Engaging students through authentic assessment

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This blog is based on an a recently published article in the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education (Cerimagic and Hasan, 2021), in which my co-author and I discuss authentic assessment as a pathway to improve teaching.

The unprecedented time and unexpected change due to COVID-19 called for innovative solutions for fostering engagement with the students and finding suitable eTools to promote engagement and support authentic assessment. At the start of the pandemic we had to transition to online learning rapidly. This required educators to move all content, activities, and assessment tasks very quickly onto Canvas, our university’s Learning Management System (LMS).

What do we mean by ‘Authentic Assessment’?

Authentic assessment is a pathway to improve teaching and engage students (Schultz et al. 2021; Sokhanvar et al. 2021; Villarroel et al. 2020), clearly ‘the way to go’ (Cumming & Maxwell, 1999). Authentic assessment tasks reflect real-life situations (Karunanayaka & Naidu, 2021; Sotiriadou et al. 2020Villarroel et al. 2018; Palm, 2008), connect classroom learning to real-world experiences (Villarroel et al. 2020; Ashford-Rowe et al. 2014), and emphasise practical application of tasks (Fook & Sidhu, 2010). Within an authentic assessment task, students demonstrate their capability to analyse and synthesise tasks in meaningful contexts (Ashford-Rowe et al. 2014; Swaffield, 2011) and engage with real-world activities that better reflect complex challenges they will face in the workplace settings (Sokhanvar et al. 2021; Ellis et al. 2020). Authentic assessment positively impacts motivation for learning (Schultz et al. 2021; Villarroel et al. 2020) and enhances the quality and depth of learning (Karunanayaka & Naidu, 2021; Villarroel et al. 2018). It fosters the development of graduate qualities (Karunanayaka & Naidu, 2021), involves problem-based or active learning (Fook & Sidhu, 2010), or often project-based learning in STEM domains (Schultz et al. 2021).

Assessment design and implementation

Our article was based on a large unit of study, where we designed online assessments based on real-world scenarios and case analysis, requiring students to use critical thinking and analytical skills. This was an effective strategy during the pandemic and worked well for motivating and engaging students. During this process, we learnt that online teaching offers enormous opportunities for educational innovation, including authentic assessment implementation.

We developed several authentic assessment tasks to encourage student engagement and learning:

Icebreaker activities. These were linked to the weekly topic were carried out at the beginning of each workshop. We used Mentimeter for the icebreaker activities and most of the students (73.5%) agreed that participating in these activities motivated them to engage in the workshops.

Reflective ePortfolio –video log (‘Vlog’). There was a lot of content covered in this unit, and a Vlog was one way to engage the students to reflect on each of the perspectives/topics they covered. Most of the students (89%) said they enjoyed the ‘Vlog’ assessment task.

Workshop Presentation Debates. These were carried out in groups of five. Students had to split into two sides in their group–a ‘For’ and an ‘Against’ side. Students then worked together (as a team) to present both sides of an argument for their designated debate topic using the lecture materials and resources. This enhanced their communication and presentation skills. The majority (78%) of the students indicated that the workshop presentations benefited their learning. Some workshops were run face-to-face, and for these the students did the debates in front of the class, but the majority of the workshops were conducted online using Zoom, as most of our students were studying remotely.

We also utilised Jamboard where possible. Jamboard is an easy-to-use e-Tool to get the whole class engaged. One downside to Jamboard is that it can only support up to 50 students at one time. Thus, when our class had more than 50 students, we had to switch over to Padlet (another eTool). Most of our students (67%) indicated that these tools helped support their assessment requirements.

Conclusion

Authentic assessment can play a critical role in improving students’ learning experience by enhancing their engagement. Our aim was to foster student engagement in a predominantly online delivery model, which encouraged active and peer learning. Moreover, we sought to create relevant, innovative, and authentic assessment supported by opportunities to receive and share feedback from academics and their peers.

Our recommendations for others trying to implement similar practices are to ensure that pedagogy takes precedence, to explore and pilot several eTools, and to provide detailed assessment instructions that guide students through the process.

Implementing authentic assessment is a challenging process. It requires educational leadership and a desire to ensure that the unit of study serves the needs of students and prepares them for employment. Future studies on assessment design in postgraduate computing education may incorporate the learnings from this case study to enhance graduate attributes and employability.

Acknowledgements

A massive ‘Thank You’ to Dr Anna Young-Ferris | Lecturer, Discipline of Accounting | The University of Sydney Business School. Dr Anna Young-Ferrisis is an extraordinarily talented and fabulous academic, and she and her team have made this research possible.

Ms Courtney Shalavin | Learning Designer, Business Co-Design | The University of Sydney Business School. Courtney is a creative genius and a huge ‘thank you’ for your insight and advice, and feedback.

Dr Matthew Taylor | Researcher: Learning, Technology and Innovation, Business Co-design| The University of Sydney Business School. A big ‘thank you’ to Dr Matthew Taylor, for his detailed evaluation and analysis work.

Sabina Ćerimagić

Dr Sabina Ćerimagić is a Senior Lecturer and Deputy Academic Director of the Business Co-Design (BCD) team, at the Sydney Business School, at the University of Sydney.

Sabina’s main research areas are: educational pedagogy, project management, change management, leadership and motivation, cross-cultural project management and training, curriculum redesign, curriculum renewal through design thinking, systems thinking, design-based research, higher education pedagogy, and technology integration.

Published by Sabina Ćerimagić

Dr Sabina Ćerimagić is a Senior Lecturer and Deputy Academic Director of the Business Co-Design (BCD) team, at the Sydney Business School, at the University of Sydney. Sabina’s main research areas are: educational pedagogy, project management, change management, leadership and motivation, cross-cultural project management and training, curriculum redesign, curriculum renewal through design thinking, systems thinking, design-based research, higher education pedagogy, and technology integration.

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