Dylan Burton explores how language learners’ non-verbal behaviors during speaking tests might influence the scores the evaluators assign them

Dylan Burton joined Michigan State University’s Second Language Studies (SLS) program in May of 2019 after 15 years working in the field of language teaching and assessment in Europe and East Asia. He worked in a number of roles, including language education, teacher training, test development, speaking and writing examining, conference planning, and assessment policy initiatives. Prior to joining the SLS program, Dylan received a BA in Mathematics from Hendrix College and an MA in Language Testing from Lancaster University. His MA thesis, “Raters’ Perceptions and Operationalization of Authentic Engagement in Oral Proficiency Tests”, won the Caroline Clapham IELTS Masters Award, which recognizes the MA thesis making the most significant contribution to the field of language testing. In the SLS program, Dylan has continued his research interests in speaking tests and rater cognition while broadening his research focus to studies of nonverbal behavior.

In the SLS program, Dylan has worked as editorial assistant for the journal Language Testing with editors Paula Winke and Luke Harding since 2019. Additionally, his recent work has included co-teaching two graduate-level courses to the US State Department’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI) with Dr. Paula Winke. These courses, offered through Michigan State, have focused on contemporary theories and practice in language testing and assessment. Over the summers of 2021 and 2022, he additionally taught a graduate course, Advanced ESL Assessments, at Western Michigan University in the ESL graduate certificate program.

Dylan’s recent research includes two 2021 publications: “The face of communication breakdown: Multimodal repair in L2 oral proficiency interviews”, published in Papers in Language Testing and Assessment; and “Building positive outcomes for English language learning: A case for focusing on positive individual differences”, published in TESOL AL Forum. He additionally has two more papers soon on their way in 2022. “Reflections on the past and future of language testing and assessment: An emerging scholar’s perspective” is in press to be published in Language Testing. “Gazing into cognition: Eye behavior in online L2 speaking tests”, which is in press to be published in Language Assessment Quarterly, also recently won Dylan the 2021 Best Paper award by The Midwest Association of Language Testers (MwALT). Dylan’s paper assessed whether eye behavior, in the form of averted gaze or blinking frequency, may be an important subconscious signal of underlying test question difficulty.

Apart from these studies, the majority of his work is currently focused on his dissertation, tentatively titled “Exploring the Influence of Nonverbal Facial, Gaze, and Posture Behavior on Ratings of Second Language Proficiency”. Dylan’s dissertation aims to capture the relative impact of nonverbal behaviors on ratings of L2 speech. This mixed-methods study questions whether language is the only criterion that influences speaking test scores, with findings showing that behaviors such as eye gaze and body posture interact with language when people make decisions about a speaker’s second language ability. Dylan’s dissertation was supported by grants from Duolingo, The International Research Foundation for English Language Education (TIRF), and the British Council’s Assessment Research Group.