What was the activity?
This case study explores the creation of an authentic and meaningful assessment for a 20-credit online Masters level practitioner research module as part of a Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCAP). Participants on the module research an aspect of their own teaching or student education practice (for example, exploring student perceptions of hybrid learning, facilitating sense of belonging, developing academic literacy). Underpinning our approach to the module and its assessment is a shared belief amongst the team that it is essential to prepare participants for the development of their professional practice and for disseminating future scholarship activities. This interpretation fits with that of Gulikers, Bastiaens and Kirschner (2004, p.69), who define authentic assessment as: ‘an assessment requiring students to use the same competencies, or combinations of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that they need to apply in the criterion situation in professional life’.
In the past, participants submitted a project dissemination piece (either a report, a post for the institution’s student education blog [with a commentary/critique], or a journal-style article), accompanied by a reflection on the experience of conducting research on their own student education practice. Successful aspects of this included some participants using their assessments (for example, a participant shared their report with a technology manufacturer) and several others adapted their assessments into a conference presentation for internal and external events. Though having a degree of authenticity, the module team wished to further increase the authenticity of the assessment, move away from a solely written assessment and make the assessment more inclusive.
The module cohort is diverse with participants from a range of disciplines and professional service departments. As educators, we believe it is essential that the programme models a high level of inclusivity and does not disadvantage any participants (such as those with strong quantitative research backgrounds, those with no research experience, or those who felt anxious about engaging in scholarship and researching their own practice). We also wanted participants to reflect on their own practice and to critique and review assessment in their own teaching context. Aligned with this, the module team wanted to refine the module learning outcomes (MLOs) for a variety of reasons, the most prominent being in response to the diversity of the cohort so that the assessment placed a larger emphasis on criticality and evaluation of their project, alongside reflection on the value of undertaking practitioner research.
By drawing on the work of Villarroel et al. (2018), a systematic review which identified thirteen characteristics of authentic assessment and then proposes a model based on them, we designed the new assessment with the following components: a poster, and a presentation of the poster with a question and answer session (we also retained the reflection on the experience of conducting practitioner research). The participants can share their posters and presentations with colleagues within their school/department and beyond. Indeed, one student applied successfully for funding from their research council to build on their PGCAP project (see below for further comments on the evaluation). In addition, we hope that the module has gone some way to supporting the participants to develop not only the tools and skills required to undertake practitioner research but also the mindset to carry out research on their student education practice in future.
How did it impact students?
We await the formal evaluation data but, anecdotally, the response from the cohort and their mentors has been very positive. Some participants had prior experience of presenting academic posters within their discipline which helped others to see the value of it. The structure of the module and the scaffolding of activities was effective – particularly the formative presentations (with peer, mentor and tutor feedback), which built confidence to write abstracts to present their work at the institution’s annual student education conference – both in presentation format and in the poster exhibition. The feedback from the audience was very positive and this in turn helped to increase confidence, particularly amongst those with little or no previous experience of conducting research (and provided additional formative feedback). The comments from the sessions included invitations from other colleagues from other parts of the institution to share their work and, also, to collaborate on future projects.
Any advice for others?
Below are some recommendations based on this experience.
- Consult a broad range of colleagues and participants – including, where possible, current and previous cohorts. For example, it was very helpful to liaise with colleagues in other Schools and institutions about marking rubrics for posters and presentations
- Plan opportunities to examine the assessment documentation and for participants to raise any queries as part of an on-going conversation throughout the module. Draw on student voice and explore opportunities for student co-construction
- Include opportunities for formative assessment and regular opportunities for feedback
- Create opportunities to develop assessment literacy such as using the assessment criteria to evaluate and mark examples of work, to give feedback and to reflect on this process (in this case as both a participant and as a teacher)
- Reading: the body of literature on authentic assessment is growing. These were two helpful starting points:
- Sambell, K. and Brown, S. This is a helpful introduction and presents a growing selection of examples to explore. This resource also includes the Authentic Assessment Compendium (4 volumes).
- Villarroel, V., Bloxham, S., Bruna, D., Bruna, C. and Herrera-Seda, C. (2018). This systematic review usefully considers a range of sources on authentic assessment.
Gulikers, J., Bastiaens, T. and Kirschner, P. (2004) ‘A five-dimensional framework for authentic assessment’. Educational Technology Research and Development, 52(3), pp. 67-85.
Sambell, K. and Brown, S. ‘Covid-19 Assessment Collection’. Available at: https://sally-brown.net/kay-sambell-and-sally-brown-covid-19-assessment-collection/ (Accessed: 14 January 2022).
Villarroel, V., Bloxham, S., Bruna, D., Bruna, C. and Herrera-Seda, C. (2018) ‘Authentic assessment: creating a blueprint for course design’, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(5), pp. 840-854. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2017.1412396