Stellenbosch University
Welcome to Stellenbosch University
The problem with time-limited, sit-down tests: Assessing language
Author: Anthea Jacobs
Published: 14/05/2021

​Learning and Teaching Enhancement Virtual Seminar 2 of 4: 13 May 2021


The problem with time-limited, sit-down tests: Assessing language


Professor Christa van der Walt

“Start from the assumption that students are honest."

​This was the main message brought by Professor Christa van der Walt, professor in the Department of Curriculum Studies and Vice-Dean: Research, Faculty of Education, at the second in a series of four virtual seminars hosted by the Division for Learning and Teaching Enhancement. The theme for the virtual Learning and Teaching Enhancement (LTE) seminar series this year is “Assessment". Professor van der Walt established a great connection to this theme in her exploration of assessment as arguably the most difficult aspect to manage during online teaching, learning and assessment. During the presentation she discussed some of the problems faced when assessing language-related topics. From her own perspective of training language teachers, she argued that traditional time-limited, sit-down tests have their own problems that have been masked by their familiarity and our resistance to change. She further problematised assessment in language learning and teaching in the context of international perspectives on the validity and reliability of online assessments.

There was a lively engagement from participants, particularly around the question of “how do you know that they (students) are doing the work themselves?" This led the discussion towards controversial practices like proctoring and 'automatic' assessments.

Professor van der Walt, in summarising, offered the following ways forward: (1) Move away from the point of departure that students are dishonest; (2) Implement an honour system supported by a strict disciplinary code and serious consequences; and (3) Focus on not only flexible assessment, but also flexible contact in small groups: getting to know students.

The positive feedback received, for example, “Being introduced to an overview of compassionate assessment"; “Great topic - fits well in with current sentiments and discussions within SU"; and “Expanding the argument beyond language learning" indicate that participants found the seminar most interesting and useful.

More information and access to the recording of this seminar are available here. ​