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LTRC 2018: Symposia (5)
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Transformation and transition: four perspectives from the south on academic literacy assessment in times of change

Albert Weideman (Chair); Alan Cliff, Kabelo Sebolai, Mehdi Riazi, Cassi Liardet, Laura Drennan, John Read


While massification has affected universities globally, there are significant challenges for assessing and developing academic literacy at universities in the southern hemisphere. These may well have implications for other contexts. This symposium will highlight those challenges, not only in respect of prospective and new enrolments in universities, but also for the language demands of postgraduate study. At both levels, these demands call for appropriate assessments of language ability that are sensitive to the transformatory needs of both students and lecturers. They arise, furthermore, in a context of transition, where universities are changing specifically in respect of diversity in intake, and the subsequent challenge to provide relevant language support.

This symposium will therefore focus on issues of assessing academic literacy before entry to university, or after enrolling for the first time, or again just prior to making the transition to postgraduate study. A common thread in all four papers is that of making assessment not only relevant to, but useful for planning instruction, and aligning the language instruction with language development. At the same time, the papers each highlight from a different perspective the theme of the symposium, namely transformation, transition and change. They contribute singly and jointly to the goal of the symposium, which is to debate the challenges of assessing academic literacy at various levels and in different but comparable institutional settings. What is more, the presentations have cross-cutting sub-themes, as will be explained below. They have another common element: all refer to empirical studies, and the data yielded by such investigation, to illustrate their arguments.

Paper 1 has as its main issue the challenge of teaching academic literacy if one takes the kind of information yielded by academic literacy assessment seriously, while Paper 2 will make a case for generic assessments of academic literacy providing the basis of discipline-specific testing. Both therefore present us with views on the debate about generic versus field-specific tests, and on how one could tap into the diagnostic and other information to be found in generic tests of academic language ability for the purpose of teaching and language development. Both refer to the language assessment of undergraduate students, taking as their reference point pre-enrolment language tests, that might be used for access decisions, or post-enrolment tests, that are generally employed for placement purposes.

Paper 3 has as its focus how changes in institutional systems affect language assessment at university, and the accompanying need to assess language readiness. Paper 4 illustrates that careful assessment design could give us insight into the processes of first gathering and processing information, before being able to present what has been processed as new information. Taking the postgraduate level as their context, both therefore deal with preparedness to present information (mainly in writing).

There are other sub-themes that bring Papers 2 and 4 together, specifically how students can be managed and supported in transitional situations. Paper 1 and Paper 3, in turn, highlight the instructional challenges and opportunities for teachers who utilise the results of academic literacy assessments.


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