Collaborate is focused on three key threads: Assessment, Employability and Technology. Within assessment we’re exploring several different ‘forms’ or ‘types’ of assessment approach, including those that most people within education will be familiar with, such as summative and formative assessment, but also some of the less well known approaches, such as synoptic, ipsative, diagnostic – and, it turns out problematically, authentic.
A key outcome from our recent steering group meeting was concern over use of this term ‘authentic’ when used in conjunction with assessment. It has been our intention to use the term authentic assessment to describe an assessment in which “students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills” (Jon Mueller, online). This practical application of theoretical knowledge seems perfectly in tune with our objective to change assessment practices in order to enhance employability.
The concerns that were raised in the steering group, though, centered around the issue that all assessment activity, and for that matter teaching & learning activity, could be considered to be authentic, in as much as they are all authentic in the context in which they are being applied. If we use one of the more general definition of authentic, i.e. that something is genuine, then by using the term ‘authentic assessment’ to describe those assessments which are most suited to the needs of employability, we run the risk of suggesting other assessments are not authentic, and therefore not genuine. This might have serious consequences for the amount of academic support we would receive.
“… no one wants to to construct an inauthentic assessment” (Palm, 2008)
Where does the term ‘Authentic Assessment’ come from?
The roots of the term seem to come from work with secondary schools rather than in higher education, a product of dissatisfaction in the US with multiple-choice assessments, and perhaps given that context it’s easier to see why the term became popular. When exploring the education and assessment of school children, those who will not yet have had the chance to experience any ‘professional’ life, the idea of giving them real world experiences is attractive and it is easier to see the contrast between their usual form of assessment and a more ‘authentic’ experience. For higher education though the boundaries between life and work and less clear and hence the term becomes problematic. This may in fact explain why the term has failed to gain much traction over the 20 years or so that it has been in common use.
There is another problem though – that definitions of exactly what is meant by authentic assessment do vary quite widely, and different communities tend to use it in different ways. Definitions can range from those that focus on emulations of real-world scenarios, to assessments that are aligned with curriculum, to simply assessments that effectively support learning. Without a strong definition guiding people in its use, the term has had little widespread adoption.
Time for a new definition – and even a new term?
So what to do? We think that we need to clarify not only the term that we’re using, but also the definition that we’re using. But we’d like your help! We’ve created a new definition and are offering several terms that we think might be most appropriate. If you have the opportunity, and inclination, we’d love to get your take on this subject, by filling out our “Defining Assessment” web form.