MicroCPD: Assess your Academic English

Richard Nickalls from the BIA talks about how international students can receive immediate support for their academic English and receive signposting to the various services available, through Canvas.

Building on Ross’s (1998) model of self-assessment, in the Assess Your Academic English! (AYAE!) tool students respond to questions on each topic before being asked to reflect on their own confidence levels. The (2019-20) 20-question quiz takes students 30-40 minutes to complete and is made available to both Edgbaston and Dubai students.  In addition to training students in the skills of academic grammar/academic writing/note-taking in lectures and seminar skills, another central aim was to check students’ awareness of good paraphrasing techniques and check for any bad habits (e.g. accidental plagiarism). On the assumption that poor paraphrasing and citation skills are often contributing factors to plagiarism (Davis, 2007; Davis & Carroll, 2009) and also based on our experience that many students turn to essay mills and ghost writers through a lack of confidence in their own academic paraphrasing skills, we decided to build part of the diagnostic around lecture extracts demonstrating the simplicity of good paraphrasing and the proper use of sources without plagiarism.  With progressively more difficult questions, the tool proactively helps students understand the underlying concepts of academic integrity while building their confidence in the skills that help them avoid accidental plagiarism.  

This project delivered a multi-skilled online tool to allow international students whose first language is not English to self-assess their academic English and study skills. The ‘Assess Your Academic English' diagnostic is now an integral part of the services provided by the University of Birmingham’s International Academy (BIA) and will further ensure that all the University’s non-native international students receive 360 degree support from self-assessment through to customised help that addresses the English needs of the individual student as well as departmental and university wide needs. 

This project contributes to the University’s internationalisation strategy. From surveys the BIA conducted, it was clear that many departments were struggling to identify students needing academic English support. It has long been shown (Green, 2013) that English proficiency tests are extremely limited as diagnostics/predictors of academic English skills, so their IELTS results offered little help. Thus, without this diagnostic, the first feedback international students receive may be in written assignment feedback in January three months into their programme (at which point it can be too late to help students needing the most support). With the help of this BIA diagnostic, international students on all programmes at UoB can now more promptly assess their capabilities in academic English and use the BIA’s services and resources to develop their skills (enabling all international students to achieve the success they deserve) on arrival. 

 The quiz can be found on our  Academic English & Short Courses Canvas course which has open enrolment with this enrolment URL https://canvas.bham.ac.uk/enroll/4NJN36

Further Reading

Davis, M. (2007) The role of Turnitin in the formative process of academic writing: A tool for learning and unlearning? Brookes e-Journal of Learning and Teaching, 2(1).

Davis, M., & Carroll, J. (2009) Formative feedback within plagiarism education: Is there a role for text-matching software? International Journal for Educational Integrity, 5(2): 58-70.

Green, A. (2013) Exploring language assessment and testing: Language in action. Routledge.

Ross, S. (1998) Self-assessment in second language testing: A meta-analysis and analysis of experiential factors. Language testing, 15(1), pp.1-20.