the e-Assessment Association

Six lessons from Language Assessment: Riyadh Conference 2023

Six lessons from Language Assessment:  Riyadh Conference 2023

By Paul Muir, Chief Strategy Officer at Surpass Assessment and eAA Vice-Chair

I was privileged to be involved in and invited to speak at the British Council’s prestigious Language Assessment Conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The aims of the conference were to:

  • Establish a unique platform for sharing both cutting-edge developments and best practice in English language assessment in education systems
  • Provide a dynamic space in which regional and international policy makers, educational professionals, academics, teachers and assessment practitioners can interact, exchange information and keep abreast of the leading developments in the field
  • Facilitate an ongoing dialogue amongst a range of regional and international professionals to explore assessment solutions that meet local needs and achieve global standards

With over 1,200 attendees registered from across the Middle East to attend either in-person or virtually, the conference looked to tackle the challenges and opportunities brought by the emergence of AI and the ambitions of the Saudi 2030 vision, while recognising the key role that English Language teaching and assessment will play in the region’s success.

Distinguished speakers from across the world, included Dr John Pill, Dr Ardeshir Geranpayeh, Saima Satti and Andriani Papapericleous and Dr Olena Rossi.

Plenary sessions included:
– Assessing English for Special Purposes
– Artificial Intelligence & why it will not replace teachers in the classroom
– The Metaverse & why we still need humans
– Test Construction
– Technology in Assessment – Then, Now and the Future

In my role as Chief Strategy Officer at Surpass Assessment, I delivered the final plenary session of the conference on ‘Technology in Assessment – Then, Now and the Future’.

Six key takeaways from the conference:

  1. Technology is allowing ever more specialisation in the area of Language for Specific Purposes (LSP) and is allowing better harmonisation between language and the specifics required in certain strands of professional education.
  2. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here to stay, however it is ‘not intelligent’ and is not going to replace teachers in the classroom. AI needs the human intervention and with the role played by Computational Psychometrics it should be viewed as an ‘aid’ for teachers, allowing more rapid personalised feedback and learning plans for students
  3. The Metaverse and ‘Industry 5.0’ has arrived in the Language Assessment and teaching world and our challenge is to ensure ‘value’ is being delivered to our learners, employees, assessors, MOEs, Institutions and ultimately the e2e learning and assessment experience.
  4. Test Construction, specifically Item Writing for high-stakes exams, requires humans at the heart of the process, even if the temptation of Generative AI models can appear to make this task easier.
  5. The Digital Divide is a significant threat to our ambitions of a more modern assessment model and solutions need to consider this in any new approaches considered.
  6. The technology journey and subsequent innovation in assessment is slow compared to other sectors and we need to be braver, think of AI and technology in assessment as a ‘co-worker’ not as competition and continue to push boundaries to provide teachers and learners the best assessment solutions possible.

Personally for me, it was great to be back in a region where I have delivered a number of significant education reform projects and to see the desire, ambition and openness to change is as strong as ever. I came away believing more than ever, that the MENA region, and Saudi Arabia in particular, is in a very strong position to lead on this next stage of the global story for English Language teaching and assessment development where technology will play an ever-increasing part.

Thank you again to the British Council Saudi Arabia team for putting on such a great conference. I hope to return next year, but importantly to keep the conversation going as we go through 2023.

Read more about the work of Surpass Assessment in Language Assessment

And to get in touch with me to continue the conversation, please use my email address; paul.muir@surpass .com or reach out on LinkedIn: 


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