Saturday, April 25, 2009

MA Dissertation

Let's go to work.

The general idea, which I need now to boil down into a relatively simple question, is to examine the advantages and disadvantages candidates would face when, in a test of writing, they are obliged to use pen-and-paper rather than a keyboard, and vice versa.

The point arose when I was at the standardization meetings recently. We had been discussing the inauthentic nature of writing questions which ask students to write an email, using pen and paper. This conversation had been preceded by a discussion of the move to online testing. The two gelled in my mind, together with the notion that most (?) people are nowadays happier with keyboards than pen and paper, though there will be no doubt demographic variables.

The meeting's chair, a professor and Big Cheese Language Tester said I would need two groups, and cross them over. Frankly, I didn't get his full meaning at first but later puzzled it out and then confirmed it with him: two groups, A and B. Two tests, X and Y. Both X and Y come in an electronic and paper form. Group A takes the electronic test X, and paper Y. Group B, vice versa. Tests X and Y should be prima facie different, but essentially testing the same area: writing an email on a given topic.

This was all run by our Man from The Famous Exam Board, who frankly looked a bit non-plussed at the time. Prof Big Cheese seemed keen on the idea, and could perhaps lend his weight to securing me the offices of FEB in getting candidates from two of its centres. He also said that the groupd need only be 30 or so each - certainly not more than 50 per group, bearing in mind that I would have to closely analyse the written answers, and 50 per group would mean 100 bits of writing.

I need to consider if the data sets are large enough to yield a quantitative analysis, (as marked according to FEB criteria. There will also be scope for contrastative error analysis.

And so the question will be...

Does the use of a keyboard, contrasted with pen and paper, confer any advantages or disadvantages to candidates in a test of writing?

I'll run it by my supervisor on Monday, and if she agrees I'll contact FEB and write the two items Tues/Wed. Meanwhile, I'll start on a literature search.

Voila! (That's the second time I've typed that today, must be something in the air...)