SLS student Dylan Burton receives MwALT Best Paper Award

The Midwest Association of Language Testers (MwALT) has awarded their 2021 Best Paper award to Michigan State University student Dylan Burton, who is a third year PhD student in the Second Language Studies program. This prize is for his research paper titled Gazing into cognition: Eye behavior in online L2 speaking tests.

MwALT is a community of graduate students, faculty, and professionals that supports research in language testing and assessment that was founded in the University of Iowa in 1999 and designed to serve those in the Midwestern states. Now, the organization has grown and includes participants from all over the United States and beyond. MwALT also hosts annual conferences, at which the winner of the Best Student Paper Award gets to present. In addition, at the conference, one of the students who present will be selected for the MwALT Best Student Presentation Award. More information about previous conferences can be found on this website.

“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.”

Dylan Burton, MwALT prize recipient

Dylan Burton’s paper assessed whether eye behavior, in the form of averted gaze or blinking frequency, may be an important subconscious signal of perceived task complexity, comprehension difficulty, or possibly both. In his study, English learners took a Zoom-based English test with ten questions spanning six complexity levels. The participants’ eye behaviors were tracked across all test questions. Results indicated that as test questions increased in complexity, participants were more likely to avert their gaze from the interlocutor. They did not, however, blink more frequently across complexity levels. In terms of comprehension difficulties, there was evidence that gaze was more averted during more problematic comprehension, but these differences were statistically non-significant. Blinking showed no patterns depending on comprehension levels. These results have implications for speaking test validation and rater training.

Those interested in MwALT, or in participating in future events and conferences, can apply to join MwALT at this application page. Those interested can also view a current list of MwALT members on this webpage. Xun Yan, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is the current MwALT president.