How can I get started with authentic assessments? 

Assessment is an integral part of higher education. Indeed, assessment is used for a myriad purposes, including generating feedback to students about their learning progress, providing evaluative data to teachers regarding the efficacy of their teaching strategies and the suitability of the curriculum, and formally certify student achievement. However, researchers (Boud & Falchikov, 2007; Villarroel et al., 2018) have argued that traditional assessment methods in higher education are often inadequate in preparing students for a lifetime of learning. Furthermore, these traditional assessment methods may be questionable in their ability to distinguish or predict the student’s future, real-world performance of the skills and knowledge required of them (Fook & Sidhu, 2010). 

Evidence-base 

Many discipline areas – for example, Health Science, Fine Arts, Engineering and Education – have a long, established history of requiring students to demonstrate a level of mastery over the tasks that will be required of them in real-world settings.  

Gulikers, Bastiaens, and Kirschner (2004, p. 69) define authentic assessment as “an assessment requiring students to use the same competencies, or combinations of knowledges, skills and attitudes that they need to apply in the criterion situation in professional life.” Similarly, Savery and Duffy (1995) describe the extent of authenticity of assessment as being mediated by the similarity between the cognitive demands of the assessment and the cognitive demands in the real-world situation on which the assessment is based. 

Studies indicate authentic assessment methods positively impact the quality and depth of learning through improving autonomy, commitment and motivation for learning, meta-cognition, and self-regulation (Villarroel et al., 2018; Villarroel et al. 2019;). Furthermore, authentic assessment has been shown to be effective in assessing higher order thinking skills (Mohamed & Lebar, 2017), inquiry skills (Harida, 2016), and the skills and practices students will need in their future careers (Sotiriadou et al., 2019). 

Five Top Tips

When designing authentic assessments, it may be beneficial to consider the following:

  1. What do the students actually need to do? As the assessment task involves students carrying out activities that reflect professional practice, be clear with exactly which part(s) of this professional practice (especially if there are multiple concurrent or consecutive tasks undertaken) you will be assessing and why those parts are important to assess; 
  2. Where will the student do it? The physical location where the students will undertake and complete the assessment needs to be suitable and safe. 
  3. Who will they complete the task with? When performed outside of assessment conditions, the task may include teamwork and/or collaboration. Therefore, to retain the authentic nature of the task, you should consider whether teamwork and/or collaboration should be included in the assessment task. 
  4. How would successful completion of the task normally be assessed? Where possible, the relative success of the student’s completion of an authentic assessment should be measured through real-world criteria and standards associated with the task required. 
  5. Why do the students need to do this? Consider the purpose of the real-world task. What is its purpose? Why do the students need to learn to do this?  

More info

Mueller, J. (2005). The Authentic Assessment Toolbox: Enhancing Student Learning through Online Faculty Development. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching1(1), 1–7. 
Presentation by Professor David Boud to AUT: https://aut.ap.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=4067e1e8-edc6-464c-af4d-ab130039e4a2