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How Deakin University implemented Authentic Assessment across a STEM faculty

Nhi Nguyen
October 3, 2020
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Instructor Workload
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About the institution:

Deakin University is one of Australia's new generations of universities, offering a personalized experience, enhanced by innovative digital engagement.  

About the instructor:

Dr. Tiffany Gunning is a Senior Lecturer Curriculum Design and Development at Deakin University. She combines her scientific background, expertise in secondary and tertiary education with her interest in the development and implementation of e-Learning tools, to provide online solutions to Higher Education teaching and learning challenges.

About the course:

  • Name: STEM
  • Size: over 200 undergraduates
  • Course design: Online and Hybrid
  • LMS: D2L Brightspace

Constructive alignment

Learning objectives

At the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment of Deakin University, Dr. Gunning and her team have been implementing a 2-year long, multi-faceted project to prepare students for the world of work and encourage lifelong learning.

Dr. Gunning also gave a detailed presentation on this project at inspirED 2022. You can watch it here.

This project, running from 2021 to 2023, involves scaffolding authentic assessment tasks across 3 touch points (steps) in every undergraduate course offered by the faculty. A detailed description of each touch point can be found below:

Learning activities

Step 1 | Establish a universal understanding of authentic assessment

The teaching team started out by working on a shared definition of authentic assessment, based on consultation with other faculty members. This shared definition provided the first setting stone for the current project. Here is how authentic assessment has been defined:

“Authentic assessment requires students to engage with a problem or task that is contextualized within a realistic environment and assesses the knowledge skills and attitudes required in  the workplace community and for lifelong learning.”

Implementing authentic assessment also requires a change in mindset: from prioritizing hard skills – discipline to focusing more on soft skills, or transferable skills, as preferred by the teaching team. According to Tiffany,

“The term 21st century skills is becoming quite popular to describe these transferable skills. And we've actually begun referring to these transferable skills as transferable employability skills to make that explicit link for students.”

To decide if a task should be considered an authentic assessment, faculties can rely on 4 attributes: Workplaces, Community, and Lifelong learning; Co-created assessments, Graduate transferable employability skills, and Assessment Structure.

Workplace, Community, and Life-Long Learning focuses on whether the task replicates what is done in the workplace. As Dr. Gunning put it:

“The first thing we should ask ourselves is: Is this task done in the workplace? Is it realistic? Does it require the application of skills, knowledge and attributes explicitly linked to the world of work and lifelong learning?"

The second element, Co-created assessment considers if the task involves external partners for design, delivery, and feedback

As for Graduate transferable employability skills, marks should be allocated to demonstration of transferable skills namely communication, digital literacy, critical thinking, etc in the assessment task.

Finally, it is important to look at the Assessment structure of the task. Does it involve an open-ended exam? Are students provided with clear rubrics, autonomy, and opportunities to self-reflect on their performance?

Bloom's Taxonomy

Step 2 | Creating assessment tasks

Teamwork is a key element of authentic assessment, being ranked among the top three essential skills to global employers. Dr. Gunning stressed the importance of encouraging collaborative learning in higher education:

“Teamwork is underpinned by a suite of interpersonal and technical skills that enables us as educators to focus our students’ attention across a spectrum of skills.”

That’s why the Deakin team decided to adopt the team-based learning (TBL) approach when designing the assessment tasks. Challenges undoubtedly arose during the implementation process, which were associated with group work management. For teachers, it is difficult to monitor many groups in online settings. For students, they faced the issue of free-riding and fairness. This is where pedagogical technology stepped in, to support instructors addressing these challenges.

Dr. Gunning provided two examples of how TBL and teaching technology were integrated into the assessment tasks.

For one course, students worked together on a real-world challenge, while the instructors took the role of manager and client. Using the Group Member Evaluation tool, elements of self, peer, and group assessment were issued to ensure accountability, reduce free-riding, and stimulate self-regulatory skills. A four level rubric was also presented to students, which reflected “the way that graduates will be assessed when they get into the world of work.”

Below you can find a brief breakdown of the activity setting: 

  1. Group Project Check In – 10%: Students attended Project Brief sessions, established Team Agreement, and engaged in a GME formative task
  2. Individual Oral Validation – 20%: Each student worked on Project Summary in the form of live/recorded presentation to demonstrate their oral communication skills  
  3. Group Project Hand in – 40%: Students conducted group presentations to client or wrote a report, before completing a  GME summative task    
  4. Reflection – 10%: Students reflected on their strengths and weaknesses, then set goals for next activities.

Assessment of learning outcomes

Overall, the integration of multilevel feedback and assessment was a success, according to Dr. Gunning.

“Self and peer assessment at our faculty has provided teaching teams with evidence of student engagement, as well as enabling students to hold each other accountable within the task.”

In another course, the Deakin team moved from a paper-based model to the online model for the TBL activity, using FeedbackFruits Team Based Learning tool. The activity was designed following the main steps of the team-based learning process.

Read more about TBL and its main activity steps:

Most importantly, instead of organizing one TBL activity, three Consensus workshops were organized to help students get familiar with the approach and develop transferable skills. The workshops were followed by a reflection step, where students reflect on their own performance and make plans for the future. Only the third and reflection steps were graded. Here is a breakdown of the activity design:

About the activity:

Students worked in teams to develop their understanding of a real-world problem. The teaching team took on the role of facilitator and applied the team-based learning approach. The entire course consisted of 4 main components: 

  1. Consensus Workshop 1 – 0% (formative task)
  2. Consensus Workshop 2 – 0% (formative task)
  3. Consensus Workshop 3 – 30%(summative task)
  4. Reflection – 10% (self management)

Notable outcomes

Step 3 | Collecting feedback and scaffolding across all courses

The teaching team has just concluded the trial phase during the first trimester, in which authentic assessment tasks were implemented across six core subjects at all course levels. To scale the project to more classes and subjects (a total of 23 according to the KPIs) for the upcoming trimester, feedback was collected. The plan is to operate authentic assessment tasks over 12 months, with focus on first year courses. And for the long-term vision, Dr. Gunning hoped to get more units and subjects on board with this project.

“We will not narrow our focus to just these three touch points in every course, what we're hoping to do is spread the love and hope for some additional units to come on board in this space.”

Possible variation

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