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5 essential tips to digitalize authentic assessment

Nhi Nguyen
April 1, 2021

We all agree that assessment should go beyond a numerical grade: it needs to provide an objective, holistic, qualitative reflection of students' performance and progress. In other words, “assessment practices should assess students holistically, including knowledge, abilities, values, attitudes and habits of mind that affect academic success and performance beyond the classroom” [1]. Educators are then presented with the challenge of finding the most suitable approach that embraces this demand. This is where authentic assessment comes in, with the focus on measuring students' success in skill-relevant and real-life situations.

The concept of authentic assessment is not new, in fact it has been adopted since the early 20s, mostly within the face-to-face classroom. As online education becomes the new normal, it is even more important to implement this assessment practice to create an engaging and fruitful learning experience. Considering the distinction between direct and remote classroom, the implementation of authentic assessment is necessarily different. Online courses remove geographical and physical barriers, allow for constant access to course materials, and offer endless potential of pedagogical technology. Therefore, educators should make use of these advantages to create authentic, engaging assessment.

In this article, you will find effective, classroom-proof tips on how to initiate authentic assessment in digital classrooms, by utilizing teaching and learning tools.

5 pillars of authentic assessment

For an assessment to be considered authentic, it needs to:

1. Be based on realistic, real-life situations
2. Deliver clear objectives and goals
3. Allow for collaboration and teamwork
4. Take the form of formative assessment
5. Encourage feedback and reflection

Within the online setting where all the interactions happen behind the screen, it takes teachers extra effort to make sure the assessment covers all these elements. We will hereby elaborate on each of the above features and explain how instructors can optimize them in remote courses.

1. Be realistic, performance-based and cognitively complex

Since authentic assessment measures how students apply the attained knowledge and skills in real world situations, teachers need to design an assessment activity that replicates authentic, real-world scenarios. This seems to be a challenge in online settings due to physical constraints. In fact, technology has all the capacity to help generate authentic contexts that “promote real world problem solving in all disciplines” [1]. With different remote platforms or softwares, teachers can create virtual simulations of a virtual lab activity, debate session, or panel discussion where students can interact and collaborate with each other just like in face-to-face situations. For example, NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences implemented a design-based-education project in which students worked together to create a media product for a client. The entire activity was facilitated entirely online, with support from FeedbackFruits tools: Interactive Study Materials, Peer Review, and Group Member Evaluation. Both instructors and students acknowledged the vital role of learning tools in promoting feedback and collaborative skills, as well as saving time in running the activity. 

2. Deliver a clear set of objectives  

Developing an authentic assessment should always begin with setting clear goals and objectives. This is to make sure students understand what is expected of them upon completing the assignment. Learning objectives “serve as the roadmap to course content”, highlighting the workplace-relevant knowledge and skills that students will be able to gain after the course [2, p. 65]. Therefore, teachers need to define clear goals for the course and make sure learners are fully aware of these learning outcomes. The real challenge; however, doesn't lie in crafting SMART goals, but in making sure learners are aware of these goals and follow them. In fact, teachers often complain how difficult and time-consuming it is to have to constantly remind students of the course objectives. This is where educational technology comes in and helps relieve such burdens. At FeedbackFruits, we built learning tools that allow instructors to develop learning goals using electronic templates, set automatic reminders of deadlines and course goals, and establish students' progress tracking.  

3. Allow for collaboration and teamwork 

Another crucial feature of authentic assessment is its collaborative nature. Since education focuses more on preparing learners for future employment, developing teamwork and collaboration skills is a must. Considering the online transition, the ability to effectively work together is no longer confined to the face-to-face setting, but is extended to the remote environment. Therefore, we can't ignore the value of technology-enhanced collaborative assessment. With an array of technological tools available, educators are presented with endless opportunities to facilitate authentic assessment. Innovative and effective practices that encourage collaboration include online discussion, individual or group projects, e-portfolios, poster design, simulations, and online quizzes. Using different learning technologies, educators can easily create and facilitate these assessments. To understand how you can do this, check out our ebook in which we elaborate on the features and implementation of each of the methods in the digital classroom. 

4. Take the form of formative and ongoing assessment 

Constant and ongoing assessment provides timely feedback on student performance, thus helping teachers to adjust the course content and offer timely support for their learners [4]. The best approach to generate continuous evaluation is to effectively integrate both formative and summative assessment forms. A variety of strategies can be adopted by teachers to exercise this approach, namely: assign grades for students' peer comments, in-class quizzes; implement peer feedback throughout the assignment; organise review sessions before and after the final exam. Within online settings, educational technology allows teachers to quickly and conveniently design these assessment activities. We have written a detailed article explaining how you can utilise educational technology to combine both formative and summative assessment.

5. Encourage feedback and reflection 

Authentic assessment calls for authentic feedback. Consistent, timely, specific, and constructive feedback not only supports the teaching experience, but also provides students with multiple opportunities to reflect on and adjust their work according to the required standard [2] [5]. This is highly authentic and similar to the workplace context. 

In online settings, educators can digitalise feedback using pedagogical technology. Several tools and platforms allow teachers to facilitate an effective, sustainable feedback culture, in which feedback happens frequently and in varied forms. FeedbackFruits provides the perfect example of technology-integrated solutions, as we build feedback tools that cater to different aspects of feedback activities: allowing students to filter their assessment, assigning peer reviewers, configurable grading, setting up explanation cards, implementing self-assessment or group evaluation.

Conclusion

The transition to online education has highlighted the role of authentic assessment strategies in increasing learner engagement and helping students to develop higher-order cognitive skills that align with expectations of the 21st century work life. Educators can absolutely achieve this assessment goal with an innovative mindset and the aid of learning technology. Educational technology offers endless tools for teachers to put pedagogical creativity into practice and deliver effective, authentic assessment practices. 

For further ideas and resources on how to craft authentic, engaging assessment strategies for your students, check out our latest ebook ‘How to cultivate a learning community’.

Did you enjoy reading this article and find it helpful for your course design? You can find more content like this by visiting our website, or subscribing to our newsletter to receive great pedagogical resources.


References

[1] Colby, A., Ehrlich, T., Beaumont, E., & Stephens, J. (2003). Educating citizens: Preparing America’s undergraduates for lives of moral and civic responsibility. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

[2] Conrad, D., & Openo, J. (2018). Assessment strategies for online learning (1st ed.). AU Press.

[3] Gray, D. M., Brown, C., Maki, M. J., & Schulte, K. (2013). Authentic Assessment in Online Education. Source

[4] Mathur, S., & Murray, T. (2006). Authentic assessment online. Online Assessment, Measurement and Evaluation, 238-258. Source.

[5] Shaw, A. (2020). Authentic assessment in the online classroom. Center for Teaching and Learning | Wiley Education Services. Source.

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