£6m EU project aims to stamp out cheating in online assessment

'Tesla’ initiative will combine anti-plagiarism software with facial, voice and keystroke identification technology

April 14, 2016
Person holding model in front of Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
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A European Union-funded project aims to revolutionise online assessment by combining anti-plagiarism software with facial, voice and keystroke identification technology.

As well as combating cheating, it is hoped that the €7 million (£5.7 million) Adaptive Trust-based E-assessment System for Learning (Tesla) initiative will encourage more universities to launch online courses, and enable students to take elective modules from international higher education institutions.

The project consortium involves eight higher education institutions – including the Open University in the UK – plus quality assurance agencies and technology companies and is being led by the OU of Catalonia (UOC).

The system will be piloted in 2018 with a cohort of 14,000 students before being developed into a product available for purchase by universities; it is likely that a “basic” version will also be made available free of charge.

Anna Elena Guerrero, the project coordinator at UOC, said that combining multiple technologies should make Tesla more powerful and reliable than existing anti-cheating systems.

“The aim is that there should not be a difference between assessing a student who lives one street from here and a student who lives in New York,” she told Times Higher Education. “The idea is to provide a fully online assessment system that avoids face-to-face activities.”

A key flaw of many existing online assessment systems is that they may not prevent a student giving their username and password to someone else, or allow another person to take the exam once the student had entered their details. It is feared that this could deter some institutions from offering fully online qualifications.

As well as checking for plagiarism, it is hoped that Tesla’s software will be able to “learn” students’ writing styles, and identify anomalies in assessments.

In addition, Tesla should be able to analyse examinees’ facial appearance; typing pattern, using technology developed by Portuguese company Watchful Software; and voice, which could prove particularly useful for language exams.

Denise Whitelock, professor of technology enhanced assessment and learning at the OU, said that she hoped that the project could allow her institution to offer better examinations for disabled students who may struggle to attend test centres, or may not be well-suited to existing online authentication technologies.

She argued that Tesla could also allow students at one institution to take an elective module at an overseas institution and to gain credit for it, without leaving their base country.

“There has never been another system that brings all these technologies together so they can be used together or as different components, which gives a lot more flexibility,” Professor Whitelock said. “It can also help different types of students, especially disabled students.”

Other universities participating in the project include the Netherlands’ Open University and Imperial College London.


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