UK universities risk being hit by “academic misconduct” and poor student performance for using online Duolingo tests for admission, it is claimed.
A one-hour online English language test, which the language learning app markets as a cheap and convenient alternative to traditional proficiency tests, was widely adopted by universities during the pandemic, when in-person testing centers had to close.
In the UK, 62 universities and higher education institutions have started allowing prospective international students to use Duolingo tests to prove they have the required level of English.
The majority have since dropped it. But I found that at least 23 UK universities still use Duolingo for admissions – including three from the elite Russell group.
MPs were warned last week that the test and other online assessments launched by universities during the pandemic have posed a “particular problem” for higher education.
Professor John Heathershaw of the University of Exeter linked acceptance of “things like Duolingo tests” to lower English language standards and described this as a “major issue” when he appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee last week.
“I’m an academic conduct officer at my institution, and one of the types of students who tend to plagiarize are those with weaker English proficiency,” he said. “There’s definitely a connection.”
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A lecturer at a Russell Group university, who wished to remain anonymous, told i: “We have seen that several students who entered the university via the Duolingo tests have been found guilty of plagiarism in recent months.
“They are more likely to commit plagiarism because they are less able to properly understand and apply academic conventions such as how to paraphrase.
“In the classroom I saw a student whose English was well below the required standard and who was unable to contribute to class or pass the oral presentation component of the course. When I checked her records, I found that she had entered Duolingo results. It’s hard to believe that this person could have achieved a valid passing grade without assistance in the exam itself.”
Aston University in Birmingham is one of the many UK institutions that launched Duolingo at the height of the pandemic but has now discontinued it. A spokesperson told me the decision was made because of concerns about student performance.
“We have since withdrawn approval for the Duolingo test after enrolling students in January 2023 in response to anecdotal feedback that the students who took the Duolingo test were not doing as well in their programs as their peers “, they said.
“There is no evidence that these students failed Duolingo or actually cheated, but simply did not perform at the same level as their peers in their course, so we decided to remove eligibility for the test.”
Professor John Heathershaw told me that a “proper study” was needed to find out how extensive the problems Duolingo and similar tests had caused British universities.
“Many accept Duolingo and this weaker English seems to correlate with higher rates of academic misconduct,” he said.
How does the Duolingo English test work?
Duolingo, a popular language learning app, launched its online Duolingo English test in 2016, which it claims was the “first high-stakes, digital-first English test that could be taken anytime, anywhere.”
It has been hailed as a cheap and quick alternative to traditional language tests like the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), which is recognized worldwide as the most popular English proficiency test for non-native speakers.
For the IELTS test, which takes 2 hours and 45 minutes and can cost up to €265 in some countries, prospective students often have to travel abroad to visit a test center where they are tested in person against an official ID.
The $50 Duolingo English test is a fraction of the price and challenges participants to complete a series of comprehension, writing, and speaking activities in just one hour.
Duolingo says it uses a strict ID verification system to ensure the authenticity of those who take its English language test. Students must provide a digital copy of government-issued identification, such as a passport, prior to taking the exam. B. your passport, driving license or identity card.
Duolingo then prompts them to activate their camera and microphone to complete the test, then checks for inconsistencies with the ID and telltale signs of fraud, such as a scam. B. a student’s eyes taking their eyes off their screen too often.
The company’s security policy states that the majority of these reviews are performed using artificial intelligence “because regulators’ time and attention is a limited resource.” Human supervisors then review the results of the AI checks to determine if any rules have been broken.
Duolingo’s website states that its English test is still used by more than 4,000 institutions worldwide, including dozens of UK universities, including seven elite Russell Group institutions.
But I have noticed that 38 of the UK universities, in addition to Aston, have now removed the Duolingo English test from their lists of approved English language tests on their websites.
Several universities that were still incorrectly listed by Duolingo have informed me that they have since contacted the US-based company to request that they be removed from the app’s website.
A Duolingo spokesman said: “We developed the Duolingo English Test (DET) to remove barriers that traditional tests place on international students and we are proud to be accepted by over 4,000 schools around the world, including Imperial , McGill, MIT , Trinity College Dublin and Yale.
“Each of these institutions considers the performance of students admitted with DET test scores and continue to accept us overwhelmingly, having determined that DET-admitted students perform as well as their peers and that the decision to take the DET accepting their decision has made the pool of applicants more diverse.”