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Dr Talia Isaacs
UCL Institute of Education
20 Bedford Way
  • Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics and TESOL
  • IOE - Culture, Communication & Media
  • UCL Institute of Education
UCL Principal Supervisor,UCL Subsidiary Supervisor

After completing my PhD in Second Language Education from McGill University, Canada (2011), I moved to Bristol University as Lecturer then Senior Lecturer in Education and Founding Director of the EU-funded Second Language Speech Lab. I moved to UCL in 2016 as Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics and TESOL. I am current Programme Leader for the MA TESOL In-Service for experienced teachers, having previously served as Programme Leader for the MA TESOL Pre-Service. I am currently a member of the Editorial Boards of Language Testing and Assessment and Testing and Applied Measurement, having previously served on the Boards of Language Assessment Quarterly and Journal of Second Language Pronunciation. I am an expert member of the European Association for Language Testing and Assessment, strategy group member of the UK Association for Language Testing and Assessment, founding member of the Canadian Association of Language Assessment, and former Member-at-Large on the International Language Testing Association Executive Board. I also serve on the TOEFL Committee of Examiners (Educational Testing Service), advising on research and development for a major international English proficiency test.

I have research interests in language for specific purposes, particularly health communication. I currently co-lead the Trial Conduct Working Group's Communication theme as part of the MRC-NIHR (Medical Research Council-National Institute for Health Research) Trials Methodology Research Partnership (TMRP), investigating methods for improving communication across all phases of a trial. My research interests in this area broadly include improving the recruitment and retention of underserved groups, particularly ethnic minorities, and generating evidence-based best practice recommendations for making the information provision more accessible to stakeholders. A corpus of information sheets and consent forms used in cancer trials that arose from my previous pump-priming project on the language of informed consent is now available open access through UK Data Service (Isaacs et al., 2019). I am also interested in doctor-patient communication and led a consultancy on analysing senior hospital doctors' simulated consultations in collaboration with a London-based National Health Service (NHS) Trust.

Within the educational arena, I am interested in educational assessment in both classroom and high-stakes settings, particularly in higher education. I am a core member of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD's) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2025 foreign language questionnaire expert group, advising on technical aspects of the development of educational stakeholders' background questionnaires and reviewing the foreign language framework that will serve as a basis for test development. Another research interest is technology-mediated assessment (e.g., automated speech recognition, automated scoring). I would welcome collaboration in these areas.

Research Summary

My research interests are varied and eclectic, straddling the areas of language assessment, second language acquisition, higher education, speech sciences, psychology, and medicine. My research broadly addresses the pressing social-educational challenge of reducing language barriers and improving the oral communication skills of speakers for whom English is a nondominant language to foster their success in workplace and academic settings and promote social integration. A major research strand relates to profiling the linguistic difficulties that most impede the production of comprehensible (clearly understandable) speech in adult learners of English so that these can be targeted in instruction and assessment. Other research interests include language for specific purposes, automated scoring of speech, and classroom-based assessment. Much of my work is situated in the mixed methods research paradigm. My primary-authored papers have appeared or are forthcoming in international refereed journals, including Applied Psycholinguistics, Health CommunicationInternational Journal of Inclusive EducationJournal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR), Journal of Second Language PronunciationLanguage Assessment Quarterly, Language Teaching, Language TestingStudies in Second Language Acquisition, and TESOL Quarterly

In 2017, I developed and launched the world's first comprehensibility scale with Canadian collaborators. This data-driven pedagogical tool is designed to help English for Academic purposes teachers more effectively target the most important linguistic factors for understanding international university students performing oral production tasks. I am co-editor of Second Language Pronunciation Assessment: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (2017), the first edited collection dedicated to the topic of pronunciation assessment and Multilingual Matters' first gold open access book. I have a growing track-record of leading test development and validation projects through funded research or consultancy activities for major assessment organisations and regularly serve in an assessment advisory role for different educational stakeholder groups both locally and internationally. I have acted as an evaluator for grants of reports funded by the British Council, Economic and Social Research Council, European Commission, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and Swiss National Science Foundation. I have served as Chair for the International Language Testing Association Best Article Award, a referee for the Journal of Second Language Pronunciation Best Paper award, and as an evaluator for other academic prizes (workshop funding, best student presentation, etc.). 

Teaching Summary

I am the current Programme Leader for the MA TESOL In-Service, which offers dedicated research and practical training for experienced language teachers, and previously served as Programme Leader for the MA TESOL Pre-service, the largest MA programme in our department. I have taught a wide range of applied linguistics courses in the UK and Canada, having led modules in second language acquisition, pedagogy and curriculum in TESOL, teaching and assessing pronunciation and fluency, questionnaire design and analysis, and mixed methods research. In 2020, I will teach an e-course in language testing to EdD and MA students at an American university. I designed and launched the Language Testing and Assessment module at the UCL Institute of Education in 2017, which is among the most popular optional modules on offer, attracting in excess of 50 MA students each year. This module explores fundamental considerations and current trends in language testing and assessment. It is designed for students interested in understanding and being able to critically evaluate the design, use (and misuse) of language tests and assessments and/or to apply these principles to construct their own instruments. I additionally contribute to the MA dissertation module on mixed methods research in the social and behavioural sciences and have conducted invited methodological workshops on this and other topics (e.g., designing and analysing questionnaires, abstract writing, scoring systems, academic integrity). I also lead assessment literacy and training initiatives and disseminate my work to different stakeholder groups, including faculty education directors, exam board personnel, academic staff, programme administrators, secondary school teachers, graduate students, and members of the general public, including via the traditional media (e.g., BBC Radio, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) and social media (e.g., Twitter, blog posts, The Conversation). I enjoy supervising and mentoring early-career researchers and have been actively involved in training graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in all aspects of the research process. 

01-NOV-2016 Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics and TESOL Culture, Communication and Media UCL Institute of Education, United Kingdom
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