The University of Ottawa (uOttawa) is the largest bilingual (English-French) university in the world, with over 40,000 students and 5,000 employees. It is the first and largest French immersion program among Canadian universities. One of its core values is to promote bilingualism and strengthen Francophone communities.

The University’s Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute (OLBI) plays a key role in actualizing this value.

As a standard bearer for official languages and bilingualism, OLBI has programs and services in four areas: Teaching; Research; Development and promotion; and, Testing and evaluation.

It is considered a leader in the assessment of Canada’s official languages – a status it maintains by pursuing innovation and applying cutting-edge educational science.

The Challenge

OLBI provides language tests to thousands of uOttawa students and applicants each year. International students and applicants take the standardized English or French proficiency test to determine if they meet the admission requirements in the programs they’re applying to.

Current students take language assessments for various reasons:

  • Proper placement in either English or French as a second language course
  • Admission into graduate programs that require proficiency in their second official language
  • Admission into French immersion or Extended French streams
  • Official English or French language certification, which is required to graduate from the French immersion or the Extended French stream. Other students use this certification when applying for jobs
  • Applying for an international exchange

OLBI also administers pre-employment language assessments to ensure that uOttawa’s support staff and professors meet their department’s language requirements.

It also provides language assessment services to external institutional clients. Finally, OLBI administers tests for the general public: CanTEST, a standardized English proficiency test, and TESTCan, a standardized French proficiency test. These tests determine if candidates meet the admission requirements of Canadian post-secondary institutions or fluency requirements of professional licensing associations.

By 2014, about 5,000 students per year were completing language tests at OLBI. It had become clear that OLBI needed a bilingual Online Language Test System.

Such a system had to accommodate, not only a high volume of test-takers, but also a wide variety of tests that could validly assess language proficiency with different objectives.

Some of the most critical features OLBI needed were:

  • A robust and flexible online interface that allows users to take the test remotely on different browsers and operating systems, and would be accessible to university staff on- and off-site
  • A test-taker interface that was user-friendly and had the ability to curb potential academic dishonesty and plagiarism in web-based tests
  • A staff-accessible database that stores test results, item responses, writing samples, and speaking samples
  • A flexible security model allowing varying user levels to create, modify, manage, and score exams
  • Support for different types of tests, such:
    • Listening passage
    • Reading passage
    • Cloze passage
    • Grammar task
    • Writing task
    • Speaking test
  • Real-time processing
  • Integration with other systems the university was already using, such as the PeopleSoft-based Student Information System (SIS), Njoyn applicant tracking system (ATS), and Shibboleth Single Sign On framework

The Solution

OLBI licensed XpressLab, a cloud-based software for language teaching and testing. It also partnered with Wired Solutions, the creator of XpressLab, to customize the program to meet all their requirements.

In July 2016, OLBI launched its new Online Proficiency Testing System, powered by XpressLab. The new system is the engine of OLBI’s online language tests for students, employees, and external clients.


Greater Control Over Test Content and Administration

OLBI’s test designers have complete control over the content and settings (such as timers) of their tests. They can easily create new tests and update existing ones, without having to rely on the IT department to create or modify tests for them.

They design tests with the exact components they need. For example, the language test for administrative staff is made up of a listening comprehension test, a reading comprehension test, a writing test, and a speaking test. On the other hand, the language test for graduate programs consists of three listening passages, three reading passages, and one fill-in-the-blanks activity.

Some tests no longer require candidates to take the test in a specific location. For some tests with a speaking component, applicants record their audio responses. For others, they only need to have access to a computer with a web camera and to schedule their test during OLBI’s office hours.

Increased Efficiency in Test Review

OLBI has streamlined the entire review process by having XpressLab do most of the marking. Many of their tests are completely and automatically marked by XpressLab, reducing their review time and costs significantly.

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