Guest Post: CALL to MALL: OpenExam linking the Past to the Future in Languages

By Peter Smith, Secretary of OpenExam

Barack Obama’s recent speech at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service was a potent reminder of the importance and power of language. Young people can be in no doubt that verbal communication skills have the power to change the course of history and can make an impact on their lives. Today’s students are keen to acquire language skills but are also worldly and quick to understand the barriers to competence and fluency in a foreign language. In the 21st century it is the job of language teachers to remove those barriers and put their students in the driving seat.

The Language Teacher’s role
Today’s students are often ahead of their teachers in the realm of technology, but their greater facility with technology is not exploited with many current teaching methodologies. The traditional classroom with the teacher as the ‘sage on the stage’ is in decline. Traditional hierarchical and authoritative education methods are on the wane, giving way to enlightened styles of instruction, such as the ‘flipped classroom’, and more constructive evaluation procedures, such as formative assessment. Teachers are increasingly adopting a more oblique, understated, yet supporting role as a guide and coach in their students’ education.

The Technology

MALL (Mobile Assisted Language Learning) is fast becoming as accepted today as its
predecessor, CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) in the 1980s and 90s.
Geographical and physical borders are being transcended by technology. Apps may replace textbooks at some point in the future.

Recognition of Achievement
Success or failure in language learning is no longer wholly dependent on vocabulary acquisition, grammar learning and classroom tests. Students can use language and cultural knowledge as a means to communicate at their own level with others around the globe. Student portfolios, for example, demonstrate success, and provide a means of assessment using an asset-based approach. This replaces the old models of evaluation based on student deficiencies. The emphasis in schools is moving away from achieving grades. It is more on learning processes and self-improvement. Frequent, ongoing assessment allows for the fine-tuning of instruction and student focus on progress. By helping students to improve their metacognitive awareness of how they learn, teachers can help them acquire the skills they need in a rapidly changing world.

The Transition
These changes will not occur overnight. Accepted practice in education has always evolved over long periods. Whilst methods of teaching, learning and classroom assessment are developing pragmatically to embrace the new technologies, government departments, educational institutions and examination boards will not necessarily keep pace. Traditional summative examinations and qualification procedures will remain. A proper match between new classroom policies, the criteria of the examination room, and the demands of employers may well become harder to maintain in the future.


OpenExam is a teacher-led association of educators aiming to provide a mechanism for
matching the changes offered by the new technologies to the demands of existing examinations and qualifications. It provides a base for formative assessment together with online versions of current examinations. Teachers and students have access to a useful library of language examination practice examination materials for French and Spanish. Materials are regularly updated to the latest question styles. There are clearly defined assessment levels, recognition and assessment of collaboration between students across borders, and conversion of qualifications such as AP/IB/GCSE/iGCSE/A Levels/PreU/
Matric/SSCE. Materials can be used on iPads, Android, a web browser, within Schoolshape’s Language Lab software or in a web browser. They also include automated assessment (except for speaking and ‘free form’ answers), performance tracking, integration of speaking, listening, reading and writing, video assessment as required for practical skills, and emphasis on flexibility, accessibility, adaptability, accuracy of assessment and availability on phones and tablets.

Access to OpenExam
If you would like more information about joining OpenExam  or contributing materials, you can register your interest here.