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Universidad Internacional de La Rioja Modernizes Higher Education

Universidad Internacional de La Rioja Modernizes Higher Education

Founded in 2008, the Universidad Internacional de La Rioja (UNIR), is recognized and respected throughout Europe and beyond for being at the forefront of virtual distance learning as a new model for higher education. By integrating new information and communication technologies into its core learning platform, UNIR has been able to break down accessibility barriers and appeal to students who want more flexibility in their education.

Students who work during the day for example can do coursework in the evening, and students who live in remote towns or outside of Spain can still receive a fully accredited degree, recognized by the European Union, without having to worry about geographical constraints. UNIR has graduated more than 38,900 students from 79 countries around the world, and its numbers continue to multiply. For all the buzz and promise of virtual learning, implementations across higher education have been erratic. UNIR is unique in that it has been able to deliver real value in online education by combining pedagogy, technology, and policy in a very intentional, action-oriented way.

Teaching and Learning Online

Aurora Martínez Martínez, an expert in business process management who teaches business administration and management courses at UNIR and helps direct research projects, won a Global Innovation Award from Turnitin in 2016 for using technology effectively to engage students online. “Our students come from Spain, Mexico, Colombia, and Ecuador, even Dubai; they come from all over the world,” says Martínez, who explains that the philosophy of UNIR is to be able to reach and teach all students to meet high standards.

Martínez says her students have varying levels of experience with academic research and writing, so she welcomes tools like Turnitin Feedback Studio to help her bridge skills gaps and support students so they can contribute quality academic work. In addition to helping students learn how to write and defend a thesis, she says she wants to help them promote their work and get published. She says that’s where Turnitin Feedback Studio comes in handy. She uses it from day one in each class to teach students how to reference sources and assess their own work and ideas with rigor.

Rather than using Turnitin’s originality checking feature to police student work for plagiarism, she uses it during formative assessments to show students where their work might need to be revised or a citation added or corrected. Martínez explains:

“With Turnitin, I am able to show them how to improve and meet standards so they can get published.”

UNIR works with highly ranked journals with high impact factors that depend on academic integrity, and Martínez says these academic journals do not just accept any paper. Her students must work hard to present original papers.

In addition to her feedback, Martínez says students rely on peer review to improve their writing until they feel it’s ready to be published. “Watching students succeed is awesome,” she says. In addition to having student work published in journals, Martínez says the University has also set aside funding for students to participate in international congresses, boosting collaboration among an international community of researchers.

Another professor at UNIR, María Soria Oliver, who was also recognized with an honorable mention for the Turnitin Global Innovation Awards in 2016 for excellence in education, says the University started using Turnitin in 2012 to control plagiarism, as their online educational system was not equipped to prevent potential plagiarism cases. Soria says:

“We were using software that did not have the strength or the singularity of Turnitin.”

After they incorporated it into their teaching process, they quickly saw it as a tool to promote academic integrity. Students learned early on what would get them into trouble or get their final projects rejected.

Students pursue degrees to strengthen their knowledge, which is why Soria says UNIR takes a constructive, rather than punitive, approach to academic writing. She says students are offered a class on how to reference when they start their degree program, and Turnitin is used from the beginning so they can easily see where they might need to reformulate their work, based on objective criteria. Soria says the University also adopted a rubric (which can be linked to within Turnitin Feedback Studio) that has helped the faculty reach consensus on assessment criteria and led to more just evaluations by the panels of internal and external judges who determine whether students receive their degrees. Prior to using Turnitin, she says there were more situations where students felt as though they were being treated unfairly. Now students better understand the expectations and how to meet them.

The Future is Feedback

UNIR states that it strives for continuous improvement and excellence and values student success above all else. Toward that end, it set out to develop a new teaching paradigm that supports student-driven learning and active participation, using tools that facilitate real-world relationships while leveraging the benefits of online engagement.

Students connect with teachers, tutors, and personal advisors at their convenience via email, phone, and virtual classrooms. Learning paths are personalized, feedback is accelerated, and academic integrity is standardized. UNIR helps to make the case that education without borders is possible when technology is used competently by institutions who reinforce smart pedagogy and policy.

Learn more about UNIR at and how Turnitin can help universities achieve success at

We are developing academic integrity whilst teaching, in a non punitive way, proper academic writing, referencing and citation skills.
María Soria Oliver
Director, Undergraduate Psychology
Universidad Internacional de La Rioja

Universidad Internacional de La Rioja
La Rioja, Spain