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Early English Language Assessment to Improve First-Year Student Success

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 2B: Strategies for Writing and Communication Courses

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First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Penny Kinnear University of Toronto

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Penny Kinnear currently works with the Engineering Communication Program at the University of Toronto where she focuses on the development and delivery of Professional Language support for a highly student body. She has a background in applied linguistics, second language and bilingual education and writing education. She is co-author of the book, "Sociocultural Theory in Second Language Education: An introduction through narratives." Her current research projects include a longitudinal study on professional identity development of Chemical Engineering students and a study of meaning-making language and behaviour in student design teams.

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Micah Stickel P.Eng. University of Toronto

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Dr. Micah Stickel (ECE) is Chair, First Year, in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. He is also a Senior Lecturer in The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. Dr. Stickel first came to the Faculty when he started as an undergraduate in 1993. Since that time, he has completed his BASc (1997), MASc (1999), and a PhD (2006) - all with a focus on electromagnetics and the development of novel devices for high-frequency wireless systems. He has a great interest in engineering education and the use of technology to advance the student learning experience. He has been honoured with four departmental teaching awards and was selected as a New Faculty Fellow at the 2008 Frontiers in Education conference. In 2012, he was awarded the Early Career Teaching Award by the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering.

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Brian M. Frank Queen's University

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Brian Frank is the DuPont Canada Chair in Engineering Education Research and Development, and the Director of Program Development in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Queen's University where he works on engineering curriculum development, program assessment, and developing educational technology. He is also an associate professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering.

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James A. Kaupp Queen's University

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Assessment and Quality Assurance Coordinator and Educational Researcher (Msc ’06, PhD ’12) at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. Educational research interests include engineering education development, cultural change in higher education, higher-order thinking development and assessment, outcomes-based data-informed continuous improvement, authentic performance-based assessment, data analysis and information visualization

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Early English Language Assessment to Improve First-Year Student Success

This research paper describes the implementation and initial results of an early English language assessment program that aims to improve the ability of first year engineering students to effectively complete all courses in their program. Increasing linguistic, cultural and educational diversity of our students has challenged accepted practices of recognizing needs and providing support for communication practices of first year engineering students. Two Canadian first year engineering programs decided to implement a post-enrollment screening for academic language in order to better recognize and support their first year students.

As an initial screening, the Diagnostic English Language Needs Assessment (DELNA) tool was used. This tool was jointly developed by the University of Auckland and the University of Melbourne in response to their diverse student demographic and the diagnostic inadequacy of major English language proficiency tests. The DELNA comprises a vocabulary section and a speed reading section that asks students to identify language that is out of place or makes no sense in the passage. The follow-up written diagnostic provides a finer grained analysis of student language use. Students in the lowest-performance band of the screening test were asked to complete this follow-up diagnostic that focuses on factors including content comprehension, lexicogrammatical accuracy, audience appropriateness, argumentation, and concision. Our universities chose to design a customized diagnostic specific to an engineering faculty rather than the arts and humanities focus of the follow-up DELNA diagnostic. This paper reports on our first trial of these two instruments, what analysis of the results of both the screening and the diagnostic revealed about our students and how we have used that information to support student success.

The screening results from the two institutions differed somewhat with approximately 30% of the first-year cohort at one institution placed in the lowest performance band, as compared to 12% at the other institution. Both schools found their students excelled in the vocabulary section, but struggled with the speed reading component. As well, noticeable differences were observed between students in the domestic and international cohorts. The paper will also present the relationship between performance on the DELNA screening task and the written diagnostic.

Kinnear, P., & Stickel, M., & Frank, B. M., & Kaupp, J. A. (2016, June), Early English Language Assessment to Improve First-Year Student Success Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26876

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