Assessing Language through Computer Technology

Assessing Language through Computer Technology Carol A. Chapelle and Dan Douglas. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. xi + 138.

Reviewed by Deepti Gupta
Panjab University
Chandigarh, India

In Assessing Language through Computer Technology, Chapelle and Douglas examine the complete paradigm of CALT or computer assisted language testing and take the reader on a voyage with the technology thread that runs through the process of assessment starting from 1985.

Divided into six chapters, this handy volume scans most of the CALT related issues in this era. The first chapter is appropriately titled The Technology Thread. Running into 20 pages, it describes the various forms in which computers have been used in assessment. Using instances of CALT from across the board, it makes a persuasive case for using computers.
The second chapter goes on to perform a comparative study of assessment with and without the use of computers. The authors take up each test method characteristic beginning with physical and temporal test circumstances and leading up to input and response to examine the whole range to determine the ways in which CALT can affect these characteristics. The argument is that the use of computers does improve the efficacy of tests and examples are taken from all over the world to persuade the reader.

The next chapter deals with the ways CALT has emerged as a threat. While chapter 2 had briefly touched upon two validity issues pertaining to the inferences drawn from CALT test scores and the ways in which these scores can be used for purposes such as certification and admission decisions, this chapter expands these two concerns into six areas that are often brought up as potential threats to the whole practice of CALT. After examining the full range of threats from different test performance to negative consequences, the concluding message is that any mode of testing would face such issues and that the threats related to validity need further discussion, one which is promised in chapter 5.

Chapter 4 delineates the actual implementation of CALT, the authoring tools available and how to use them. Taking as an example the test for students entering a graduate level applied linguistics program, the authors go through all the steps required to implement CALT, the steps of test creation, publishing on the web, student access, test taking, and viewing examiner records using Respondus software. Other software tools are also clearly described to give readers ample choice. The chapter goes on to describe various other computer-based tests, taking the trouble to explain how and why they were designed as well as their strengths and weaknesses. It also mentions the tools that are still forthcoming.

Chapter 5 gives an overview of the various historical evaluations of CALT made by different researchers and the detailed evaluation that was promised in chapter 3 now takes place as each concern is given careful analysis, especially the concerns dealing with test validity. The concluding chapter inserts a note of caution because the authors feel that in second language assessment, despite the significant changes and advances made through the use of technology, the revolution portrayed by Bennett has not yet occurred (p. 103). Thus, briefly touching upon the earlier chapters, the authors state that they see CALT not so far as an evolution but rather as a revolution: A revolution may be coming sometime in the future, but in the meantime, . . . the changes brought about by technology intersect in important ways with other areas of applied linguistics (pp. 106-7). The focus then shifts to the different areas of applied linguistics: how technology affects language ability and use, in what ways it could influence SLA research, and how it could alter the complete paradigm of language teaching. Here, the chapter and the book end on a note of hope that in future CALT would draw upon input from various disciplines and emerge stronger as a result of this interdisciplinary contribution.
The text is definitely an asset to the Cambridge Language Assessment series, is sure to open new avenues for applied linguists, encourages thinking out of the box, and should be, as the series editors Aldersen and Bachman conclude in their preface, required reading for any test developer (p. xi). With this in mind, although it may be a bit premature and quite daunting for assessors who function in parts of the world where traditional manners of assessment are not yet well executed, Assessing Language through Computer Technology can be a very useful resource for those who have these tools at their disposal.