Contributor: Lynda Davies

Current discussions in political, global, social and economic spheres suggest that the world of work has changed, is changing and will continue to change significantly in the near future and we need to take note that these changes affect groups of people very differently.

In Higher Education we ask – how can we prepare our graduates for a future that is so uncertain? Just last week at this year’s TEQSA conference, Australia’s Chief Scientist talked about helping our graduates become job capable rather than job ready. And this is where authentic learning and assessment can help.

Through authentic learning and assessment our graduates will become capable of identifying issues, applying their knowledge, adapting their methods and transferring ideas and skills from one context to another in such a way that they can anticipate and move with the changes happening around them. They will be capable of working into the future, rather than just being ‘ready’ for a specific set of tasks in a specific context right now.

There are a variety of definitions of authentic assessment with the conventional notion tending towards tasks and activities that are real-to-life or have real-life value. While preparing our tipsheet on authentic assessment (see below) it became clear that in the literature there were other ideas that were also valued:

  • Authentic tasks should challenge students to determine how their existing knowledge fits with new knowledge
  • authenticity often requires students to perform a relevant and meaningful task (rather than select or provide answers in exams, for example); and
  • students are asked to realistically apply their knowledge and skills (Litchfield & Dempsey, 2015).

The fidelity (or faithful nature) of the authentic assessment depends on a number of things including:

  • the correspondence between the artificial and real situations so that the tasks closely represent the situations they are simulating (Sadler, 2010); and
  • how closely the task design simulates and measures a real-world test of ability (Ashford-Rowe et al, 2014, p 209)

Hence we could consider the following:

  • is the context and environment created in the course providing an appropriate replica or contextual anchor that reflects the targeted conventions and conditions realistically (Maclellan, 2004)?
  • How much detail of the simulated environment is necessary for the task?
  • Does it/can it/should it include culturally appropriate language, graphics, tools, topics, and conventions so students can become familiar with the environment about which they are learning (Ashford-Rowe et al, 2014, p 209)?

With these ideas influencing our design of assessment and their preparatory learning activities, we build visible illustrations of relevance into our course work which positively affects our students’ perceptions of the tasks and correspondingly their engagement and depth of learning (Maclellan, 2004). Therefore the nature of the task (and its learning activities), and whether it measures what is truly important, is critical.

Part of the challenge of good authentic assessment is that it is purposely designed to require complex responses that are not necessarily clear cut, obvious, or ‘correct’. There are often different ways to complete the task and there might even be different ‘answers’ that are ‘right’. This, in itself, reflects the complexity of the world our graduates will engage with and we can prepare them for it with the deliberate, structured and scaffolded design of our learning activities and assessment.


Look at your assessment plan for your course/s and use the “Features of Authentic Assessment” table from our tipsheet to consider your task designs.

Talk to your Program Director to consider authentic assessment at a programmatic level as well, and explore developing a possible authentic assessment program plan with colleagues.


Assessing Authentically

Further Reading:

Ashford-Rowe, K., Herrington, J., & Brown, C. (2014). Establishing the critical elements that determine authentic assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 39(2), 205-222. doi: 10.1080/02602938.2013.819566

Maclellan, E. (2004). Authenticity in assessment tasks: A heuristic exploration of academics’ perceptions. Higher Education Research and Development, 23(1), 19-33.

Litchfield B., & Dempsey, J. (2015). Authentic assessment of knowledge, skills and attitudes. New Directions for Teaching and Learning. 142(Summer).65-80. doi: 10.1002/tl.20130

Lodge, J., Hansen, L., & Cottrell, D. (2015). Modality preference and learning style theories: rethinking the role of sensory modality in learning. Learning: Research and Practice. doi: 10.1080/23735082.2015.1083115

Sadler, D. Royce. (2010) ‘Fidelity as a precondition for integrity in grading academic achievement’, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(6) 727-743. doi: 10.1080/02602930902977756

Vu, T & Dall’alba, G., (2014). Authentic assessment for student learning: an ontological conceptualisation. Educational Philosophy and Theory. 46(7). 778-91. doi: 10.1080/00131857.2013.795110


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