Design for Authenticity: Authentic Assessments in Online Distance Learning

In an online distance learning environment, information is simply a click away from students. The availability of information makes it harder for teachers to use simple recall-based assessments as means to gauge mastery in student learning. While it is not totally bad to check student’s understanding about basic and foundational concepts, teachers need to design assessments that target the higher tiers of the Bloom’s Taxonomy. In an online learning environment, performance-based assessments give the students the chance to demonstrate learning authentically by applying newly acquired knowledge and skills on real-world problems. Moreover, students should be able to create something that would demonstrate mastery in that given problem. In performance-based assessments, students are required to accomplish task-based challenges rather than simply recalling information that may not even be grounded on the given real-world problem.

The problem to be solved in an authentic assessment should be situated or seen in the various facets of the real world, such as in the workplace, civic life, immediate society, or most importantly, in the global community. Following the main principles of approaches such as problem-based or project-based learning, the wicked or main problem to be solved should be given to students at the beginning of the course. The early introduction and exposition of the main problem for the authentic summative assessment immerses students early on the online course. Students can become deeply engaged with the content, directly making sense of what they are learning at hand while at the same meta-cognitively connecting ideas and finding ways on how these sets of ideas and skills fit with each other. In these kinds of assessments, students are given the chance to exercise judgment and innovatively create a solution that solves the given problem. In an authentic assessment, teachers should be able to utilize online resources that allow students to rehearse skills, consult resources, and gather feedback that can inform and help them improve their performances and products.

In designing authentic online assessments, the following important steps are recommended:

  1. Identify key standards of the assessment.
  2. Identify tasks for students to perform or do that are grounded on real-world scenario. Identify accepted evidences of learning. 
  3. Identify performance or product task criteria.
  4. Develop rubrics for performance or product.
  5. Identify benchmarks or check-ins for the duration of the assessment.
  6. Plan for sharing to the public or to an authentic audience for feedback and showcase.

Technology tools in online learning should enable students to choose and decide how they will demonstrate their learning. Tech tools allow them to have a choice on which platform to use and how to create these products that target the given key standards. In an authentic assessment, students should not be simply submitting papers or answering long tests or quizzes. They too can use online tech tools to amplify their voices through creating and publishing their products or performances. With proper guidance and readiness especially with younger students, authentic assessments can be opportunities to give students voice and choice, thereby developing and promoting higher learner agency.

Tech Tips:


Note: This is an excerpt from the Independent Report to UNESCO on the status of education in this time of COVID-19 Pandemic, which I co-authored with Armand Doucet, Koen Timmers, and Dr. Deborah Netolicky. Access report here.

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