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Learner Autonomy & the Web

Using self-correcting tests on the Internet

Using self-correcting (javascript) tests on the Internet turns self-study into an interactive experience. If the test designer and programmer has been skilful in anticipating common errors and comprehensive in providing feedback in response to incorrect answers, then learners can feel they are interacting with a teacher rather than 'a dumb machine'.

It is quite easy to write a page containing a quiz or exercise for teachers or students to print out. You can even supply an Answer Key on a separate page. However, it is much more fun for students if your test or quiz is contained in authoring software which allows them to do it interactively.

"Interactively" means that they get feedback (CORRECT or INCORRECT), which can be given immediately the student enters an answer by using the keyboard or clicking on A B C or D with the mouse. It is more motivating for the student if a running score appears on the screen (11 out of 20) or (65% correct). I feel it is better if the student is given the correct answer immediately (after any Help or feedback triggered by two failed attempts) before proceeding to the next question. Every test or quiz is a set of problems each presented in a given context. I feel that correction should be given in the context of each question if the purpose of the test is for learning. The student can then work towards a final score and then attempt the test a second time if there is scope for significant improvement. Sophisticated programs offer students attempts to repeat only those questions they have got wrong, once all the items in the test have been completed.

If the purpose of the test or quiz is "placement" or "achievement" rather than "learning", then feedback may not be given at all, except to the teacher once the whole test has been completed. Some software programs can "rank" or "place" disparate groups of learners. If your school has enough computers, "objective testing" of this kind could make intake day run a lot more smoothly. Cooperative learners could take the entry test on their home computers before even enrolling at the school. When microphones become standard with each computer system sold, all four skills could be tested over the Internet. However, while computer literacy remains the domain of a young population, usually in the more advanced regions of the world, sitting a new intake of students in front of PCs may be a formula for chaos. You may be testing computer literacy rather than language skills. The automization of part of your testing procedure should leave scope for "subjective testing" - the quick oral interview that really tells an experienced teacher in which class a learner belongs. This assumes that your school has enough students and teachers to offer classes at a number of different levels. If the best you can get is mixed ability teaching for language learning (as state school pupils often suffer when they are grouped according to their age!), you should then look for another school or return in the high season. Motivation and language aptitude create differentials between learners, which cut the time a skilled teacher can give you in two, three or sometimes four.

On the other hand, well resourced and well organised self-access centres can be as versatile as well managed supermarkets in catering for clients with vastly different needs. Resources can be coloured-coded by level and areas where different skills can be practised can be clearly signposted.

The menu on the HOME Page of your Computer Laboratory can offer choices of levels and skills. The facilities available to your learners will then depend on how many quizzes and tests you have indexed or prepared for each area.