The Power of Authentic Assessment in the Age of AI

Group of students in a lab discuss in a circle

Assessment has traditionally been viewed as an action conducted after the learning experience has taken place, resulting in it being a separate task from instruction. This is especially true for higher education. As educators, in order to advance our assessment methods so that it serves the learning of our students, it’s important to prioritize aligning the intended learning outcomes with assessment tasks. Moreover, assessment should be incorporated as an integral component of the student learning experience. In doing so, we should design assessments as an engaging, ongoing process for students, helping them learn and achieve their learning outcomes rather than considering it as a one-shot test or quiz and focusing merely on the score. 

Although faculty development programs and curriculum designers have been calling for such (assessment practice) forms of assessment, today, we are more in need of it than ever before. With the students’ ease of access to artificial intelligence tools and the unprecedented speed and accuracy that these tools can generate assignments for students, teaching professionals have to respond immediately and effectively to this new reality so they ensure that what students deliver is their own production, not that of an AI tool. Only this way can we ensure that the assessment is achieving its intended purpose, which is to get students closer to the intended learning outcomes.  

To this end, developing authentic assessment tasks might be the most effective approach for educators. Authentic tasks should be designed to represent what students do in their lives outside the educational institution and later when they graduate. This requires that they perform tasks intended for a real audience and the student has an active role that simulates their role in life. Here, students are required to conduct an actual performance instead of simply providing an answer to a question or responding to a prompt. Such tasks require careful design that integrates collaboration among the learners, self and peer assessment, and presenting their outcomes in various formats. Self-reflection is also a necessary component to help students think about their learning, evaluate their progress, and think about how their new learning fits into the bigger puzzle of their lives outside the context of their educational institution.   

Here are a few assessment strategies that fit the above criteria:  

  • Student demonstrations: Students can conduct science experiments, write short stories, create models and prototypes, and perform plays based on scripts they wrote. This requires them to do research so that they can demonstrate their skills. Such activities allow them to exercise their various learning styles, and highlights their strengths and interests.  
  • Student collaboration: Provide students with tasks that require teamwork. Students can be asked to assign different roles to different team members. They can also be required to hold several meetings to plan their work, put it together, review, and refine it. They can keep a record of it in the form of logs or minutes that the educator checks and provides feedback on. At the end of the task, each student reports on the part they worked on and how it added to the overall outcome. The team members can present their work to the teacher, class, or better yet, a real audience such as an invited audience, university counsel, or municipality. 
  • Empirical research: Students can work on collecting data that pertains to one of their learning objectives. They can do this through interviews, observations, and focus groups. They can present evidence to support their findings, such as photos, videos, and statistics. Presenting the findings to a real audience motivates students to understand their work process so that they are ready to respond to audience questions.  
  • Presentations: While the above-mentioned activities can be followed by presentations, students can engage in other forms of oral presentations such as panel discussions, seminars, and debates. These require the students to prepare arguments based on evidence to support their claims, anticipate counterarguments by the audience, and be prepared to respond to them. This requires students to do research and exercise their higher-order thinking skills.  
  • Documentaries, podcasts, videos: These can be done to demonstrate knowledge of just about any course content that was covered.  
  • Teaching: Students might be required to teach something they learned in a specific course to peers, other classes, or groups of students. This requires them to form a deep understanding of the material before they can teach it to others. In addition, they have to think of ways to simplify the material so that it is comprehensible to others. 
  • Role-playing: Students might be given the choice of how they demonstrate their learning. Instead of traditional reporting through oral presentations or written essays, they can be given the chance to present it through a poem, sketch, story, song, painting, mind map, or cartoon.  
  • Reenactments: Students might create a reenactment of an event they took in their history course or any past event such as a political agreement.   
  • Case studies: Offer students real cases to study, enabling them to analyze the problems presented, devise practical solutions, and support their ideas using evidence from their research or class materials.
  • Exhibitions and fairs: These can be a good opportunity for students to showcase their learning products in a creative manner, such as posters, paintings, photographs and collages, models, prototypes, or portfolios. Students need to be ready to respond to the audience about the process of their work, the material used, and other questions they might be asked.  

While implementing any of these authentic assessment strategies with students, the following are practices that enhance the student learning experience and process:  

  • Make expectations clear to students from the beginning of the task. Providing a written timeline and criteria clarifies what is expected from students and gives them a focus. These expectations include how and to what extent students are expected to use AI tools and acknowledge doing so. This can be discussed for each assessment depending on its specifications. 
  • Integrate different assessment methods to form a holistic, precise, and reasonable evaluation system. 
  • Break down the task into comprehensible smaller tasks so that students are not overwhelmed by giving the entire task all at once.  
  • During the work process, provide students with constructive feedback that helps them stay on track and brings them closer to the intended learning outcomes. This allows students to have multiple opportunities to achieve their desired outcome instead of providing them with a one-shot chance to attain the required product.   
  • Align the task with the course learning outcomes and have students understand those alignments. 
  • Allow students room to critique the work process and propose their own processes and work rules.  
  • Make students aware of what artificial intelligence can and cannot do for them while studying and doing their academic work. It might help to show them examples of how AI might provide them with biased and incorrect information at times.  
  • Make it explicit how they can use AI in the classroom, and what would be accepted for a specific assignment and what would not be permitted.  
  • Above all, keep the conversation going with students to learn about their perceptions and experiences and share your own experiences with them. Keep ethics as the moral compass in these conversations to guide them to make appropriate decisions when using such tools. 

Along with what students are working on, a positive learning climate should be encouraged that does not overemphasize the importance of the grade and perceives errors as natural and necessary to learning. This includes putting the relationships between teachers and learners, and learners among each other, at the heart of the learning process.  

Dr. Siham Al Amoush is an experienced educator who specializes in teacher education and higher education professional development. She obtained her PhD in chemistry education from Bremen University/Germany. She has published several papers in international journals, covering topics such as teacher beliefs toward teaching and learning, curriculum design, and technology integration in the classroom. She is passionate about making a difference in the education system in both schools and higher education through sustained professional development that targets different levels within institutes. Currently, she is working as a senior faculty development specialist at the Center for Teaching and Learning at Qatar University. 

Dr. Amal Farhat has experience in teaching and instructional coaching at K-12 schools and higher education. She has worked in both the private and public sectors. Her interests mainly pertain to the development of professional learning communities through positive, constructive interactions among all stakeholders of an institution. In higher education, she has worked with students who are preparing to enter the teaching domain and faculty members to support them on their teaching practices. Amal holds a PhD in education from the doctoral institute at Lebanese University, a counseling in pedagogy diploma from St. Joseph University, and is CAEL certified from Harvard Graduate School of Education.