What Are Authentic Assessments?
Authentic assessments are cognitively complex, performance based evaluations that focus the context of learning on real life situations similar to those found in the professional environment (Frey, Schmitt, , & Allen, 2012). You might also hear authentic assessments referred to as workforce-relevant assessments. These types of assessments involve a shift away from traditional delivery methods such as essays to more practical applications of learned skills in a practice environment (Raymond, Homer, Smith, & Gray, 2013).
The result of these assessments is a more meaningful experience that engages critical thinking (Poindexter, Hagler, & Lindell, 2015) and metacognitive processes through a focus on self-evaluation and monitoring (Ashford-Rowe, Herrington, & Brown, 2014). In addition, by focusing on issues and situations extracted from contemporary practice, students can also learn through the delivery method or construction of the assignment in addition to the content therein (Litchfield & Dempsey, 2015). For example, the completion of an executive summary may be more valuable to a nurse completing a master’s degree with a focus on administration than a multiple-choice exam covering similar content. Learning how to complete an executive summary is a skill they will use in their new role as a nurse manager, and is an experience that is more authentic to what they will experience as a professional in the workforce.
Benefits of Authentic Assessments
When course designers and faculty speak about authentic assessments, we often speak about their value in terms of the student experience. However, faculty can also benefit from integrating authentic learning opportunities into their curriculum.
Because authentic assessments require students to have an increased level of engagement, courses that utilize authentic assessments may see the level of student engagement increase across the course. Students may be more willing to ask questions and seek help if they understand how the assessment directly impacts their performance on the jobs.
Authentic assessments also occur at some of the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy as these assessment types often require students to understand the basics before performing tasks. Student performance on authentic assessments can result in more advanced data on a student’s understanding of a concept. Assessments inspired by industry and workplace experiences can also strengthen connections between your program and relevant industries.
Hands-on experience is how we best close the skills gap between our graduates and what the workplace is looking for in a potential employee. When asked what colleges could have done to improve their ability to get a job after graduation, graduates overwhelmingly agree (66%) that making real-world work experience part of their coursework is the most important step instructors can take (Cengage, 2021).
In particular, graduates wished they had more opportunities for school-sponsored co-ops, internships, and local mentorships. The reality, though, is not every course can contain a co-op or an internship. However, individual instructors can consider revising their curriculum to include basic workforce-relevant practices, find ways to provide greater access to mentors or working professionals, and take inspiration from local businesses for assessments.
The Development Process
Begin by asking yourself “What should students know and be able to do at the conclusion of the assessment?” This question kicks off the development of all assessment types and content additions in your course. The answer to this question will help you to develop or identify the objective to which you need to align the assessment. It’s again important to note that your authentic assessment will likely ask students to complete tasks at the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
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