Dylan Burton, a third year Ph.D. student in MSU’s Second Language Studies Program, received the 2021 Best Student Paper Award by the Midwest Association of Language Testers (MwALT) for his research paper, titled Gazing into Cognition: Eye Behavior in Online L2 Speaking Tests.
“The MwALT Best Student Paper Award is such an honor to have received, and I’m so grateful to Paula [Winke], India [Plough], and Aline [Godfroid] for helping me at various stages of this study,” Burton said.
Burton’s paper assessed whether eye behavior, such as averted gaze or blinking frequency, was an important subconscious signal of perceived comprehension difficulty, task complexity, or both. In his study, English learners took an English test on Zoom with 10 questions spanning six different complexity levels. Each participants’ eye behavior was tracked during the test through all question levels.
The results indicated that as the test questions increased in complexity, participants were more likely to avert their gaze from the interlocutor, a term in linguistics that’s defined as an individual taking part in dialogue. They did not, however, blink more frequently across different complexity levels.
The MwALT Best Student Paper Award is such an honor to have received, and I’m so grateful to Paula [Winke], India [Plough], and Aline [Godfroid] for helping me at various stages of this study.
In terms of comprehension difficulties, there was evidence that individuals averted their gaze more often when experiencing an issue in comprehension, but these differences were statistically nonsignificant. Blinking showed no patterns depending on comprehension levels.
The overall results have implications on speaking test validation and rater training.
MwALT hosts annual conferences at which the winner of the Best Student Paper Award presents their research and findings.
MwALT is a community of graduate students, faculty, and professionals that supports research in language assessment and testing. Founded at the University of Iowa in 1999, the association now serves within the Midwestern states as well. As the organization has grown throughout the decades, it now proudly includes participants from all over the United States and beyond.