Assessment and Feedback

Day 1: What is Authentic Assessment?

A group of students do a dissection in class.

Welcome to this Coffee Course!

Greetings to all participants and welcome to what we hope will be a stimulating five days of discovery and discussion on the topic of Authentic Assessment.  In today’s post, we will be looking at what we mean by this term, and in the following days we will explore how authentic assessment is distinguished from traditional assessment, specific design features and case studies, and finally on the last day, we will consider some broader global and institutional issues and trends in relation to assessment in higher education.

Let’s start by delving into  some of the implications of the idea, and how it came about.

What is authentic assessment?

The idea of authentic assessment was first discussed in relation to K-12 education by Grant Wiggins in 1989:

Authentic tasks replicate real-world challenges and ‘standards of performance’ that experts or professionals (e.g., mathematicians, scientists, writers, doctors, teachers, or designers) typically face in the field“.  (Wiggins, 1989, p. 703, cited by Oxford Research Encyclopedia). This concept has since been applied to vocational education and training, and from the 1990s, to higher education.

There have been numerous attempts by educational researchers and theorists to provide a concise definition of authentic assessment – but it is widely acknowledged that authenticity is subjective and dependent on each individual’s perceptions.

In an article exploring the difficulty of defining what is meant by authentic assessment, and proposing a 5 dimensional framework, Gulikers, Bastiaens and Kirschener (2004) provide the following definition: “…an assessment requiring students to use the same competencies, or combinations of knowledge, skills,  and attitudes, that they need to apply in the criterion situation in professional life.” (2004, p. 67).  They define a “criterion situation” as one that “reflects or simulates a real-life situation that could confront students in their internship or future professional life.” (2004, p. 67)

Authenticity in assessment must in some way replicate as near as possible, the actual work context and conditions of the role for which the student has been prepared in his or her higher education course. Authentic assessment asks student to apply skills and  knowledge to real life tasks, bringing whole sets of knowledge and skills together in a holistic way to complete a task. 

question markDiscussion  

What do you understand by the idea of  authentic assessment?  Do you have any examples of what you would consider authentic assessments in your teaching programs?

Why authentic assessment?

There is an increasing demand by professions and employers that graduates have attributes, skills and knowledge fit for the contemporary workplace, and many educationists in higher education see the link between assessment and graduate employability.  See this article in “The Conversation” to get an idea of the kind of discussion that is occurring. We will examine this issue in a bit more detail later in the course.

How does authentic assessment differ from any standard type of assessment? 

Real life tasks should contain the challenges and sometimes complex tasks of a real life work context with all of the unpredictable challenges that may involve.  Both product and process are involved in authentic assessments (both what the students produce and how they produce it).

Traditionally, in relation to assessment in education, the common reference points as to what makes good assessment are to do with validity and reliability.  This means that much assessment in higher education is based on easily replicated and standardised exercises under examination conditions.  The key is that the assessment is fair to the candidate but also a reliable indicator of their abilities, competencies and knowledge, that can be replicated with diverse students in different contexts.

However, this conceptualisation of validity and reliability in assessment relies very much on statistical notions, and there is a recognition that assessments need to also be authentic in order to be truly valid and reliable.  Statistical validity and reliability are not sufficient.

Examples of the differences

In this table, we have set out  fictional examples of traditional versus authentic assessments in relation to an actual learning outcome from a Marketing course.  Please note, none of us have expertise in these fields, so we have had to take some liberties and use some imagination, and our examples would no doubt need adapting to be used in the real world!  However, you might be able to see from these that the key differences between traditional assessments involve real world problems and working with actual professionals from the field for which the students are being prepared.  

Learning Outcome
Traditional Assessments
Authentic Assessments

Undergraduate marketing course

Recommend appropriate marketing strategy for a small business seeking to improve uptake of their products.

3000 word essay analysing different strategies.

Team of students are linked with a marketing firm or similar and put on to a task to solve a marketing issue for the company. They are provided with a brief, and are to consult with relevant staff within the organisation, then come up with a report with recommendations for senior company staff, which they present in-class as a “pitch”.

Postgraduate medicine course

Assess which tests would be best suited to diagnose hypertension.

Short answer question on summative exam.

Undertake a mock clinical examination with a volunteer role-playing as a patient. Students must order appropriate tests based on physical examination and history-taking from the patient, analyse results, and recommend treatment.

question mark



Looking at these examples, are we ever really asked to write a 3000 word essay in a work environment? Is there a place in your teaching area for an assessment in the form of a long, reflective essay that seeks to demonstrate the students’ intellectual grasp of concepts? 

In the discipline of the example above, in the professional workplace, would you would be more likely be asked to prepare a report with recommendations?   If so, you would likely be collaborating with a team, doing some consultation, and spending quite a few months on this task, rather than be expected to come up with a product within a couple of hours under supervised conditions such as an exam.

In your context is this collaborative real life project, with input from the profession or industry, practical or possible? 

We look forward to discussing this with you in the comments!


Bently, Duncan, 2018, How universities can make graduates employable with connections to industry in The Conversation accessed 8th Jan, 2019

Biggs, J.B. (2003). Teaching for quality learning at university. Buckingham: Open University Press/Society for Research into Higher Education. (Second edition) 

Gulikers, J.T.M., Bastiaens, T.J. & Kirschner, P.A. ETR&D (2004) “A five dimensional framework for authentic assessment”  in Educational Technology Research and Development 52: 67. 

Oxford Research Encyclopedia page on Education/Authentic Assessment

Wiggins, G. (1989). A true test: Toward more authentic and equitable assessment. Phi Delta Kappan70(9), 703‒713.

34 thoughts on “Day 1: What is Authentic Assessment?

  1. I think the use of authentic assessment is very good for improving our courses. However, it can be practically difficult. For example, I teach leadership and so an authentic assessment will involve students actually leading other people. This is difficult as their are not “other people” just standing around in the middle of Kambri waiting to be lead (ok maybe their are, but they aren’t always there :-p). Most leadership classes will then have students lead each other in an in class activity. While this is better than writing an essay per se, when other students know its part of an assessment they will act differently rendering the task and therefore assessment as inauthentic.

    While they do have their limitations I think there is definitely room for essays and similar assessments but these help assess knowledge learning and analysis – they target the lower end of Bloom’s Taxonomy – and are often good for introductory courses or early on in the semester

    1. David, could you break the leadership role up into smaller tasks? For example, we all took turns preparing the agenda and running a meeting, when I was a trainee programmer. The ANU project students I teach now do much the same. The later year students take on the role of leader for a team of less experienced students. That students know they are being assessed should not make the exercise inauthentic: in the workplace they will be continually monitored and their work evaluated.

      1. Thanks Tom. Yes and No. If it’s relatively simple tasks like get up in front of people and tell them to do things or run an agenda etc. then yes.

        But if it’s deal with your subordinate who is irate about something and more intelligent than you when you can’t fire them, then its very difficult. Leadership issues are usually pretty complex and difficult to teach. If we could do so, we would put all the politicians up the hill through our “Leadership training program” and Australia would be so much better by now

    2. Hi David,
      Thanks for sharing your experience, your example proves how challenging it can be to create conditions as close to a real workplace as possible. I agree there is room for essays. When I studied my Contemporary Dance degree I recall my frustration as a young dancer, wondering why I had to write 3000 or 5000 word essays. I soon discovered the essay writing skills prepared me well for writing grant applications which is a major part of the job in the profession of Contemporary Dance if one wants to work. Of course the essay writing components of the course assessments were balanced with performances, internships and other types of assessment. Sometimes the difficulty is in getting the right balance for our students, we certainly don’t want to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’.

    3. Hi David, great to hear your thoughts! Hope you are doing well! Despite broadly supporting more authentic assessment in higher ed, I think I will also argue for the ongoing relevance of essays as a form of assessment as well. As you mention, there are some times of learning and objectives that essays can be best placed to assess, particularly in terms of complex issues, critical thinking, reasoning and argument, and so on. Similar to Amanda’s point above about essay writing being good preparation for grant writing, I think perhaps universities can do a better job of making the links between essays and authentic, transferable skills more clear to students. Great discussion so far!

  2. Authentic assessment in business is also a high risk of “Indentured labor”. “Make a business plan for a real company, for free, as authentic task. Err… Wait, don’t we have labor laws to stop this sort of student exploitation?

    Also, as I am currently doing the Cert IV, I find the “authentic assessment” versus “Competency based assessment” line to be quite deliberately blurry. Workplace based skill sets that people need to be able to do, and are judged capable/not yet capable versus “authentic” tasks that are on a sliding scale of passable to highly distinguished.

    A lot of this comes down to the value of the subjective outcome of higher education – the assessment tasks should provide an opportunity to refine skills of synthesis, exploration, a willingness to accept a starting point of “I don’t know enough to answer this question, I should find out more to be able to solve the problem” and a desire to take a few risks in pursuit of interesting outcomes.

    It’s the last part that’s the most inauthentic about academic assessment – there’s no buffer zone to fail faster, or any mechanism that realistically supports failure as a learning experience – and I say this as someone who plays a sport, where loss and victory are both learning experiences. Failure being so destructive in academic grading is probably the least authentic part of the process.

    1. Hi Stephen, I love your comment about risk taking and failure. Whilst I agree with Tom’s point that some professions cannot tolerate failure when lives, justice and other such things are at stake, we all know there are circumstances when failure leads to tremendous growth and learning. Sometimes (especially early in my teaching career) I would plan a lesson and when I teach it, it is a total flop! In this instance I don’t throw away the entire lesson- I reflect on what went wrong and consider what I might do differently next time. Similarly I definitely don’t want to discourage creativity or curiosity and have students play it safe, and I do want to encourage persistence and grit in the face of challenges and failures. I think a greater emphasis on critical reflection within an authentic assessment provides students with an opportunity to ‘unpack’ any failings and demonstrate what they have gained through the process of taking a risk and failing, and how they would apply this knowledge or do things differently in the future. If we build this into our authentic assessments we acknowledge failure has value.

      1. Contrasting to Tom, I’d say that failure tolerance is a thing we need where the professions can’t afford it in practice. Before now, I’ve described the lecture+assessment as a simulation environment, and since we’re in a simulator, push the simulation and test ideas, and let things crash and explode, hit reset, and try again with something different.

        And that’s where risk-averse, failure-adverse assessment runs into the problem of not giving people space to try, explore, explode, reset, try again in a different way in the safety of the assessment/academic teaching space. When you’ve got one shot to get it right per task, and our workload models for marking, and our bell curve models for final grade curves, deeply discourage drafts, multi-submissions, and recovery from failing, we lose that opportunity.

        Also true authentic assessment task may well need a body count – particularly in all of the diplomacy subjects, medicine and engineering. Less immediately so in marketing and accounting, and definitely as a feature of economics.

  3. As I understand it, authentic assessment seeks to replicate what the professional does in the workplace. But to me this sounds a tautology: why you would have any other form of assessment? I teach students who are undertaking professionally accredited computing and engineering degrees, so the assessment seek to replicate what computer professionals and engineers do.

    At the moment I am helping with the ANU TechLauncher program: teams of students work on a real project for a client from a real organization. Students use project management tools and techniques, plus the start-up methodology, with pitches and stand-up meetings. Students are peer assessed, as well as by their tutor, and their client. The last assignment is to detail what they have learned, by writing an application for a real job. Given these students are about to graduate, and look for work, you can’t get more authentic than that. 😉

    Gulikers, Bastiaens and Kirschener (2004) refer to a “… situation in professional life”. This readily applies to computing and engineering. But, how do you provide authentic assessment for a degree which is not linked to a specific profession? The cynic in me suggests that we should test if these non-specialist students can make coffee, or drive a taxi, as those are the only jobs they will be able to get. 😉

    Being less cynical, writing a 3,000 word essay is something I have had to do at work. After years writing computer programs, I was temporally transferred write computer policy (ended up staying nine years). The documents we produced were similar to university assignments. The major difference was these were written by a team of people, usually three or four, but sometimes dozens, from multiple agencies. Usually we had months to work on a document, but occasionally an answer was needed in hours, or minutes, then we had to brief a senior executive. These are skills which perhaps students need to learn, and be tested on.

    1. You make some good points there Tom. One of the key questions being, what are we trying to produce from our graduates. If it’s to make coffee or program an App to order coffee, sure it’s relatively easy.

      But if we are supposed to be producing Australia (and the world’s) thought leaders that can tackle wicked problems and issues that haven’t yet arisen, how do we do that? Perhaps the thinking skills that come with an essay may be useful.

    2. Hi Tom, you have made a very interesting point about providing authentic assessment for a degree that is not linked to a specific profession. I think an authentic assessment allows demonstration of transferable skills required in most professions, such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, reflection and problem solving, so I think authentic assessment has value for all learners as through the process they will gain skills for life relevant for most career paths.

    3. Hi Tom, I liked this point about workplaces often being more collaborative and team-based rather than individual – perhaps this could be an area where the assessment is still “traditional”, but the writing and context are more “authentic” by having students collaborate and negotiate on team-based products? Great things to think about!

  4. Stephen, we have labor laws to stop student exploitation. The Australian Fairwork Ombudsman provides guidance on what is a legitimate vocational placement, and what is unlawful unpaid work.

    Good luck with the Cert IV, I found it quite a slog. As I understand it, VET is all about authentic assessment, and “competency” sets a level where you are judged to be able to do the job. My rule of thumb for translating between VET, and university, is that competency is a university “Credit”. A university “Pass” is in a twilight zone where you have done well enough to enroll in another course, but not well enough to do much else.

    Assessment is highly subjective, but has very practical real world implications. When assessing students I have in mind that I am certifying that a student can do a job, or not. Computer professionals, and engineers, have jobs where if they get it wrong people die. Investigators have gone back and checked the quality of education where the resulting death toll has been high. I don’t want to have to explain to a judge why I didn’t fail a student who was not competent.

    It is possible to design small assessed tasks into a course to allow a student to fail faster. I find that giving a student ZERO on such an exercise is a very clear signal that they need to do better. To soften the blow, the marking scheme can count the best of their efforts on these items. To ensure this doesn’t skew the results the other way, these exercises can be made to not count for a Distinction, or High Distinction, just Pass or Credit. In effect, this treats “Credit” as “Competent”.

  5. I reach and research in “ecosystem/environmental” measurement, and find it really easy to create “authentic” or competency-based assessments. So easy in fact, that some “academic colleagues” have suggested in the past that such skills should be taught in a TAFE, not a university! Most of my assessments therefore need to have both a competency-based component (e.g. measure the carbon/biomass in this tree) and then some deeper learning (e.g. describe 10 reasons why your answer above is “wrong” but possibly still useful; or explain when such measurements should NOT be undertaken). It is interesting to read how many students can’t get their minds around issues above and beyond “simple” competence in “standard” approaches.

  6. Oops, typo in the first line! It should have been “I TEACH” …although maybe “I reach” is a Freudian slip because sometimes I fear it is a bit of a reach for some of our astudents 🙂

  7. I understand the idea of authentic assessment as a piece of assessment that simulates a scenario one could expect to encounter in the “real world” – helping to develop transferable skills required for a future job or internship within the field of study. Unfortunately, being primarily involved in physics (specifically astronomy and astrophysics) I have never been involved in an authentic assessment, most of my experience is with the more traditional assessments of exams and assignments. However, I would argue that the experience of writing up lab reports throughout my degrees has prepared me for a number of situations – not just writing scientific papers, but the skills I learned through this assessment task also aid me in other structured writing endeavors such as composing grant applications, etc. I have no doubt that if I were to leave academia, this skill would be a great asset when compiling reports or statistics gathering and analyzing.

    For the disciplines being compared in this reading (marketing and medical), I believe that the authentic assessment is really interesting and aids in preparing the students for the future paths these degrees are leading to. Going back to my example of labs earlier, while the report writing is incredibly important and practical in its own ways, I do think that there is a way to make the assessment more of a real-life scenario. For example, rather than just providing an already setup experiment for the students to do, with all the equipment they need to use laid out; it would be more realistic if within their lab groups, the students were required to select the equipment they would use and make sure that it would fit within a predefined budget. So maybe they would need to sacrifice some amount of replicability for precision, depending on the instruments/materials they selected and justify their decisions. In my opinion, this additional step would perhaps provide students with a more well-rounded view of how projects work in both the professional and academic worlds.

    I agree with a lot of previous comments that it is a matter of balance and this varies greatly from discipline to discipline. The traditional assessments still very much have a place and often have direct application to real-world situations as well; however, maybe by adding some authentic assessment features to these more traditional assessments, we could begin to bridge the experience gap.

    1. Hi Sarah, this is a great point – I think including authenticity does not necessarily have to be in the type of assessment, but perhaps more in the scenario, question, set-up, or so on. That sense of working on “real world problems”! I also like your example of the students designing / setting up their own experiments rather than having it set up for them is a great idea.

    2. Hi Sarah, thanks for your thoughts on this. It is so interesting to hear what people are thinking of from the point of view of their different disciplines. Your comment shows that we can stretch our imaginations to go beyond what we have known, or what we are used to doing, regarding assessment in our respective areas.

  8. I agree with Sarah concerning labs which are pre-configured so that students can approach their practical similar to following a cook-book — and we do this to facilitate getting results which can reasonably be applied to writing the report. So the assessment focuses upon report writing skills. However, the student also learn about their own creativity if we do not provide the cook-book – and simply ask to produce the sponge cake. For example, the student could decide what equipment is needed, build it, test it etc and judge whether the result is adequate. Potentially a lot of time for a student, but it could be broken down into parts . But the problem is now in the assessment — different faculty would mark or assess the students work very differently – some would focus upon whether the build is identical to a standard, or how close the result is to a standard result, and others would focus upon a report (which could be written based on someone else’s build).

    So one such assessment task I made in Phys2020 is to choose from select mini-projects which involve (1) make/analyse a Stirling Engine. (2) analyse the Drinking Bird Toy as a heat engine, (3) determine the best operating conditions for your Moka Pot, (4) or use a web-based simulator to analyse quantitatively a question of your own making. We provide access to the MakerSpace, Arduino microprocessor tutorials and equipment, and “leaders” to talk/consult with. They are given weeks to think about it and then told that this should take 20-30 hours.
    Some students are really uncomfortable: “What do you want?” they ask. The response I want to give is “You tell me . . .” – but that seems to provide more anxiety (which I want to avoid). I try to give them a few incomplete examples, and talk through some musings of what I might do. I think it is critical to tell the students that their mark will not depend greatly upon whether the result of the project is what they planned for – and I provide a very generic rubric. The students are also risk-adverse – they want a good mark – and are uncertain that I will recognise how hard it is to strike out on their own unique path. . . . The reports (70 of them!) are due in Week 10.

    (Sorrymy contribution to this discussion is a day late – I taught most of yesterday)

    1. Hi Edie, thanks for your really interesting example and discussion of the conundrums. Students ARE very risk averse, and for good reason when you consider how our whole University system is set up as a gateway designed to exclude a heap of them from graduating and obtaining employment in their chosen field (I know that sounds extreme, but in essence, that is probably what it seems to many!). I am not sure we can be fully successful in implementing truly authentic assessments in this atmosphere of winners and losers. This is a wider philosophical discussion that we can begin here and probably continue through each of the posts for this topic, in terms of the purpose of higher education and assessment. Meanwhile there are ways to mitigate the anxiety as you illustrate in your sharing with us of what you have tried in communicating with your students.

  9. My understanding of authentic assessment is very similar to the definitions provided above. Some attempts at authentic assessment our course incorporates includes getting students to provide written and/or oral analysis of current world events, including the need to justify recommendations on how to proceed.

    Similar to Sarah, I believe authentic assessment also incorporates learning that enable students to apply skills and knowledge to modified realistic tasks, such as role-play simulations. What else is the point of higher education if not to provide a safe environment in which to learn, in equal parts through scaffolding and failing?

    It’s been a while, but I really enjoyed the high-school stock market game. Students operate in a parallel world where the real-world affects them in real time, but, students don’t affect the real world. Would love to design a course that applies this model to my field.

    1. Hi Bhavani, thanks for your comments. I like your statement that higher education should provide a safe environment in which the students are scaffolded to try real world tasks. I was thinking this in relation to student anxiety which has been alluded to in some comments. Perhaps the anxiety can be dealt with by copious opportunities to try and fail without shame or fear, and by lessening the stakes of individual assessments.

      1. Hi Jill,

        And therein lies the common challenge. Increased number of smaller assessments increases teaching workload. Activities with small or no assessment component are often viewed as pointless or inconsequential to students (despite explaining the pedagogical benefits of formative assessments). I increasingly find myself pining for the days when students trusted that their course was designed in a certain way for specific reasons, and that, as the ones in the learners’ seat, students may not fully appreciate these reasons until much much later, when they have gained far more knowledge and experience.

        1. Thanks for your further comment, Bahvani – it is indeed quite a challenge to get students engaged in anything other than formal assessments, when this is how they see themselves getting through the course and graduating. If they were fully aware that non-assessment, or formative assessment, activities of an authentic nature are preparing them not only for their summative assessment, but also for a future career in their chosen field, perhaps they would be more attentive!

  10. Authenticity to the ‘real world’ is something I strive for in areas I teach in, but it means we have to think about the ‘real world’ quite critically. If we were to prepare our students for the real world of being an academic, for example, we could argue that it is highly authentic to assess their ability to answer emails from students, fill out forms and attend meetings. All of these are quite assessable, but just because they are prevalent in the real-world, doesn’t mean they are worth assessing. On the other hand, I recently did some research about authenticity in educational tasks set for accounting students and being able to craft an appropriate and precise email to clients was something employers really valued and felt students should be prepared for. Having said that, it is a bit misleading to discuss really specific, contextualised workplace tasks in comparison to essays. ‘Essays’ could be so many things. A highly specific authentic task has lots of advantages as discussed above , but so does an essay that may require students to synthesize more of the disciplinary content and analyse it using higher order skills. Similarly, it a well-crafted multiple choice exam might elicit very broad learning from the students across many areas of the course. This could be preferable to a final assessment that targets one authentic topic in-depth. Also, authenticity mostly derives from disciplines which are related to a specific professional world. Many disciplines do not feed students directly into occupations or professions other than being an academic in the discipline. For these disciplines, an authentic task may actually be to write an essay because the criterion situation is an academic domain. In general, I’m in favour of authenticity which is in line with educational goals in a program of assessment.

  11. There were so many interesting points in the above comments I don’t even know where to start! I am a huge fan of authentic assessment, but as with many things am cautious that it is not always the solution to everything. I think the dialogue between Sarah and Edie was really interesting and I think Edie touched on something that gets at the heart of why authentic assessment can be so difficult – time. Most work tasks tend to be vastly more time consuming than students have – for example say a professional team is working on a policy, they are generally (not always sure) sitting together in the same office working day in day out on a project. Our students, particularly at Fenner where we have a very interdisciplinary cohort, based all over the university, with their own timetables, often juggling work commitments on top of their studies – trying to get 4 people to find the time to work together is an incredible feat in and of itself. But also when the average course is only allowed to be 10ish hours long per week including lectures and tutorials then the ability to set the sorts of projects students are likely to be a part of in the real world is more difficult again.

    Also I want to note what some others have mentioned, which is we are not a TAFE we are a university. And given the many careers they will have and considering a vast amount of the knowledge that students graduate with will be outdated before they have paid their HECS debt, then what we should be focusing on is students ability to think critically, analyse, debate, synthesize a variety of information and problem solve. And many traditional forms of assessment, particularly essay types do, or can do, exactly this. So despite what employers may think they want “there is an increasing demand by professions and employers that graduates have attributes, skills and knowledge fit for the contemporary workplace” perhaps what we are doing actually still holds a great deal of value. We may not often be requested to write essays in the workplace, but the skills and knowledge we develop doing this, will parlay into high quality work in a variety of fields.

    1. Hi Edwina, thanks for this valuable contribution to our discussion. You have clearly articulated the argument FOR assessments such as essays. Both in this discussion and the earlier one, you emphasised that university education is not the same as TAFE in that it is not normally specific training for a specific role, but more of a broad education around disciplines. As you say the role of critical and analytical thinking (and also I feel, the ability to argue a case) is important in an era of rapid change where technology, jobs and careers are changing rapidly – the abilities to think critically clearly and logically, and understand rhetoric, are more important than ever. Your point that the use of authentic assessment for teaching and learning purposes is different to the its use as a “training” strategy for a particular work role is an important one and could help in thinking about the design of authentic assessment tasks.

  12. Throughout my education, I’ve always found assignments which were out of the ordinary to be the most interesting, motivating, valuable and memorable. I do remember writing my first essay because it was a new experience but the rest tend to blur together. The assessments that have really stuck with me have always been ones where I got to choose my own project or flex my creative muscles. Some of the most memorable tasks were: interviewing my grandparents about their experiences; analysing a song of my choosing within its historical context; creating animations; writing and recording my own play; designing buildings and creating models; and writing and illustrating books for children.

    Unfortunately the Theatre Studies major and department at ANU no longer exist (and it seems only three theatre units remain in the English major). However, while doing my undergraduate degree, it was very refreshing to be able to perform an excerpt from a play each semester rather than have yet another exam to sit or essay to write. I actually feel that assessment tasks make a course because they are what you spend the most time and effort on. So, if I were a student today, I would be going to the ANU’s Programs and Courses site, clicking on subjects of interest and going straight to the ‘Study’ tab of each then only enrolling in the ones with the ‘Indicative Assessment’ that sounded the most enriching. For example, a while ago I came across a history unit which asked you to curate your own online museum which I would have loved!

  13. Hi Rowena, thanks for sharing your own experience as a student here, it is really valuable using our own experiences in considering the student experience, after all, we were all HE students and some of us are STILL continuing HE students in post-grad courses! I am the same as you when it comes to assessments, I always loved anything that involved me in creativity and thinking for myself, being asked to come up with something new or unique. For me it has been a lesson that not everyone feels like this about assessments – I have often been surprised to hear that there are students who feel distressed and insecure at being asked to do assignments requiring them to think creatively or originally. I guess that is one of the lessons I had to learn as a teacher, that I must cater to different learning styles and student needs, up to a point. Of course some courses inherently require creative and original efforts by students, such as the creative arts, and I suppose generally they would attract people who prefer to work creatively. However I also know that in any course, it is possible to design authentic tasks that are exciting because they give students a taste of what it is to be a professional in their field, and that many students react positively to such assessments. At the same time, the time and resource restrictions people have mentioned elsewhere are definitely a limiting factor.

  14. I think the idea of “authentic assessment” is a very interesting and helpful idea. However, one of my first thoughts was something already brought up by other commenters – that not all courses are linked to specific professions or workplaces. That’s an initial thought that I’m sure can be overcome with greater thought into specific skill-sets that are common to many workplaces.

    Coming from the viewpoint of medicine, authentic assessment is a very familiar topic as we have a mix of assessment that is both “traditional” and “authentic”. Traditional assessment such as individual essays and short answer questions form a greater proportion of assessment in the earlier part of the degree, and as graduation and the “real world” approaches, assessment becomes more practical, scenario based with not only actors, but real patients. Assessment moves from testing individual skills or discrete knowledge, to assessing complex situations where you must be able to combine your knowledge with communication, examination and practical skills. This progression of assessment is also seen in speciality college assessment post graduation – written examinations often make up initial assessment, followed by more realistic assessment as closer to being a specialist (consultant cardiologist, surgeon, ect.).

    As my teaching is predominantly in the pre-clinical years and medical sciences, it can be more difficult to make assessment “authentic” at these earlier stages. We try to get students to think about the context in which their knowledge may be used, and then link it into their clinical learning and integrate their anatomy into other areas such as pathology, imaging or clinical examination.

  15. As several comments have pointed out, I reckon the implementation of ‘authentic assessment’ is highly dependent on the discipline, specific course and teaching level. As an example, in introductory courses for 1st year student, it may be complicated to design this type of assessments before the students get a grasp of the discipline, so traditional assessment (i.e. quiz, argumentative essays, annotated bibliographies) may be more relevant in these cases. Nevertheless, after a first ‘traditional’ assessment, ‘authentic’ assessment may be easier to consider.

    I teach archaeology, which is a discipline that combines both practical and theoretical skills and requirements. In one of my courses, analysis of vertebrate remains, with undergrad and postgrad students, I try to combine both type of assessments. The first assessment of the course is to complete a case study report, where students have to read a scientific paper (or more) and produce an argumentative report, discussing and summarising the paper. I have to admit that most of the students struggle a lot with this assessment. The second assessment is a practical test, where they have to recognise bones that they have previously observe and describe in the tutorials. Results are generally good for this one. For their third assessment, students have to complete a database where they analyse real archaeological material following the same criteria that would be expected to be included in a professional setting. For postgrads, they have to complete a scientific report based on their results form the database. These latter assessments were deeply enjoyed and I received great feedback from the students.
    I think this short experience demonstrate that students enjoy more skill-based tasks and it helps them to relate the courses content with ‘real life issues’. However, a similar assessment would be difficult to design for a theory based course, such as archaeological theory.

  16. I agree with Sophie (and others) on how the implementation of ‘authentic assessment’ is highly dependent on the discipline. My discipline is modern languages, and I think it might be one of the ‘easier’ ones. e.g.:
    – ‘Give me the past tense of these verbs’ >>> ‘Complete this gapped biography. Use the verbs in brackets.’
    – ‘Describe the house in this picture.’ + ‘Convert these questions into polite questions.’ >>> ‘You are going on holiday and have arranged for a house-sitter. Politely explain what he/she has to do in an email.’
    – ‘In groups, discuss the proposals on the card – weighing pros and cons’ >>> ‘You are the jury in a 3-minute thesis competition. Discuss the presentations you have just heard and prepare a short piece of feedback for each of the presenters’
    ‘Easier’, but still not easy! You need to think carefully about how you word the task: Not too much metalanguage? Not too convoluted? Will I get the desired output? When it’s done right, it is so much more enjoyable for the student and the teacher (much more fun to mark!)

    1. Hi Melde, I hadn’t thought of it quite that way, but you’re right – studying languages is certainly one of the most “authentic” ways of studying when done right! I studied Spanish and Japanese at university myself, and I found that there was quite a huge difference in how they were taught. My Spanish class had a 2 hour lecture about grammar, and I really struggled to retain anything, while the Japanese class prioritised speaking and writing practice every day in a very interactive style. (This might have something to do with why I kept studying Japanese throughout undergrad and stopped Spanish classes after first year!) But as you say, it seemed “easy” for me as a student but there is significant work involved on behalf of the teaching staff to scaffold the learning appropriately.

      1. Glad to hear it resonated with you, Katie! Sounds like you had an amazing teacher of Japanese. To me, Spanish seems a lot easier to learn than Japanese (though I can’t say I have ever tried a hand at the latter) so I am quite surprised by your experience. And impressed by your teacher!

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