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.
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.
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.
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 https://theconversation.com/how-universities-can-make-graduates-employable-with-connections-to-industry-91838 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. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02504676
Oxford Research Encyclopedia page on Education/Authentic Assessment
Wiggins, G. (1989). A true test: Toward more authentic and equitable assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 70(9), 703‒713.