International Language Assessment Conference in Egypt (ILACE) 2020 Online Conference

ILACE 2020

Since 2015, the School of Continuing Education (SCE) and the British Council convened thousands of international language assessment experts at AUC Tahrir Square Campus for the widely-regarded premier conference in the field, the International Language Assessment Conference in Egypt (ILACE). For its sixth edition on September 4 and 5, 2020, the conference went digital. Not just in format but also in substance under the theme, "Embracing New Realities."

1,400 specialists worldwide synced their screens for two days of active exchanges on research trends, learned experiences, and best practices. After the distinct but also shared global experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, participants reflected on key takeaways from their collective learned experience.

While assessments have been transitioning to the digital realm over the past couple of decades, the pandemic's abrupt onset catalyzed rapid responses regardless of preparedness. At this stage in September, the specialists could benefit from reflecting on their outcomes, at least for the short to medium term. Common pursuits on the global scale remain on how we assess our students validly, reliably, and fairly during this era and how to ensure ethical online assessments and ways to mitigate or minimize instances of cheating and academic dishonesty.

The discussion then turned inward to local challenges and opportunities, mostly related to human and material resources. The shift to distance learning and online assessments is early in the grand scheme's Egyptian culture and school context, but remarkable progress has been made. The speakers' practical exchange addressed teacher mentoring and professional development programs and new tactics for the new learning mode, including actionable and concrete suggestions for attendees to get started upgrading their level of assessment literacy. For example, project-based learning helped teachers effectively deliver learnings to students as they dove deeper to examine key critical-thinking questions.

A dedicated session guided the participants on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) revisions to online interaction, including practical activities and simulations.

Looking forward, the global shift to online learning may be taken over by the even bigger disruption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology. Our current times are a sobering reminder that investment in scalable solutions is crucial to business continuity. However, as a recent example of a faulty algorithm assessing the A-levels in the UK highlights, technology's impulsive use without due consideration of purpose and consequence can have severe ramifications. A dedicated keynote session outlined several key issues that underpin the development of AI-driven assessments and discussed how practitioners could refer to these to help decide how to use such products appropriately and identify key questions that should be addressed before adopting them.

Overall, this year’s ILACE was particularly relevant at a time when we are all learning. Participants were equipped with tools to design, implement, and evaluate basic though reliable testing tools suitable for their contexts. Despite the current challenges, the conference was a great success and further highlighted SCE’s core value of lifelong learning.