Face-to-face speaking assessment is widespread as a form of assessment, since it allows the elicitation of interactional skills. However, face-to-face speaking test administration is also logistically complex, resource-intensive and can be difficult to conduct in geographically remote or politically sensitive areas. Recent advances in video-conferencing technology now make it possible to engage in online face-to-face interaction more successfully than was previously the case, thus reducing dependency upon physical proximity. A major study was, therefore, commissioned to investigate how new technologies could be harnessed to deliver the face-to-face version of the IELTS Speaking test.
Phase 1 of the study, carried out in London in January 2014, presented results and recommendations from a small-scale initial investigation designed to explore what similarities and differences, in scores, linguistic output and test-taker and examiner behaviour, could be discerned between face-to-face and Internet-based videoconferencing delivery of the Speaking test. This research used a convergent parallel mixed-methods design and the results of the analyses suggested that the speaking construct remains essentially the same across both delivery modes.
Phase 2 of the study was a larger-scale study, carried out in Shanghai, People’s Republic of China in May 2015. A convergent parallel mixed-methods design was again used to allow for collection of an in-depth, comprehensive set of findings derived from multiple sources. The research included an analysis of rating scores under the two delivery conditions, test-takers’ linguistic output during the tests, as well as short interviews with test-takers following a questionnaire format. Many-facet Rasch Model (MFRM) analysis of test scores indicated that, although the video-conferencing mode was slightly more difficult than the face-to-face mode, when the results of all analytic scoring categories were combined, the actual score difference was negligibly small, thus supporting the Phase 1 findings.