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Author: Ale Okada

What are your views about technologies to support and assess writing skills?

Updated Tuesday, 5 June 2018
We are inviting all students and professionals to present their views about technology-supported approaches to assessment in a two-step study.

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Effective writing is a key skill for students and professionals, especially in today’s digital world. It is a central process for developing and sharing understanding as well as building and disseminating knowledge. Students learn and are assessed through their writing, whereas professionals frequently use writing to organise their thinking, present their views and get feedback through peer-review - all supported by technologies.

The digital age has enabled the read/write culture. It has created a landscape of opportunities and challenges for novice and expert writers. These includes the production and dissemination of information and knowledge by anyone, anywhere, at any time. People can access, use and contribute to immeasurable amounts of written content as sense-makers and co-authors. Meanwhile, ‘open’ initiatives, which have marked this century, have intensified this process through open content, open data, open resources, open education and open science.

Open Science is the practice of science in such a way that others can collaborate and contribute, where research data, lab notes and other research processes are freely available, under terms that enable reuse, redistribution and reproduction of the research and its underlying data and methods” - Foster

The open movement has been promoting knowledge as a public good and supporting the remix culture (read/write society) through various methods, media and formats. Open licenses such as Creative Commons (with 1.4 billion licensed works) are a key component of shared culture. They present clear procedures for derivative works to give proper attribution to original works, titles, authors, sources and licenses.

However, besides the benefits that the open digital culture brings, there are some problems and barriers, especially around academic integrity and plagiarism. Plagiarism is defined as “taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own” (Oxford dictionary), which is easily understood, but this includes a long list of possible infractions, about which many students are unaware. 

Along with the open digital world, which encourages writers to combine and edit existing materials, there is still the confusion between ‘derivative works with attribution’ and ‘plagiarism that requires more than citing original sources’. In addition, how to draw properly on one’s own previous work (self-plagiarism) is often poorly understood.

Studies that have investigated the causes and implications of plagiarism have revealed that plagiarism has increased noticeably over recent years (QAA, 2016; IPPHEAE, 2013) with one of the key reasons being the lack of authorial identity. 

“Authorial identity is the sense a writer has of themselves as an author and the textual identity they construct in their writing (…) It contains three factors: confidence in writing, understanding authorship and knowledge to avoid plagiarism” - Pittam et al., 2009

Policies and educational resources for reducing cases of academic malpractice, as well as increasing effective writing skills in digital contexts, are critical for educational institutions, the publishing industry and the media. A key issue is how to prevent fraud, especially copyright violations, in order to ensure quality assurance with integrity.

To foster authorial identity, there is a growing body of pedagogical techniques and emerging technologies. These include search engines that return only reliable sources and repositories of open academic content, annotation tools that support critical reading and interpretation, knowledge mapping tools that connect and synthesise ideas, and content management systems that facilitate easy citations and technologies to detect plagiarism.

There are also various studies about technologies to detect plagiarism and cheating with the purpose of quality assurance. These technologies have been used by publishers to ensure the authenticity of written work, as well as by educational institutions to prevent fraud and to increase trust in online assessments. Among these, TeSLA is a European platform which combines biometrics and textual analysis instruments for authenticating student identity and verifying authenticity of their work. Currently, seven European institutions, including the Open University, are conducting TeSLA studies. The OU is investigating 3 instruments:

  1. Face Recognition to authenticate student identity
  2. Plagiarism Detection to detect similarities between documents using text matching
  3. Forensic Analysis to analyse personal writing style by detecting similarities among written documents submitted by each user


TeSLA from TeSLA project EU on Vimeo.


In the context of formal education, the OU TeSLA team have completed two studies with almost 1000 OU students and teaching staff. The participants have identified a range of advantages of online authentication, such as saving time, flexibility and not having to attend face-to-face assessments. Participants also believed that the TeSLA approach will increase trust between students and institutions and will help ensure the quality of e-assessment systems. 

For informal education, such as OpenLearn, there is little research about e-authentication and authorship checking. This is because these assessments are not common practice in open education, particularly for informal learners. However, our study aims to investigate whether there are any benefits to e-authenticated assessments for OpenLearn users. If some benefits are identified, in which circumstances are they appropriate (e.g. Accreditation, Professional Portfolio, …).

We are also interested in understanding OpenLearn student views about new technology-supported approaches to assessment (e.g. pervasive, mix-realities, wearables, analytics, robotics …). For example, do you believe that these approaches will enhance knowledge, skills and competences?


The future of technology-enabled assessment.

We invite learners and educators from OpenLearn and OpenLearnCreate to participate in a 2-step study:

  1. Write a short essay about “your views about technologies that support learners to develop writing skills” (around 500 words).
  2. Participate in the TeSLA study (details below), which involves an initial questionnaire and using the TeSLA anti-plagiarism tool. You do not need to complete the final questionnaire.

Completing the study:

• Stay logged into OpenLearn and access the following link (to get your OU user ID, also called your OUCU):

• Using your preferred text editor (e.g. Word) write around 500 words for your essay. Save your short essay as any text document including doc, docx, fodt, odt, rtf, or txt file.

• Access this URL (OU TeSLA):

• Complete the questionnaire (2 pages long, will take approx 15 mins to complete).

• Upload your essay.

That's it - well done!

If you have any questions about this study, please contact

Thank you for participating!


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