Day 1: Tuesday 15 June 2021, 14.00 – 15.40

  1. The Open Essay Optimiser: automated feedback for students to improve writing
  2. Co-designing Resources Around E-assessments for African HE
  3. Designing Ethical Assessment
  4. Post-pandemic Assessment at The Open University: Challenges and Ambitions


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The Open Essay Optimiser: automated feedback for students to improve writing

Professor Denise Whitelock and Chris Edwards 

The Open Essay Optimiser: automated feedback for students to improve writing
The writing of essays and reports is the default form of assessment for many academic courses. A major reason for this is that writing is essential to the academic endeavour. There are also more prosaic reasons; relating to university systems, approaches to marking and sticking to what we know will work. Students tend to find they are expected to gradually learn how to write and improve on their writing with very little guidance except through the feedback on their assessments. This can be because it is viewed as a generic skill and teaching mostly focuses on the subject at hand. As students grapple jointly with the assessment question and with becoming adept within this particular form of expressing their answers, this form of writing can add to their anxiety. Students usually only receive feedback on their writing once their grade for an assignment is determined, not as they produce their work.

The Open Essay Optimiser is built on technology previously developed in collaboration between Institute of Educational Technology and Oxford University and was known as Open Essayist. The new, improved Open Essay Optimiser provides a platform in which students can, in complete privacy, upload and develop their essay or report whilst receiving immediate automated feedback; primarily on the coherence of their writing.

Through this presentation, we give an overview of this new tool and present early findings from the ongoing pilot study with students from the post graduate module, H817 Openness and innovation in e-learning.

Whitelock, D.; Twiner, A.; Richardson, J. T. E.; Field, D. and Pulman, S. (2018). What does a “good” essay look like? Rainbow diagrams representing essay quality. In: Technology Enhanced Assessment (TEA 2017). Communications in Computer and Information Science (Ras, E. and Guerrero Roldán, A. eds.), Springer, Cham, 829 pp. 1–12.

Whitelock, Denise (2018). Advice for Action with Automatic Feedback Systems. In: Caballé, Santi and Conesa, Jordi eds. Software Data Engineering for Network eLearning Environments. Lecture Notes on Data Engineering and Communications Technologies, 11. Springer, pp. 139–160.


Co-designing Resources Around E-assessments for African HE

Nashwa Ismail, Tim Coughlan, Denise Whitelock and Olivier Biard

During June to August 2020 over 500 teachers and education professionals from across Africa took part in a supported pathway through the OpenLearn Take Your Teaching On-line Course offered in the Pathways for Learning project. Survey data suggested that e-assessment is the area that participants find the most problematic to design for in a digital environment and desired more understanding of this topic. A poll was conducted during the conclusion webinar and participants rated assessment as a key learning outcome for future courses. This project is therefore the next step in addressing this pressing need of ACDE members and African educators following an initial introduction to e-assessment concepts as part of the Pathways Tertiary Educator programme (supported in phase 1 Covid response). The current project brings together OU and members of the network created with ACDE in the Pathways project to co-design and co-develop practical teaching activities and curricula on e-assessment, deliver and test core components of a course, where possible using existing OER and webinars. The applied co-design approach of an e-assessment course in this project is a response to the practical challenges faced by leaders and innovators in African Higher Education Institutions as they rapidly respond to moving their Universities’ teaching and learning online following the COVID-19 pandemic. This approach will directly identify and address immediate concerns and learning needs, and can then be used and adapted with HEIs world-wide as essential components in a programme of courses for a wider audience. It would be a springboard to the co-creation of an expanding range of courses at different levels (from free to paid) covering topics determined by participants.

Designing Ethical Assessment

Shailey Minocha, Victoria Murphy and Eileen Scanlon 

The move to remote online examinations during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the take-up of online examination proctoring systems. In this presentation, we will present a review of ethical issues and controversies around online proctoring. We will frame the problem of online proctoring in our current research programme of ethical use, design and evaluation of educational technologies.

Through a series of case studies and assessment strategies, we will discuss how assessment can be designed in an ethical manner, for promoting academic integrity, for reducing academic misconduct, and to discourage contract cheating and use of essay mills. We will highlight the ethical considerations and pedagogical advantages of designing ‘authentic’ assessment to replace more traditional or essay-based approaches. We will describe how educational technologies could become an essential part of an ethical assessment toolkit.

Post-pandemic Assessment at The Open University: Challenges and Ambitions

Maria Aristeidou, Klaus-Dieter Rossade and Simon Cross

In the last year, all face-to-face assessment at Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) were suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to physical restrictions and campus closures. As a result, HEIs had to react at speed to re-structure their assessment design, policies, and processes – and communicate these changes to academic staff and students. However, it is uncertain whether a short-term change in the use of new forms of assessment will persevere and result in longer-term systemic change. Challenges for HEIs include consideration of subject-specific issues, the need to secure access to technology and evaluate staff skills, ensure that assessment standards are met, and finally, gauge student expectations and personal circumstances. This conversation addressed urgent needs but also created success stories and opportunities for radical changes to become possible. The aim of this presentation is twofold. First, we will discuss assessment-related challenges and ambitions at The Open University (OU) during and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic. Second, we will present findings drawn from survey responses of 631 OU undergraduate students on their views about participating in online exams as a replacement to the common pre-Covid practice of taking face-to-face exams at local centres appointed by the university.