Best Practice

Designing authentic assessment

When your students leave UCC and find employment how many of them will have to – complete a MCQ with negative marking or a three-hour written exam ever again? Will your students ever have to apply the knowledge and understanding they have gained in higher education in this context ever again?Authentic assessment is far from a new concept. John Mueller, a professor of Psychology describes it as: form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills.

Although not a new concept, technology-enhanced learning tools have opened the door to a much richer variety of authentic assessment in recent years. In this blogpost, I will address some of these but I will begin with a more rudimentary example.

Recently, I had the good fortune to teach on a module from the MSc In Technology Enhanced Learning for Health. The MH6007 module was designed to introduce the students – typically involved in medical device development or learning and development in industry or higher education- to tools and pedagogies enabled by these tools.  I assessed this module in various ways:

  • Weekly discussion boards
  • A short MCQ
  • A group project
  • A 1500 written assignment

These assessments are not revolutionary and they all used the tools we all have at our disposal in UCC: Blackboard and Google Apps for Education. Each Discussion Board assessment spoke to real world reports and documents and how this would impact on their day to day as learning development and medical industry professionals. The Group project was a review of open source virtual learning environments based on a supplied rubric. The second written assignment involved writing a recommendation for a company based on a provided scenario.  These assessments allowed for a greater interrogation of student understanding and provide the student with important context for the didactic module content.

More elaborate ‘authentic’ assessment is imminently possible by leveraging some online and blended learning tools to develop detailed scenarios and case studies. These scenarios can involve more than just a binary right and wrong answer. You can have gradations of correctness to provide for the nuance and variability of the real-world context.  These would be constructed to work akin to a choose-your-own-adventure style where a menu of options is presented at specific points. Feedback is provided at each step to facilitate student learning.  Feedback is also calibrated to the individual student response leading to a more engaging and personalised learning experience. The first steps to building these authentic assessment scenarios would be to:

  • Characterise your student cohort
  • Characterise some typical real-world scenarios.
  • Speak to an Instructional Designer about how to realise this assessment for your learners.

A more advanced deployment of authentic assessment can be seen in the Vascular Simulation Suite in the ASSERT Centre ( a 360 degree photo of the teaching space is available here These simulators provide a full physics virtual reality simulation with detailed haptics and feedback. Given the high risk and high stakes involved in surgical procedures put an understandable high premium on the fidelity of the experience. While this is certainly true of some scenarios for many others context is more important than level of fidelity.

The Wrong Blood in Tube course provides a good example of the importance of context. The learners were all shown a recording taken using a head-mounted GoPro camera.  This recording showed the correct process with each step highlighted and annotated.  For the assessment, the learners were shown a video of incorrect practice and had to identify when errors were being made.  This assessment is now being refined to allow for additional follow up questions. Historically, there has been an aversion to showing incorrect practice to learners and trainees as some viewed this as a risk. The learner may internalise the bad practice rather than the correct one.  In this context though, this recording of poor practice was used as an opportunity for the learners to demonstrate their understanding of the correct process. Furthermore, feedback was provided during this assessment so the learner knew if they had omitted something or missed something. This rarely the case with MCQs and terminal exams in UCC as the ‘integrity’ of the assessment typically has to be maintained for future examinations and no feedback is provided.

Given the swathe of tools available now with the pedagogical and assessment diversity they allow for all academic disciplines, I would encourage us all to ponder authentic assessment as a means of enhanced the learning and assessment experience of UCC students. This diversity and potential will only increase as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality become more mainstream.