Computerized Spoken-Language Testing

Phone_2eSchoolNews reports on a company that has developed an automated test for spoken English ability:

Ordinate Corp., a subsidiary of Harcourt Assessment,
is offering what it says is the world’s only technology-enabled,
spoken-language proficiency test. Ordinate says its test uses speech
recognition technology to assess the listening and speaking skills of
non-native English speakers.

Ordinate’s Bernstein claims the SET is fairer than other similar exams.
"A test can’t be fair unless it’s reliable and accurate," he said,
adding that the SET is more reliable and accurate because it is not
subject to the caprices and prejudices of human judgment.

Bowen agreed. "There’s a lot of subjectivity involved in grading these
kinds of tests," she said. "With [the SET], there is none."

You can try a demo version online (and over the phone) at Ordinate’s website.  The image above is from the test instructions.  Apparently you’re screwed if you aren’t loud enough (or have a bad connection or use a wireless phone).

Link: eSchool News Online: High-tech test for spoken English.

Ronald Wright: A Short History of Progress

WrightThis excellent book of Ronald Wright’s 2004 Massey Lectures is finally out in the U.S.  He warns us that unless we start thinking in the long term about technology, our society is at risk of falling as did earlier fast-rising societies like Sumer, Rome, and Easter Island.  From the jacket description:

Each time history repeats itself, so it’s said, the price
goes up. The twentieth century was a time of runaway growth
in human population, consumption, and technology, placing
a colossal load on all natural systems, especially earth,
air, and water—the very elements of life. The most
urgent questions of the twenty-first century are: where
will this growth lead? Can it be consolidated or sustained?
And what kind of world is our present bequeathing to our

In A Short History of Progress Ronald
Wright argues that our modern predicament is
as old as civilization, a 10,000-year experiment we have
participated in but seldom controlled. Only by understanding
the patterns of triumph and disaster that humanity has
repeated around the world since the Stone Age, can we
recognize the experiment’s inherent dangers, and,
with luck and wisdom, shape its outcome.

Link: Amazon, House of Anansi Press (Canada)