Authentic assessment. Where have I heard that?

Probably in quite a few places. UTS’ practice-oriented learning.futures strategy, which aims to produce graduates who are well-equipped for the professional world of the future, is one. Authentic assessment design has also become increasingly relevant in recent times with the need to combat the essay factories and ghost writers blighting our sector.

How will I know it when I see it?

You could ask these types of questions about an assessment task:

  • Is the task testing more than students’ ability to recall and reproduce a narrow body of factual knowledge?
  • Does the task mirror or connect with what students will be doing as graduates in the world beyond university?
  • Does it ask students to apply what they have learned and higher level thinking skills to solve complex problems, in a similar way to something they would do in professional practice?
  • Is it measuring the development of the broader capabilities students should have acquired by the time they graduate? (ie, the graduate attributes of the course).

If the answer to any of these is no, then that’s an indication the assessment task isn’t authentic.

Is it new?

Not for many people. Many disciplines have long required students to demonstrate their ability to perform realistic tasks in realistic environments (think about clinical nursing, for example).

So what would be an example of an authentic assessment task?

It depends on your context. In Law, it could be a legal drafting exercise. In Science, writing a  laboratory notebook. In Marketing, creating a strategic marketing plan. In IT or Engineering, producing a project report.  There are a wealth of examples of innovative assessment tasks like these already happening at universities, including UTS.

Can an essay be an authentic assessment task?

The traditional essay (along with the closed-book exam and the multiple-choice test) is the poster child for inauthentic assessment. “When, for instance, in one’s real life does one ever have to write an essay, unless you happen to be an academic?” asks our Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education & Students Shirley Alexander.  Perhaps that traditional essay task could be made-over into a task where students produce an information pack that summarises and explains the literature to a specific audience? Consult your IML Academic liaison for more ideas.

How about say, a test that just measures pure mathematical ability?

Most, but not all, UTS courses are linked to applied professional contexts. We need to be careful not to equate ‘authentic’ only with ‘applied professional’ knowledge. Grant Wiggins’ 27 Characteristics of Authentic Assessment provides an example of a maths problem that is authentic because it is “‘doing’ real mathematics: looking for more general/powerful/concise relationships and patterns – and using imagination and rigorous argument to do so.”

What are some tips for designing an authentic assessment task?

For lots of tips, read a detailed guide to authentic assessment produced by IML [PDF]


Note: there’s a world of information out there about authentic assessment. If you know of a helpful resource or can enlighten readers about an aspect not covered in this short summary, please leave a comment.

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