New Directions 2019 Report

“I enjoyed every minute and thought the broad range of speakers was great.There was an upbeat atmosphere too – something not always obvious at conferences.” - attendee

The curvilinear shape of the Pacifico Yokohama National Convention Centre building, located right on the waterfront of the bay area of Yokohama (30 minutes from Tokyo), was the setting for the 2019 New Directions conference on the 8th and 9th December, 2019. Clearly designed to look like an unfurled mast, it was a fittingly beautiful building with great facilities for the conference to set sail on its journey towards greater understanding of the conference theme of "Realising Potential: Policy, Engagement, and Impact". 

In a number of educational contexts worldwide, policy changes are being considered or implemented, and East Asia is no exception; the goal of enabling citizens to achieve real-life communication skills is prompting shifts in language assessment policies and practice. These changes prompted the choice of the key theme of the conference which focused on language assessment policy, and discussion was around the impact of policies in education systems. The five plenary speakers and the panel discussions explored how policy, research, and the level of engagement with the myriad of stakeholders involved in assessment has a major impact on the individual and society. Professors Barry O’Sullivan, Joseph Lo Bianco, Yoshinori Watanabe, Talia Isaacs and Satoshi Hagiwara all showcased recent academic or policy instances where test takers and the wider society were affected by the inextricable connections of these three strands on our lives. The panel discussions also emphasised that those working in assessment need to maintain and bolster engagement with those affected by tests. Policy makers at the institutional and ministerial level need to be making informed decisions that are in the very best interests of those at the core of language testing – the learners. 

One of the main aims of the New Directions series is to convene a diverse range of stakeholders around key issues in language assessment. This has certainly been one of the conference’s successes over the seven years since its inception and ND Yokohama provided the backdrop for dynamic dialogue between academics, educators, policy makers and businesses, whether on stage or at networking events and peripheral activities. Although regional in focus, New Directions draws on international and local know-how and the conference presented an excellent opportunity for UK organisations to showcase their expertise in the area of language learning and assessment. 

Another area the conference aimed to explore is the potentially seismic shift in language testing with the increased use of automated assessment using AI. The ‘tech-room’ hosted organisations demonstrating a range of different devices, apps and programmes, with the aim of encouraging discussion around technology and its consequences. This theme was explored further at the second panel discussion, chaired by Dr Helen Yannakoudakis, which drew together panellists with expertise, both practical and academic, in the area. The panel members discussed the potential and possible pitfalls of using AI for assessment with the general proposition that AI needs to be used in the interests of enabling the test taker to reach their potential, rather than for expediency, and this was a clear strand throughout the conversation. 

The New Directions conference series continues in 2020. The Latin American edition will be hosted in Bogota on the 27th and 28th August of this year with the title "Professionalizing English assessment in learning systems: sharing practicalities and implications". We also have East Asia New Directions 2020 to look forward to in late October, hosted in the lovely city of Singapore. Watch this space for exact dates for your diary! 

With the incredibly informative pre-conference workshops, the main two-day events, the breakaway sessions, the networking events and the general beauty of the setting, 2019 New Directions Yokohama was a truly memorable conference that reached its journey’s end in a very satisfying and stimulating fashion.

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