Currently reading about authenticity in assessment (Ajjawi et al., 2024)

Time for another iEarth Journal Club article summary, this time about authenticity in assessment!

In their article “From authentic assessment to authenticity in assessment: broadening perspectives”, Ajjawi et al. (2024) explore ways of conceptualizing authenticity. Authentic assessment has been around for a long time, and compared to other forms of assessment, it can lead to higher student motivation and also a more realistic idea of what students can do related to the kind of tasks they might encounter in a future workplace, which employers appreciate. It just sounds like an appealing idea in general. But the focus on the exact type of tasks that students might encounter is also limiting: Students might end up working in other places than those coupled directly to their studies, which is becoming increasingly common. Assessing reflection as a highly relevant workplace skill might lead to performative work rather than actual reflection. And importantly, by testing only current practice, it is “replicating the real-world status-quo”, rather than leading to transformation in society.

Ajjawi et al. (2024) therefore suggest to explore three facets:

1. Psychological authenticity

Whether the learners perceive an assessment as authentic depends on their general understanding of their profession, on their background, but also on information provided with the task. This last part is where teachers can highlight relevant features of the task: Is it something that someone in their profession would perform? When and where did the problem described in the task actually happen? Can students relate it to their own values and goals, and see themselves working on something similar in the future?

2. Ontological fidelity

Tasks are experienced as authentic when they are embedded in enough storified context that students can imagine themselves being in the situation, now or in the future. In this sense, authentic assessment is not just about what students know and whether they can show it on a task they might encounter in their future work, but also about who they are becoming and about whether they see themself WANTING to perform such a task in the future. So there needs to be room for students to reflect, to be critical, to suggest unconventional solutions, to relate to their current and future lives, to be their real selves.

3. Practice theory perspectives

Authenticity is messy because the reality is messy, too. But that makes assessment tasks messy — difficult for students to understand what the assessor wants, difficult for the assessor to measure against standards. So there is “tension of simplification versus realism, which can both support and detract from learning”. But this can be disclosed and discussed with students, including both student and teacher perceptions of and motivations for the task, which then might also contribute to the task being perceived as more authentic. The authors suggest that  “perhaps, to promote complexity, educators can work with students to adjust the assessment, in real time. This can be relationally intensive, but this may be the price of working with complexity.”

I really liked thinking of these different facets of assessment, and about authenticity can be perceived differently depending on who you ask. Especially focussing on the student becoming their future self, and being instructed and given space to imagine themselves in that role resonates with me, as well as that it needs to be negotiated: “authenticity being an emergent quality of educational processes that students engage in rather than a quality of the assessment task”. As the authors say, maybe not all, or maybe even none, of the facets might go into the design of a new assessment task, but it is definitely interesting to keep them in mind and explore what could be done! And to discuss this with colleages and students.

Ajjawi, R., Tai, J., Dollinger, M., Dawson, P., Boud, D., & Bearman, M. (2023). From authentic assessment to authenticity in assessment: broadening perspectives. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 1-12.

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