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Writes Dr Evelina Galaczi Director of Research—English at Cambridge University Press & Assessment
Great news for humans involved in English language teaching and assessment. We’ll still be needed in the future! Don’t get me wrong, technology is shaking up the sector we work in and providing some fantastic enhancements to all aspects of learning and teaching English.
A recent report by the influential Management Consulting firm Mckinsey highlighted the huge impact AI will have in education in the future. We’re seeing more AI tools such as ChatGPT in classrooms, Virtual Reality letting us learn in distant worlds and computer games taking learning to the next level. While these are all fantastic innovations and we’re really embracing them in Cambridge, we’re not going to rush in and cut corners to suit the technology.
I recently presented Cambridge’s seven key principles for successfully integrating AI into the English language classroom. These were taken from our report English language education in the era of generative AI: our perspective
One of these principles is to ensure that the quality and scope of language assessments and learning resources are maintained. A big part of achieving this is to use technology to enhance education, but not to let it determine the educational approach.
Tech can’t do all the work!
With this in mind, let’s look at three areas where technology is having a positive impact on learning, but we shouldn’t let it do all the work.
Teaching and learning are all about people, and AI can’t replace the social and emotional aspect of learning. Of course, it can enhance the experience, but teachers will continue to play a very crucial role. However, teaching practices may change.
This may require teacher training and familiarisation with digital approaches. It will certainly require becoming ‘AI ready’ and understanding how our Human and Artificial Intelligence can best work together. Professor Rose Luckin from Educate Ventures Research wrote a really interesting paper on this about how we can empower educators to be AI ready Empowering educators to be AI-ready - UCL Discovery.
There are a number of things that teachers can do now to enhance learning experiences through AI. This includes developing classroom activities that make use of tools such as Chat GPT. For example, teachers can ask their students to correct or rewrite an AI powered response on a particular topic. Or their students to use Chat GPT to improve an essay they’ve written and then ask the students to critique the changes made. These are the types of small steps you can take now to be ready for the future. There are also some fantastic ideas, approaches and tips on Cambridge’s World of Better Learning blog under the topics of technology and digital) Technology and Digital - World of Better Learning | Cambridge University Press
One of our AI-powered innovations in Cambridge is the way we mark our Linguaskill online English test. The test uses hi-tech features but keeps a human in the loop. The Speaking module, for example, uses AI based auto-marking as part of a hybrid marking approach. An auto-marker is used in live assessment, but with the expertise of a trained human examiner who steps in where the automarker is not completely confident it has given the correct mark. This advanced marking system enables fast, reliable results to be awarded within 48-hours.
English testing for university entry is life changing for candidates, so it is essential that tests used for this purpose are the right ones. With the rise of technology, there are tests coming onto the market that prioritise technology and ‘on demand’ convenience over quality and relevance. This can come with associated risks as using inadequate English language tests for university entry can result in poor performance, high levels of students dropping out of their courses, not to mention the anxiety and wellbeing issues associated with not having the English language skills you need. Things you need to watch out for are tests that only cover a narrow range of tasks, tasks that are not relevant to university and ones that have limited independent research to validate their efficacy.
What makes a good test for this purpose?
While technology plays a role in testing for university, it’s important not to lose sight of what makes a good test. We believe a good English test for university entrance should:
As I mentioned earlier, don’t get me wrong, the rise of technology makes this an exciting time to be involved in English language education, but we’ll still need to hold the ‘hand’ of technology for a smooth journey, as we evolve into the digital age. I recently read a wonderful analogy that sums this up nicely from a policy report prepared by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology. It describes a technology-enhanced future as more like an electric bike and less like robot vacuums. I think this is a fantastic way to highlight the fact that the AI amplifies the human achievement and reduces the burden, without fully replacing the human involvement in learning, teaching and assessment.