallel approaches to assessment adopted by all VE in all partner institutions facilitated, but were not essential to the success of the assessment process. On the other hand, a significant imbalance in approaches to assessment may result in students’ dissatisfaction, decreased commitment and even withdrawal from the project. It was also found that teachers perceived assessment as an important element of VM, even if at times they expressed doubts regarding the most appropriate instruments or approach. The teachers were principally oriented towards formative objectives of assessment, which was viewed as a continuous process targeted at improving different facets of student learning and as a tool that offered students informative feedback on both the process and the product of learning. Concerning the content, intercultural competence, online communication and collaboration constituted main assessment criteria in VE, especially in formative assessment
As regards the benefits to the society, the research outcomes and the practical implications for the improvement of VE projects are of relevance to a number of stakeholders, ranging from teachers, teacher educators, curriculum designers, researchers, to policy-makers. Our communication with teachers and researchers involved in VE clearly indicate the importance of the undertaken actions. The project results are likely to affect bottom-up initiatives at classroom level, as well as top-down changes in educational policy and teacher education standards. Although the project centres on tertiary level education, most of the practical recommendations are applicable to other school levels, both in FL and general education courses. Both the research and the practical outputs – training for student teachers and teachers already in the work force and the edited volume with examples of VE projects and how they are assessed – have the potential to bring a positive change to assessment practices in VE projects. Finally, the results of this study will be of benefit to the endgame recipients; specifically the students involved in VE, who will receive germane, quality assessment that promotes learning, intercultural development and literacy skills.
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