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Authentic Assessment: Engagement and Equity in Higher Education

Education in the 21st century is transforming pedagogical practices that put the students at the heart of education. Faculty are emerging from centuries-old teacher-focused practices to equitable and student-focused practices that engage the learners as they prepare to be productive members of society. Creating a learning environment for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) benefits the population we are preparing. And it makes teaching interesting, engaging, and fun for faculty!

Authentic Assessment

One method I have used to engage students is authentic assessments. These assessments use real-world activities to prepare students for the tasks, techniques, and skills of the workforce. Traditionally, educators assess students through passive, lower-order thinking, techniques (recall, summarize, explain) that require rote memorization and basic understanding. In authentic assessment, students actively use higher-order problem-solving skills to answer questions, and in doing so develop the critical thinking skills that prepare students for life beyond the classroom. Specifically, Shaffer and Resnick (1999) describe authentic education as using real-world problems/situations that allow learners to make meaningful and personal connections. When I am facilitating authentic assessments, I observe learners developing their skills for STEM-based careers like nutrition, nursing, kinesiology, food science, medicine, and beyond. Students develop the desirable 21st-century workforce skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creative thinking.

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The benefits of authentic assessment extend beyond preparing learners for the workforce. Active learning involves the student in the process vs. the product of learning, developing creativity and critical thinking skills that are beneficial to society. Completing assessments that are contextualized and relevant connect what is learned in the classroom to what is useful in their future professions and for participating in a global community. These assessments also employ best practices to support diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Specifically, authentic assessments allow learners to creatively share lived experiences and deepen learning while promoting empathy through exposure to different worldviews. Social justice is developed in my classroom with both traditional and non-traditional learners, which expands their understanding of others through the sharing of lived experiences to complete assessments.

Using authentic assessment also engages students who might otherwise sit passively in the classroom. While some students are successful (retention, persistence, and completion) in a traditional learning environment, others are not, and students of color are disproportionately impacted. Students (and teachers) report greater satisfaction with experiential, authentic assessment, which is correlated with student persistence and retention. Experiential learning also increases student self-efficacy and self-confidence. Authentic assessment aligns with recommendations for equitable pedagogy by having students demonstrate what they are learning vs. what they have memorized. Implementing authentic assessment promotes student achievement while simultaneously developing a productive society with workforce skills, social skills, critical thinking, and empathy.