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Cambridge Language Sciences

Interdisciplinary Research Centre
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Professor Ianthi Tsimpli talks about the new MSt in English Language Assessment which will be delivered in partnership with the Institute of Continuing Education, Cambridge Language Sciences and Cambridge Assessment English.

A new Master’s at ICE aims to train the next generation of language assessment specialists by connecting professionals working in the field around the world with a host of Cambridge expertise. Professor Ianthi Tsimpli, Chair of English and Applied Linguistics at the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics, tells us more about the MSt in English Language Assessment.

You may not have considered it but assessing the skills of English language learners and speakers is an integral and important part of many people’s work, with far-reaching impacts on the life chances and opportunities of those being assessed. “English is an important, widely used global language,” says Ianthi. “There are a number of people in a variety of roles around the world – teaching English as a second language in schools, assessing language proficiency in the workplace and administering examinations in the public and private sectors, for example – for whom these skills are a significant part of their careers.

“Yet there aren’t many postgraduate courses like this around. Some courses about teaching English as a second language might include a component on assessment, but very few separate it out as a specialism.”

Bringing together wide-ranging Cambridge expertise 

The MSt at ICE is a two-year, part-time course beginning in January 2022. It’s a true Cambridge-wide collaboration informed by research from across the University, with teaching delivered by experts from the Cambridge Language Sciences Interdisciplinary Research Centre and Cambridge Assessment English, a world leader since 1913 in assessing English language proficiency. The course will also include input from ALTA, the Cambridge University Institute for Automated Language Teaching and Assessment.

 “Many people throughout the University of Cambridge are working on aspects of this topic, whether in language development, second language acquisition or automated language assessment. We’re delighted to be able to bring together so much wide-ranging expertise to support this new programme,” adds Ianthi.

Developing a critical eye

As well as learning online throughout the course, students will benefit from face-to-face teaching, provided in two-week residential blocks each April, letting students share ideas in-person and get a taste of the Cambridge experience as College members.

The varied, cross-disciplinary content is designed to help existing practitioners develop a critical understanding of assessment practices, become more reflective about the most appropriate assessment methods and gain the necessary research skills to contribute to the subject’s academic debate. Students will also build on their newly acquired knowledge and skills to develop new assessment tasks and learn how to scrutinise and evaluate the current norms of assessment.

This last part, says Ianthi, is particularly key: “It’s vital to engage with a critical view of your own methods and the commonly accepted systems of assessment. Teachers and assessors should always be questioning their approach and considering how to improve it. We will help them do that.

“There will be lots of practical work, and students will have the opportunity to present their experiences and share their perspectives with each other. We anticipate applications from a very diverse group of students with varied backgrounds working in many different local systems, so the chance to learn from and critique each other is extremely valuable.”

That critiquing process will also aid students with a final dissertation that encourages them to think more deeply about the context of their work in their own country. “By the end of the course, students will be equipped with practical knowledge they can apply to their work, wherever they may be based,” says Ianthi. “The course encourages students to design new assessment strategies, so it would be great to see them using their learning to pilot new tools in their countries, perhaps. Also, as the course is grounded in research, we hope some students will continue their academic work afterwards by continuing to a PhD.”

Find out more about the English Language Assessment MSt, sign up for a taster lectures or watch the ones you've missed.

This article was originally published by ICE in their Long-Vacation - Michaelmas issue of Inside ICE. Read the original article.



What we do

Cambridge Language Sciences is an Interdisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Cambridge. Our virtual network connects researchers from five schools across the university as well as other world-leading research institutions. Our aim is to strengthen research collaborations and knowledge transfer across disciplines in order to address large-scale multi-disciplinary research challenges relating to language research.