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Dr Nathaniel Owen

Nathaniel Owen

Profile summary

Professional biography

I started working at the Open University in summer, 2016 as a Research Associate in the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies. My role is to undertake and support research in the faculty and to identify funding opportunities for future research. I hold a PhD in the field of language testing and assessment from the University of Leicester.

Research interests

My major area of interest is in testing and assessment of English as a second language. My PhD focused on comparative analysis of the reading sections of the IELTS and TOEFL iBT English language examinations. More broadly, this aligns with an interest in how human beings acquire and use language. I am also interested in the development of quantitative research instruments in social science, particularly the development of surveys and analysis of survey data.

Teaching interests

As a PhD student, I have been involved in teaching modules in language testing and introductory quantitative research methods. My background is in teaching English as a foreign language. I taught English for three years in Spain, England and Australia before returning to University to complete a Madster's degree in Applied Linguistics and PhD in language testing.

Externally funded projects

Investigating test impact of Linguaskill: A mixed-methods study of stakeholder perceptions in Japan (Retrospective)
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01 Dec 201930 Nov 2020Cambridge Assessment (English)

This research proposal is made in response to Round 10 of the funded research programme focusing on the impact of Cambridge English exams for learners, teachers, job-seekers, and other stakeholders. Specifically, this proposal relates to theme 1: 1. Impact of Linguaskill (General or Business) in the Corporate Sector: impact of English competency (or lack of it) on corporates' business outcomes employers’ perceptions of Linguaskill Business in the priority research area of Japan.

Investigating Cognitive Processing of the Test-Takers during the Aptis Grammar & Vocabulary Test: Eye-tracking Studies
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01 May 201930 Apr 2020British Council

This project attempts to investigate how different groups of students (skilled vs. unskilled readers) process grammar and vocabulary test items using an eye-tracking method. Despite the claim for a positive relationship between the vocabulary and synthetic knowledge on reading, there are little empirical studies that investigated the cognitive processing involved for each task type and whether the distinction can be made between higher and lower level skills based on the use of cognitive and metacognitive strategies.

Researching English academic reading demands in content courses in two contrasting English-medium university domains (Nepal and Sweden) with reference to the potential role of TOEFL iBT reading tests
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01 Mar 201731 Dec 2019TOEFL

The TOEFL EMI project will draw on Evidence-Centred Design (ECD), identified as an important conceptual framework "for the design and delivery of educational assessments, organized around the idea of assessment as evidentiary argument" (Mislevy and Yin 2013). Within the ECD framework, the project will investigate the potential role of the TOEFL iBT examination in two diverse university contexts which use English as a medium of instruction (EMI), one in Sweden and the other in Nepal. Since reading is a key conduit by which university students must access content information, the project focuses on academic reading practices and on the potential role of TOIEFL iBT reading test materials in testing academic reading in such EMI settings. The project will accordingly research both domains in terms of academic reading practice and levels of ability, and as part of this will deploy TOEFL iBT reading tasks to test the reading of undergraduates in both contexts (n=100). If the TOEFL iBT exam is to be used in future in EMI contexts, such Domain Analysis is indispensable. The central aim of the project is therefore to elucidate the potential role of the TOEFL iBT test in testing academic reading in such contexts, and to recommend approaches to deploying the exam in such domains in future.


Assessment and English as a medium of instruction: Challenges and Opportunities (2022)
Hultgren, Anna Kristina; Owen, Nathaniel; Shrestha, Prithvi; Kuteeva, Maria and Mezek, Spela
Journal of English-Medium Instruction, 1(1) (pp. 105-123)

Researching lexical thresholds and lexical profiles across the common European framework of reference for languages (CEFR) levels assessed in the Aptis test (2021)
Owen, Nathaniel; Shrestha, Prithvi and Bax, Stephen
ARAGs Research Reports Online, AR-G/2021(1)

Learning Needs, Barriers, Differences and Study Requirements: How Students Identify as ‘disabled’ in Higher Education (2020-04)
Lister, Kate; Coughlan, Tim and Owen, Nathaniel
Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning, 22(1) (pp. 95-111)

Disability’ or ‘Additional study needs’? Identifying students’ language preferences in disability-related communications (2020-03)
Lister, Kate; Coughlan, Tim and Owen, Nathaniel
European Journal of Special Needs Education, 35(5) (pp. 620-635)

Researching mobile-assisted Chinese-character learning strategies among adult distance learners (2018)
Kan, Qian; Owen, Nathaniel and Bax, Stephen
Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 12(1) (pp. 56-71)

The development of a small-scale survey instrument of UK teachers to study professional use (and non-use) of and attitudes to social media (2016)
Owen, Nathaniel; Fox, Alison and Bird, Terese
International Journal of Research & Method in Education, 39(2) (pp. 170-193)

Test Specifications (2018-01-18)
Owen, Nathaniel
In: Liontas, John I. (Editor-in-Chief) ed. The TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching (pp. 1-6)
ISBN : 9781118784235 | Publisher : John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Dealing with the Demands of Language Testing and Assessment (2016)
Fulcher, Norman Glenn and Owen, Nathaniel
In: Hall, Graham ed. The Routledge Handbook of English Language Teaching. Routledge Handbooks in Applied Linguistics (pp. 109-120)
ISBN : 978-0415747394 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : Oxford

Researching Academic Reading in two contrasting EMI (English as a Medium of Instruction) university contexts, and implications for the design of EAP reading tests (2021)
Owen, Nathaniel; Shrestha, Prithvi and Hultgren, Anna Kristina
In : Assessment in Multilingual Contexts: Models, Practices, Policies & Challenges (14-17 Jun 2021, virtual)

Professional Development in EMI Contexts in the Global North and the Global South: Does one size fit all? (2019)
Hultgren, Anna Kristina; Owen, Nathaniel and Shrestha, Prithvi
In : XVIII AELFE Congress, Spanish Association of Languages for Specific Purposes (20-21 Jun 2019, University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain)

Researching Academic Reading in Two Contrasting English as a Medium of Instruction Contexts at a University Level (2021-03-29)
Owen, Nathaniel; Shrestha, Prithvi and Hultgren, Anna Kristina
(TOEFL Research Report No. RR-91). Educational Testing Service