Cards on the table: the benefits of autoethnography

autoethnographyIf you were a scientist working in the 1950’s, you would claim that your work, the theory that you subscribed to, and the results of your academic endeavours were all neutral and objective. In the heydays of modernism, the mere suggestion that there were any external, non-scientific influences on your work would have implied a threat to the integrity of that work.

Fast forward 60 years, and you would now find it difficult to acknowledge that your scientific analyses are indeed purely scientific, uninfluenced by any prejudice, and untainted by subjective issues. If you at all considered at some stage using the term ‘objective’ to describe your analyses, you would, like I have just done, make sure that you put it in quotes.

What has happened, of course, is that the modernism of the mid-20th century has yielded paradigmatic ground to postmodernist ways.

Have we gained anything with this shift of paradigm?  Continue reading

Is a theory of applied linguistics necessary?

9783319417295Is a theory of applied linguistics desirable? And if so, is it possible? My new book, Responsible design in applied linguistics: theory and practice (2017; Springer) proceeds from the thesis that applied linguistics needs a theoretical foundation. It is indeed possible to delineate its work (and specifically distinguish it from linguistics). Providing it with a theoretical foundation might additionally yield new insight into the principles that underlie applied linguistic designs. Those designs we encounter as the interventions that we call language courses, language tests and language policies. Continue reading

Make the information available, then accountability will follow

Construct Refinement in Tests of Academic LiteracyAvasha Rambiritch of the University of Pretoria and I have just written a chapter for a book edited by John Read (Post-admission Language Assessment of University Students, Springer, 2016) that shows how making sufficient information available about the conception, design, development, refinement and eventual administration of a test of language ability – in other words “telling the story of a test” ‑ is the first step towards ensuring accountability for such tests. The test in question, the Test of Academic Literacy for Postgraduate Students (TALPS), is used to determine the academic literacy of prospective postgraduate students. For the full reference, see reading

Fairness and credibility in high stakes examinations

fairness_in_language_assessmentThe assessment of the 11 “home languages” at the end of secondary school in South Africa is patently unfair. That is the finding of a recent investigation that Colleen du Plessis (UFS), Sanet Steyn (NWU) and I report on in an article that has just been published on LitNet Akademies. The Grade 12 exit examinations are high stakes assessments, since the Home Language mark contributes disproportionately to the index on the basis of which access is granted to higher education (or entry into the world of work). They are unfair, because they are not equivalent: in some languages one has a much better chance to pass than in others. Continue reading

A dual accountability

fail-passThe solutions proposed by applied linguists are defensible in two ways:

First, the designs must be justified with reference to theory – not only linguistic theory, but also those found in other disciplines, like psychology and pedagogy, and across disciplines.

AccountabilitySecond, applied linguists are accountable to the public for the designs they produce. This is because their plans affect ever-increasing numbers of human beings. A bad and inappropriate language test may prevent one from earning a decent living or gaining legitimate access to a country or resources. An inadequate language course may stultify personal and professional growth. An ineffective and inappropriate language policy or arrangement can inhibit optimal performance within an institution or the workplace.

The pages on this site will deal in more detail with how we ensure this dual defensibility of applied linguistic designs. Its theme is a philosophical or foundational one: how we design language tests and language courses responsibly. Continue reading