UW Continuum College Instructor Resources

Episode 4: Authentic assessment Part 1 transcript

J: Hi, and welcome to another podcast on effective course design. I’m Jan

P: And I’m Peter. What’s the topic today

J: Authentic assessment!

P: Okay. What’s that?

J: It just means testing what students have learned in a way that’s as close to a real-world situation as possible.

P: Umm. Give me some examples, OK?

J: Sure. You know we have a program that trains project managers. In the last course, we ask students to choose one of three actual projects—these are real-life situations—and take that project from start to finish. So they create a proposal, plans, the budget, the reports…They have to think about unforeseen problems like strikes or earthquakes or running out of materials…Then they present their solution to the other students, and they get critiqued, and they revise their plan until it gets full approval by their peers.

P: So, there’s no final exam? There’s no term paper? They just do what a real project manager would have to do?

J: Exactly! So if an employer asks if they can—oh, say, create a work schedule, or a budget, or make a presentation to the project’s owners—they can say, yes, I can, and here’s proof. Because I did it.

P: Wow. So the students can actually show evidence that they have the skills they’ll need on the job.

J: Right. So we want to be sure that what we’re testing really does provide evidence that students have the skills we know they’ll need to be successful.

P: How about another example?

J: OK, so in the Data Science program, we provide students with huge sets of real-world data like weather over several years or locations, or social events like how many people change addresses within a city every year, or information about the taxi system in New York City, and then we ask them to work with the data to discover new and interesting patterns. Those new patterns might lead to policy changes, or predictions, or even economic decisions.

P: Really interesting!

J: One more example. Our Guardianship program trains people in Washington State to be professional guardians of adults. So we have our students work with three fictional clients through the program, and they have to deal with both everyday problems and unexpected crises, and they sometimes have to make some pretty tough decisions. Then at the end of the program, they fill out all the required paperwork and write a 90-day plan of action, and—this is really cool! They present their paperwork and plan to an actual judge, who comes to the class, and they have to defend their plan for the judge’s approval.

P: Well, but you can’t anticipate every problem they’ll have to deal with–

J: No, you can never know what’s going to happen. But in all these examples, we provide students with good decision-making skills, and a look at what kinds of problems they may run into, and where they can go for help.

P: That sounds reasonable. But, why don’t we assign term papers to be sure they know all the facts they need?

J: That topic needs a new podcast, I think! Talking about testing basic skills and knowledge to build a good foundation. But just quickly: How many papers did you write in college?

P: Probably dozens

J: And what did you prove you could do, by writing all those papers?

P: Umm, that I could write a term paper?

J: Great! And how many term papers have you needed to write on the job—any job—since college?

P: Uh…none.

J: But there is this: writing a term paper shows that you can choose and narrow down a topic, research that topic, organize your thoughts about it, and write so the reader can understand what you’re trying to say.

P: But those seem like really useful skills.

J: And they are! So, how would, say, a project manager use those skills?

P: Well, they might need to write a report to the stakeholders…or maybe a memo about safety …or maybe a final report about how the project went, overall.

J: Right. So how would you test those skills in a project management training program?

P: OH! I get it! I’d ask student to practice writing reports to stakeholders, or memos to workers, or a final report.

J: You got it! And of course that means you need to teach them how to write an effective report or memo or whatever.

P: Right!

J: OK—That’s about it. Just remember that authentic assessment means we’re looking for evidence that students can do what they’ll need to do in a real job, and we set up situations that are as close to a real-world experience as possible.