Focus on pedagogic research

This issue’s focus on pedagogic research (PedR) takes a look at a recently published article: ‘The role of authentic assessment to preserve academic integrity and promote skill development and employability’

LITE Research Support Officer, Katie Livesey, examines the key issues here for the Bulletin.

This paper explores a range of interventions to tackle familiar challenges in learning and teaching within the changing landscape of higher education and addresses a number of pertinent issues in the debate around assessment.

Interestingly, the discussion also focuses on the increasingly common, and worrying practise of contract cheating and suggests that authentic assessment approaches can improve academic practice and limits the ability of these companies to produce assignments for payment.

Academic integrity

Whilst an essay or report can be easily produced, completing a task based on a very specific local case study, for example, will be harder for someone to produce remotely.

Authentic assessment can easily be considered a ‘win-win’.

It engages students in useful activity that can be compared to ‘real life’ experiences thereby providing them with opportunities to gain and develop useful transferable skills.

Non-traditional approaches enhance engagement with learning, providing new experiences and approaches to assessing their understanding and knowledge.

Thinking creatively about how student learning can be assessed also offers solutions to the problem of plagiarism, poor academic practice and cheating.

Overview

This Australian-based study looks at interventions on two business degree programmes designed to provide a more ‘authentic’ study experience for students.

The study also explores how such interventions can remove the temptation for contract cheating.

A ‘scaffolding’ approach to assessment was taken. Scaffolding enables learning outcomes to be achieved in a series of smaller tasks, with each new task building on the previous.

The final assessment, of three, was a ten minute mock interview which further supported the aim of achieving authenticity in a learning experience that could be applied to the real world.

After each assessment students were asked to complete a questionnaire exploring their perceptions of how authentic they considered the task and how much they thought it improved their employability.

Students were also surveyed on their own academic practice and were asked how easy it would be to purchase an assignment that addressed the required task.

An outcome of the paper is a proposed framework for authentic assessment design and suggests six essential characteristics;

  1. scaffolding and support,
  2. scenario based,
  3. aligned to programme,
  4. learning outcomes,
  5. accessible and equitable and
  6. professionally focused.

Adaptable?

The study itself, and the framework, are thought provoking in that they raise points common in higher education discourse – the questions of ‘transferability’ and ‘scalability’.

The characteristics of ‘aligned to programme’ and ‘professionally focused’ will be much more tangible on more vocational programmes such as those in the study.

The link between the assessment tasks and an authentic work scenario are clear, but is it as easy to achieve such an authentic assessment diet on less vocational courses?

The positive contribution that authentic assessment can have on the student experience is rarely argued.

However, the use of mock interviews, numerous assessment tasks and individuality in the subject matter are much harder to use when dealing with large cohorts and can often be in contrast to current thinking on student, and staff, wellbeing.

Would increasing the number of tasks students have to complete – to achieve a scaffolding approach – be seen to add additional pressure?

Is delivering mock interviews to cohorts of 100, 200 or more a sustainable model?

Conclusion

Authentic assessment and academic integrity are big challenges in higher education.

The interconnectedness of the two are clearly demonstrated in this study and the creative interventions discussed have provided a valuable opportunity for relevant skills development for the students involved.

Positives can be drawn from this study but by bringing in insights from other disciplines and from different learning communities, for example size and demographics could contribute to culture change at institution level rather than quick wins at programme level.

The paper can be viewed and downloaded here.