14 Apr 2016

OU expertise to boost Europe-wide anti-cheating system

The Open University is one of the lead partners in a European £5.5 million programme to develop anti-cheating tools in e-learning.

Crucially, the programme currently in development will make use of a range of techniques to verify the learner's identity and to confirm that any work they submit has not been authored or amended by another person.

Named TeSLA, it is an 18-member wide consortium with a three-year mission is to ensure the reliability and credibility of e-learning tests and exams, by creating a Europe-wide system of anti-cheating technology.
These include:
• biometrics
• facial recognition
• voice recognition
• keystroke recognition
• digital security methods and anti-plagiarism tools.

They will make it possible to be certain of the identity of a person taking a test or exam online, even when they are sitting a computer at home alone.

The aim is to remove a key barrier to the wider adoption of e-learning by European universities and schools, and provide a boost to the European e-learning software industry.

The Open University’s role is to lead the analysis of large-scale trials – beginning in 2017 - of a range of software tools and technologies to prevent students cheating.

Professor Denise Whitelock from The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology (IET), is leading The Open University's contribution to TeSLA. She says:

"The internet and Virtual Learning Environments allow learners to learn everywhere and at any time, but to take full advantage of these new opportunities we must be able to assess online learning in a secure and reliable manner.

"TeSLA is about bringing together technologies from different research areas into one system which can be used by any educational institution and any virtual learning environment.

"This is an action project, building on research and technology that already exists.”

The process of piloting the project, involving testing and evaluation with thousands of students in Europe start this summer and will last throughout the life of the project.

Professor Whitelock said the system being tested can be used for both formative online assessment – which monitors how well students are doing throughout their course – and summative assessment, which means tests and exams that count towards students' final marks.

It will also incorporate protection for privacy, and other legal and ethical issues.

Once such a system is in place it will promote greater uptake of e-learning by European universities and schools generally, not just specialist e-learning institutions.

TeSLA will also work with industrial partners to develop a commercial version for the international e-learning market, and is expected to facilitate the emergence of innovative businesses and provide new opportunities and competitive advantage for European software developers.

TeSLA is a consortium of universities, quality assurance agencies,
research centres and technology companies from twelve countries.

It is led by The Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), and funded by the European Commission within the European framework programme Horizon 2020.

About The Open University
The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning. Since it began in 1969, the OU has taught more than 1.8 million students and has almost,000 current students, including more than 15,000 overseas.

The OU was given an overall satisfaction rating of 90% in the latest National Student Survey, making it one of only three Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to consistently score 90% or above every year since 2007. Over 70% of students are in full-time or part-time employment, and four out of five FTSE 100 companies have sponsored staff to take OU courses.

In the latest assessment exercise for university research (Research Excellence Framework, 2014), nearly three quarters (72%) of The Open University’s research was assessed as 4 or 3 star – the highest ratings available – and awarded to research that is world-leading or internationally excellent. The Open University is unique among UK universities having both an access mission and demonstrating research excellence.

The OU has a 42 year partnership with the BBC and has moved from late-night lectures in the 1970s to co-producing prime-time series such as The Hunt, Life Story, The Bottom Line, Britain’s Great War, I Bought a Rainforest and Business Boomers. In 2013/14 OU co-productions were viewed by 220m people in the UK which prompted more than 600k visits the OU’s free learning website, OpenLearn. (

Regarded as Britain’s major e-learning institution, the OU is a world leader in developing technology to increase access to education on a global scale. Its vast ‘open content portfolio’ includes free study units on OpenLearn, which received 5.2million unique visitors in 2012/13, and materials on iTunes U, which has recorded more than 66 million downloads.

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