Authentic Assessment

Authentic assessment uses challenging and real-world tasks for students to demonstrate their learning. It has a future orientation and develops students’ capability for life and work demands. 

On this page we’ll discuss what authentic assessment is and how to design it.

Key Takeaways

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Familiarise yourself with the principles of Authentic Assessment

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Learn how to design Authentic Assessment

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Familiarise yourself with various aspects of assessment at RMIT

Authentic Assessment

What is Authentic Assessment?

Authentic assessment uses challenging and real-world tasks for students to demonstrate their learning. It has a future orientation and engages students to develop skills, knowledge and attitudes that the complex problems of life and work will demand of them. 

Why do you need to know this?

Authentic assessment is best practice in learning and teaching. It involves students and teachers in learning-oriented assessment that is meaningful and relevant and cultivates academic integrity. It supports students to realistically develop confidence and autonomy as learners.

Authentic assessment aims to equip students with transferable life skills, aligning to RMIT’s Program Learning Outcomes:

  • ethical global citizens
  • connected
  • adaptive
  • human/digital
  • expert and applied

Authentic assessment also has other benefits in supporting students’ success in their learning, including:

  • students are motivated by tasks that have purpose
  • a variety of tasks lowers risks of failure, student anxiety, and the conditions that lead to plagiarism and collusion
  • the variety of tasks provide opportunities to assess process as well as product, giving a more rounded measure of students’ achievements
  • the variety of tasks provide opportunities for collaboration, teamwork, and the development of 21C skills
  • grading is evenly distributed across the semester, avoiding grading crunch and facilitating useful feedback/feedforward
  • low risks tasks can be evaluated by simplified rubrics that provide clarity and fairness as well as speed to the grading process

How do we do authentic assessment at RMIT?

RMIT uses a scholarly framework of six characteristics to guide the design of authentic assessment tasks:

  • challenge
  • collaboration
  • deep thinking and critical reflection
  • artefact or performance
  • transferrable knowledge & skills with real-world application
  • feedback that develops evaluative judgement

Challenge

Collaboration

Deep Learning

Rich and complex tasks that require engagement with and application of a broad range of knowledge and skills.

i.e. Students engage in higher-order thinking skills to respond to a complex task drafted with detailed contextual information (Villarroel et al., 2019) and framed within a workplace, professional and/or community setting.

Working with others using knowledge and skills that foster meaningful interactions in workplace or community settings to achieve an outcome.

i.e. Students work in pairs or teams to co-create disciplinary understanding and enhance their teamwork skills.

Learning that is complex or transformative, involving inquiry that promotes critical reflection to guide lifelong learning.

i.e. Students monitor their own learning and seek to extend it by making connections between their learning experiences and the ‘bigger’ picture (Ashford-Rowe, Herrington and Brown, 2014).

Artefact or Performance

Transferable knowledge & skills with real-world application

Feedback that develops evaluative judgement

An artefact or performance that is recognized by the workplace or community as meaningful and relevant.

i.e. Students perform in a way that mirrors professional / workplace tasks or create an artefact that is authentic to their profession.

Demonstration of how knowledge and skills can be applied in a workplace or community context.

i.e. Students applying the knowledge acquired and skills developed through assessment tasks and subtasks that mimic or closely resemble professional activities that take place at the workplace or community.

Feedback that initiates discussion and engagement about quality and standards, and future learning for self and others.

i.e. Students articulate, discuss the quality of their artefact / performance and, provide feedback to their peers using agreed-upon performance standards and/or assessment criteria.

These characteristics determine the intention of learning, the format of the outcome and meaningfulness and relevance of the assessment task. Not all characteristics need to be present in every task, but a minimum of two is a good start. 

Along with designing assessment to be authentic, strategies and resources of good assessment design can be explored below, including rubrics, CDL, WIL, group work, reflection and feedback. 

Designing Authentic Assessment

Like tasks undertaken in industry, authentic assessments have a context and purpose. They typically include a few tasks that cumulatively achieve the desired outcome of a course. For this reason, the design of authentic assessments should consider dimensions of Context (how tasks are described and measured) and Purpose (how tasks are tackled and experienced by students).  

Context of authentic assessment design

Designing an authentic assessment task comes down to how authentic or true it is to a context and how accurately it measures the learning outcomes. Sally Brown and Kay Sambell describe six (here compounded to five) essential elements for the anatomy of authentic assessment instructions as:

  • Context: places the task and the student in a situation that informs why the task is important, who is impacted, and other specifications like audience and scope (see also ‘modifiers’).  The context should be relevant to the discipline, realistic and specific.  
  • Verb/learning outcome: the assessment instructions highlight the key ‘verb’ action being assessed. The verb is derived from the learning outcome/s the assessment is measuring. 
  • Object/learning outcome: what is the verb directed at or acting on? Eg. Interpret workplace OHS data, examine voting habits of minimum wage earners 
  • Outcomes: the artefact that will be submitted as evidence of achievement 
  • Modifiers: why the outcome is important or desirable for the context given.  

Context relevant to your subject area

Verb/ learning outcomes

Object/ learning outcome

Outcome/ evidence of achievement

Modifiers/ developments/ range statements (context specific)

You are working for a social enterprise which is struggling to maintain momentum during the Corona19 crisis.

Interpret

A range of complex and at times incomplete financial and other data.

Compile a meaningful summary leading to a forward action plan

That will give your funders confidence in your abilities to remain viable

You work as an advisor for a political think tank devising policy for ministers.

Research and review

Information from a variety of sources including press releases, statistics from national agencies, focus groups and advisory boards and others.

Produce an accessible executive summary of the key findings in the form of two sides of A4

For your minister and the team supporting them.

The lab where you work has taken delivery of a new microscope

Familiarise yourself with technical set up and calibration.

Specialist equipment appropriately

Draw up a quick guide for peers who will be using the equipment

to enable them to use it independently, safely and appropriately.

You are working with a business that owns, lets and services commercial premises in the city centre.

Evaluate

Three proposed solutions to a complex issue

Formulate a further two of your own with suggestions as to what might work best, and why

That will enable your company to decide about new acquisitions and divesting of assets.

You are a hydrologist working for a regional development agency with responsibility for a substantial river basin.

Compile

Contingency plans for use in a professional environment.

Produce disaster recovery in case of a serious emergency

leading to mitigations and remediation.

In the event of a serious flooding incident that affects more than 50% of your area.

Table 1. Anatomy of authentic assessment instructions (Brown & Sambell, 2020)

Purpose of authentic assessment design

Designing authentic assessments allows you to consider the purpose of assessment and your assessment schedule holistically. Just as tasks completed in the workplace require stages such as development, consultation, planning, scoping, drafting, prototyping, more consultation, redesign, approval, shipping, marketing etc. the design of authentic assessments should consider the real-world methodologies that apply in industry and seek to set expectations to students that align with these experiences. Assessment can therefore be designed to support incremental authentic learning rather than just measure learning. 

So, instead of a 4500 word essay that is due at the end of a course and assesses four course learning outcomes in one go, consider assigning smaller cumulative tasks throughout the course. Each task would assess one or two learning outcomes at a time and provide opportunities for iterative feedback and collaboration between teachers, students and peers.  

See the example below taken from Sally Brown and Kay Sambell’s Compendium 3 of Authentic Assessment Tasks. This developmental design of tasks is relevant to many disciplines, leading students through purposeful learning that poses problematisation to solution to socialisation, self-discovery and transformation. 

Example

Context:

Enisage that you live in a student house with four other students with a downstairs toilet but only one main bathroom that everyone shares upstairs, which also contains a toilet. You are the only microbiologist living in the flat and you are rather concerned at the overall level of hygiene in the flat, particularly the bathroom

Tasks

  1. Read the two set articles on contamination and highlight/annotate on a hard copy or on screen what you consider to be the key points. Take a photo or a screenshot of your annotated texts and submit the outcome.
  2. Prepare a poster as a PowerPoint slide for your shared bathroom, highlighting the key contamination risks for your fellow flatmates in language that is likely to be convicing rather than preachy. You may include images, as well as footnotes with information from the articles (this is a student household after all!).
  3. Present your poster to staff/peers in the form of either a live presentation or a 3-minute video recorded on your phone talking through your poster.
  4. Write an article of 700 words for the students newspaper for a wide readership indicating the precautions students living together in shared flats should take in the relation to keeping safe from contamination in the bathroom.
  5. Writee 100-word relfection on what undertakings this set of activities has cause you to consider, and identify what actions this has caused you to make to your personal behaviour as a result.

Hot tips

  • Remember that Context is more important than the medium of the Outcome.  Asking students to make videos and posters may be fun, but it’s not in itself authentic.  For most assessments, allow students to choose how they’ll present their final product and let them work with their strengths.
  • Don’t try and make every existing assessment authentic by breaking it down into sub-tasks. At RMIT a 12 cp undergraduate course is typically 4500 words in total. One authentic assessment that comprises cumulative sub-tasks that potentially assess a different learning outcome is about right for a course.

Rubrics

Authentic assessments use criterion-referenced grading. This means that students demonstrate their learning to criteria and are graded according to the degree that requirements of a task are met. At RMIT, rubrics are used to define the scoring scale and appropriate levels of performance for the criteria of each assessment task. A well-written rubric will communicate clear expectations, ensure consistent and objective evaluation of tasks, and provide some feedback to students. 

Some practical tips for designing rubrics: 

Select relevant assessment criteria 

  • Focus on assessing the relevant course learning outcomes 
  • Keep generic marks for presentation, referencing, spelling and grammar etc. to a minimum 
  • Avoid holistic rubrics or criteria descriptors that have multiple components as they are confusing 

Select appropriate weightings for criteria 

  • Think about the relative importance of each criterion and weight it accordingly 
  • Use the HE grading scheme at all times 
  • Stick to round numbers as much as possible for ease of calculation and marking 
  • For assessments <50% of total grade, make total rubric points out of 100 to allow for an adequate marking range for each criterion. If components are less than 5 points, the ranges in each level are too small and will be decimalised 

Write the ideal HD level for criteria 

  • What are the characteristics of the ideal assessment?  
  • What should the ideal assessment include? 
  • Think about utilising the following characteristics: 
  • Detail 
  • Accuracy 
  • Depth of analysis / insight 
  • Clarity 
  • Structure 
  • Engagement 
  • Skill 

Differentiate between the other levels in criteria 

  • Make descriptors measurable and quantitative where possible 
  • Avoid only using changes in qualitative language to reduce ambiguity 

Contact the DSC.LT@rmit.edu.au email for support from the LT Team to develop rubrics. 

Career Development Learning (CDL)

CDL refers to learning and assessment activities that focus on preparing students for the lifelong process of managing their careers. One way of effectively embedding CDL into curriculum is by attaching CDL skills and knowledge to assessment tasks.

You can find a range of flexible CDL assessment tasks here to tailor and use in your courses. The tasks align with the early (Explore), mid (Experience) and late (Engage) phases of program study. They also include explicit CDL Learning Outcomes and Authentic Assessment criteria and a tailorable rubric.

Other resources to explore:

RMIT CDL website:

https://www.rmit.edu.au/staff/teaching-supporting-students/student-employability/career-development-learning

Tailorable CDL assessments:

https://www.rmit.edu.au/staff/teaching-supporting-students/student-employability/career-development-learning/tailorable-cdl-assessments

Work Integrated Learning (WIL)

WIL is a formal component of a program that is designed to enable students to learn, apply and demonstrate their formal learning with professional practice. Reflection is a widely recognised approach for authentically assessing WIL.

Most industries and professions encourage critical reflection in the workplace, as a tool for problem-solving, professional development, self-appraisal and performance management. Teaching this authentic skill helps prepare students to be career-ready for life and work. Reflective activities can be developed into valid and reliable, authentic assessment pieces, especially where reflection mirrors the professional development process that occurs in the workplace.

Examples include professional skills and capabilities matrices, resource files, field notes, case studies, caseloads, learning journals, infographics/posters and other visual representations.

A range of reflective strategies can be used to assess WIL. Some examples include:

  • Learning portfolio/e-Portfolio containing active and critical reflections and evidence
  • Written and/or oral presentations to industry and community partners, which include evidence of how ‘active reflection’ has been used to improve, trouble-shoot, develop, or apply design thinking to the required output
  • Project/placement-based reports that include active and/or critical reflective review as part of the design process
  • Host supervisor report – can include an ongoing ‘structured dialogue’ between host and student structured as ‘host feedback>student reflection> new action’, repeated as appropriate.
  • Set ‘reflection’ pieces e.g. journals or on-line discussions, visual representations/responses, storytelling and yarning especially in response to deep listening.
  • Personal reports (distilled reflective journals or diaries).
  • Completing ‘before’ and ‘after’ surveys of the WIL activity.
  • Demonstrations of practical skills (portfolios of evidence that show how active reflection has been used to improve the skill).

Some further resources to explore good practice for designing authentic WIL assessment include:

ACEN Good Practice Guide – WIL Assessment:

https://acen.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Assessment-WIL-Good-Practice-Guides.pdf?x36461

RMIT Staff WIL website – Assessing WIL:

https://www.rmit.edu.au/staff/teaching-supporting-students/student-employability/work-integrated-learning/embedding-wil-in-programs/assessing-wil

Group Work

Group work can be used to scaffold collaborative ways of working, so that students work together to develop outcomes that demonstrate their learning. Authentic assessment tasks support students to develop skills and outcomes relevant to future careers and life situations. Group work tasks can be graded on an artefact or understanding as the skill or outcome (product), and/or the process of developing an artefact or understanding (process). There are benefits and challenges in group work, but with careful preparation and facilitation, well designed tasks can facilitate authentic learning as well as ensure individual grading and feedback to students about their learning. 

“Group work has the potential measurably to improve student engagement, performance, marks and retention and usually succeeds in achieving this provided that there are associated assessment mechanisms that leverage appropriate student learning behaviour. In the absence of such assessment mechanisms these benefits may well not materialise.”  

 The assessment of group work: lessons from the literature (2009)

Professor Graham Gibbs

Challenges

Strategies

Students have different levels of enthusiasm or resistance to group work. How do you ensure an even playing field?

Ensure that collaboration makes sense for the assessment: that it is authentic to the context and aligned with the course learning outcomes. Assessments that involve groupwork need to be complex enough that everyone must contribute, and the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Give students scope to play to their strengths by designing tasks that need team mates to take on different roles that they can own and be accountable for. Developing the group’s code of accountability will build group cohesion as well as outcome fairness.

Disruptive team behaviours and conflict in teams

The common behaviours that undermine group work have been well researched and are helpful to keep an eye out for. They include: the free rider, the diligent isolate, the clique, the manipulator, the underachiever and overachiever. Knowing what these are and how they manifest can help to diagnose group issues that could be getting in the way of collaboration. Conflict in groups is not necessarily a bad thing if is used to develop strategies that lead to better self-awareness and collaborative practices.

Group think

‘Group think’ occurs when the preservation of the group becomes more important than the task at hand or the ideas being generated. Consciously or unconsciously, group members start to confirm and bolster ideas uncritically. This can be especially challenging for new students or students who are uncomfortable challenging the majority view.

Having a clear definition of what 'thinking critically’ looks like in group work and including this as a criteria in the assessment of the groups process can help to build independent thinking and lead the way to resolving differences in opinion.

Incentivising collaboration

Collaboration become effective when students are taught how to recognise the ‘process’ skills that contribute to effective groupwork. A good rubric and peer-review opportunities provide formative and summative opportunities to build this recognition.

What does scaffolded collaborative ways of working look like?

Beginner – e.g. first year

Assessment includes a peer-review that asks students to rate other members of their own team using the groupwork process rubric (example here)*

Build the sophistication of this recognition by adding new criteria and increasing the complexity of the group task (examples).

Developing – e.g. second year

Still focused on process skills, but also ask group members to assess the performance of their group as a whole, focusing on how well the group stayed on task and/or managed conflict.

Developed – e.g. third year

Increase the complexity of the task significantly and shift the weighting of the assessment criteria away from group process to product.

Include opportunities for students to reflect on group process, especially on their role in managing conflict and co-creating group outcomes.

Some useful resources to explore good practice in group work:

Capstones

As a culminating course (or courses) that integrates program learning objectives in a coherent experience, the ‘capstone’ consolidates learning so that students can demonstrate achievement of all program learning outcomes.

Capstone assessments should aspire to be authentic and include summative assessment tasks that evidence program level learning outcomes and graduate attributes, including relevant communication skills.

Capstone experiences may include work WIL. The types of authentic assessment tasks used in WIL can align well with capstone course design.

RMIT’s Assessment Processes (see item 1.4) clarifies that the weighting of an individual piece of assessment within a HE capstone course may exceed 50% of total marks.

RMIT’s Program and Course policy addresses capstone design (see item 85, and sections 5 and 6)

The Australian Government’s Capstone Curriculum site (Office for Learning & Teaching. 2015) offers further guides and tools, case studies, resources, FAQs and useful links.

Reflection

Reflective thinking plays an important role in authentic assessment because it relies solely on a student’s unique thoughts and experiences. Reflection is a vital and well-established part of learning within creative practices such as art, design, architecture etc but it can be used effectively in all disciplines.   

For reflection to be an effective learning technique it must be active, critical, and constructive, and not a passive descriptive activity. Engaging in critical reflection enables students to develop an assessment or judgement of an experience or outcome that they can then apply to a future action.  

Reflective thinking also forms part of the basis of research, allowing students to question their assumptions, actions, and choices and to consider alternative perspectives. Furthermore, reflection allows students to make connections between theory and practice and provide evidence of a process or practice that has led to a learning or research outcome. 

Some useful resources to further explore reflection in course design:

Feedback for Evaluative Judgement

Students should be encouraged to seek, recognise and use feedback in a range of ways. Feedback can be more than a summary to students of their work or providing advice and guidelines for improving performance for future tasks. It can also be designed into learning and assessment as dialogue to help students understand standards and learn to independently make evaluative judgements about the quality of their own and peers’ work, as students and emerging professionals.  

Some ways to expand students’ engagement with standards and feedback in your assessment designs include: 

  • Make standards explicit by providing criteria and rubrics for assessment tasks  
  • Create opportunities for learners to evaluate their work (co-design rubrics, peer review etc) 
  • Provide feedback that is future-focused for next steps, tasks and independence  
  • Design opportunities for them to engage with feedback (reflect on comments, re-draft work etc) 
  • Guide and model ways to give and receive feedback as appropriate to the conventions of your discipline and industries  
  • Cover the ‘why’ of feedback and not just the ‘what’  
  • Use dialogic strategies like ping-pong so that students use feedback to identify gaps and practise improvements for their own learning needs and evolving independence  
  • Create an atmosphere where learners feel comfortable sharing authentic judgements 
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Where to next?

If you’re looking to make changes to your course or program design, we recommend you read our page on “Program and Course Design and Development” for details on this process.