Authentic assessment and pedagogical strategies in higher education.

Author:Fook, Chan Yuen
 
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INTRODUCTION

Assessment is central to teaching and learning. The assessment information is needed to make informed decisions regarding students' learning abilities, their placement in appropriate levels and their achievement. According to Sadler (2005), assessment refers to the making of evaluation on students' overall performance and generating assumptions regarding their learning and production education-wise, which include the quality or achievement in tasks such as tests, projects, reports and examinations. In the other hand, the success of any assessment is depending on the effective selection and use of appropriate procedures as well as on the proper interpretation of students' performance. Thus, assessment procedures also help in evaluating the suitability and effectiveness of the curriculum, the teaching methodology and the instructional materials.

Van der Watering et al. (2008) note that students considered the traditional assessment to be primarily a measurement consisting of comprehension and application-based questions that required the drawing of conclusions, problem solving, analysis, interpretation and critical thinking. The correlations between student preferences and assessment perceptions in their findings were not significant due to the existence of a distinction between student preferences and their perceptions. Today, a common method advocated to improve student achievement is the use of formative assessments, both to improve the pedagogical practises of teachers and to provide specific instructional support for lower performing students (Dunn and Mulvenon, 2009). In fact, the formative assessment methods of assessing students take into account variation in students' needs, interests and learning styles; and they attempt to integrate assessment and learning activities. In the integral process of learning and instruction only high quality assessment can facilitate high-quality learning. Mueller (2005) observes that while researchers in higher education have proposed a series of changes such as alternative assessment to replace traditional assessment, these proposals have yet to be implemented in many institutions.

Therefore, institutions of higher education have to revisit their purpose of assessment if they hope to equip their learners with skills and competencies needed to succeed in today's workplace. Boud (2000) highlights that such an endeavor calls not only for formative but what he terms as 'sustainable assessment'. He cautions that current assessment in higher education is inadequate to the task of preparing students for a lifetime of learning. Besides that, Boud and Falchikov (2005) suggest that educators need to move from summative assessment that focuses on specifics, standards and immediate outcomes to more sustainable assessment that can aid students to become more active learners not only in managing their own learning but also assessing themselves to life beyond the end of the course. They added that there has been considerable critique of both the adequacy of current formative assessment to aid student learning to the ill effects of summative assessment. Boud and Falchikov (2005) further highlight that most of the critique has focused on the effect on learning within courses not on learning following graduation. They note that balancing this, however has been the flourishing of an array of authentic assessment procedures designed to overcome the limitations of traditional unseen summative and norm referenced standardized tests.

Authentic assessment emphasizes the practical application of tasks in real-world settings. Mueller (2005) defines authentic assessments as direct measures of students' acquired knowledge and skills through formal education to perform authentic tasks. The realistic contexts can make problems more engaging for students and help the teachers evaluate whether a student who can solve a problem in one context can transfer the skills to a similar setting. Besides that, research has conclusively demonstrated that the use of formative assessment facilitates improvement in instructional practices, identifies "gaps" in the curriculum and contributes to increased student performance (Dunn and Mulvenon, 2009). Hence, to perform these authentic tasks, students need to construct their own meaning to the world through the application of previously acquired information from classroom teaching and learning (Airasian, 2005; Linn and Miller, 2005).

Pellegrino et al. (2001) assert that authentic assessments provide multiple paths to demonstration of learning in comparison to traditional assessments like answering multiple-choice questions that lack variability, owing to students' ability to demonstrate knowledge and skills they possess. Authentic tasks tend to provide more freedom to demonstrate their competencies, for example, business proposals, projects, portfolios, artwork and videos, among other tangible products. Additionally, options for authentic assessment may include evaluating the work of cooperative learning groups, ideas for assessing problem-based or active learning experiences. These methods of assessment practices may help to create options for divergent learners and provide opportunities for applying practical and higher order cognitive skills. Through these, students are encouraged to take an active role in their own learning from the elaborate projects of the authentic assessments. The nature of these assessments contribute to constructive and transformative learning. Importantly, formative types of authentic assessments help to decrease the level of anxiety generated by emphasizing the aspect of the 'doing'.

Craddock and Mathias (2009) reiterate that formative assessments produced a much more favorable outcomes when the collected data is compared with results obtained from summative assessments due to most of the participants were encouraged to open up because they felt that there were not intimidated with formative assessments. They however cited Hamdorf and Hall (2001), in pointing out that a poorly developed formative assessment can potentially be unproductive and dangerous to students who are weak when referred to the relations between learning and assessment and how formal assessment can undermine the curriculum's learning target. Dunn and Mulvenon (2009) go on further to add that it is difficult to conclude that the use of formative assessments does not provide information to help improve instructional practices or student outcomes in classrooms. Nevertheless, the many benefits of authentic assessments display the fact that certain procedures and practices in higher education need to be initiated to move this agenda in the right direction.

In the past assessment was rarely seen as a process of bringing out the potential that exists within students and creating an opportunity for them to demonstrate what they were able to do. Most of the time, assessments were only used to certify students' learning. Many learning institutes have forgotten the ultimate purpose of the assessment actually is not only to prove but also to improve students' learning (Boud and Falchikov, 2005; Linn and Miller, 2005; Craddock and Mathias, 2009). On top of that, assessment was rarely interpreted in such broad concepts as today-i.e., as an 'an integral part of the educational curriculum and fulfilling multiple purposes: Fostering learning, improving teaching, providing valid information about what has been done or achieved and enabling pupils and others to make sensible and rational choices about courses, careers and other activities. Thus, researchers have noted that there is a mismatch between curriculum content and assessment practices. At the moment, the focus is still on the assessment of learning and not much on assessment for learning (Boud and Falchikov, 2005). If the current move is to witness any success in teaching and learning, it is only sensible that lecturers in institutions of higher education are implementing authentic assessment. Therefore one has to examine the implementation of authentic assessment in higher education. The dean, coordinators and lecturers needs to be consulted regarding with policy of authentic assessment in the faculty. Furthermore, students as the main clients in higher education need to be consulted as to their views and perceptions of...

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