Effective assessment should be competency-based, rather than credential-centred. That is, evaluation in online courses must stimulate the transfer of skills and prepare students for the real world, while still ensuring inclusivity and accessibility.
This is where authentic assessment comes in, with its focus on measuring students' success in skill-relevant and real-life scenarios. According to Jon Mueller, professor of psychology at North Central College, authentic assessment refers to “A form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills.” .
Authentic assessment calls for authentic feedback. Consistent, timely, and constructive feedback not only supports the teaching experience, but also provides students with multiple opportunities to reflect on and adjust their work according to the required standard  . This is highly authentic and similar to the workplace context.
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In fact, feedback at schools usually takes place at the end of the assignment, meaning it’s often not actionable or timely enough for students to act upon. Workplace feedback; however, happens throughout the performance in the form of 360 feedback, where action points stimulate improvements. This is why we believe authentic feedback should be emphasised more in higher education. To explore this, we will touch on the 5 core dimensions to authentic feedback , namely: realism, cognitive challenge, evaluative judgement, affective challenge, and enactment of feedback. But what do these entail and how can instructors optimise each dimension in online learning?
The 5 dimensions of authentic feedback:
One of the main goals for authentic feedback is to prepare students for handling comments in their future career, and “context is the key” to promote such realism. This dimension is divided into physical, which includes the settings, materials, and modalities of feedback; and social, referring to the real life situations that the feedback happens (on social media, between doctors and patients, etc.).
To promote realism in both physical and social contexts, instructors can rely on different teaching tools to create assessments that simulate real life scenarios. There are tools that allow instructors to create online conferences that resemble real-life symposiums, where students showcase their group’s research results in the forms of academic posters.
2. Cognitive challenge
Problem-solving and decision-making are two critical skills in professional scenarios. Therefore, university feedback should allow students to critically evaluate the received feedback and come up with solutions to resolve these comments. In online settings, instructors can rely on technology to provide authentic feedback moments that require the use of higher-order thinking skills. Many peer review teaching tools help teachers create peer feedback assignments where students submit their work, review their peers based on sets of criteria, and reflect on received comments to make appropriate improvements.
3. Affective challenge
Receiving and handling emotional challenges during feedback processes is a critical lifelong skill. This is probably the most difficult element to ensure when implementing authentic feedback, due to the cultural difference, levels, and perspectives. How can instructors help students to be mindful, sensible, and conscious when giving and receiving feedback?
One critical approach is to clarify and model quality feedback, which should be about self-awareness, positivity, and honesty.
Cultural background, personal profile and characteristics can influence how students produce and deliver comments, which sometimes affect the feedback objectivity. That’s why instructors need to help students navigate the feedback and get out of the profiles that they tend to adopt.
Feedback should be positive. Most researchers are of the view that feedback targeting the process, performance and self-reflection are more effective than personal appraisal or compliments. Positive feedback can have positive effects when accompanied by detailed reasoning and elaboration. When instructors point out to the students “why do I like this?” and justify “I like this because …”, students develop a sense of transparency and are able to incorporate the feedback into their learning.
Be honest and specific about the good and bad points when giving feedback. The goal of feedback is to provide information to help the receivers improve their final work. If this information is incorrect, learners won’t be able to realise their mistakes and make timely adjustments. In other words, there would be no opportunities for growth and development if the feedback is neither detailed nor honest.
4. Evaluative judgement
This dimension emphasises how feedback can stimulate students’ ability to gauge their own work, and to incorporate the comments for higher-quality performance. There are several ways to integrate opportunities of evaluative judgements throughout the assessment and feedback process.
Long-term projects like journals, reports, or e-portfolios are considered effective strategies to initiate formative, continuous feedback that provoke evaluative judgments and improvements. Providing transparent feedback criteria is another effective approach, since students need to be able to critically reflect on their own and others’ work. In a real life context, employees need to develop a thorough understanding of industry standards to match their products accordingly. Check out either of these articles for in-depth tips on best approaches to formulate quality rubrics and peer feedback criteria.
5. Enactment of feedback
Authentic feedback should encourage students to take action. In many professions, feedback is seen as the input to adjust and improve the performance. That’s why university feedback should give learners opportunities to respond and act as a professional would in the real life contexts.
Instructors can rely on long-term assignment projects which involve students working on a product and receiving feedback to continuously modify and adjust before final submission. It can even be more authentic if the task is divided into different stages, where students hand in the first draft, receive comments, then improve the subsequent submissions.
The online transition has highlighted the role of authentic assessment and feedback in promoting the transfer of knowledge and skills. With an innovative mindset and the aid of learning technology, educators can successfully implement these practices. For further insights into how to facilitate effective assessment and feedback, our ebook ‘Feedback for learning: A comprehensive guide’ aims to support your educational innovation.
Nhi Nguyen is a content specialist at edtech scale-up FeedbackFruits, writing blogs and content on different aspects of teaching and learning in higher education. You can find out more about her writing (blogs and ebooks) on the FeedbackFruits website.
 Conrad, D., & Openo, J. (2018). Assessment strategies for online learning (1st ed.). AU Press.
 Dawson, P., Carless, D., & Lee, P. P. (2020). Authentic feedback: Supporting learners to engage in disciplinary feedback practices. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher
 Gray, D. M., Brown, C., Maki, M. J., & Schulte, K. (2013). Authentic Assessment in Online Education. Source.
 Dawson, P., Carless, D., & Lee, P. P. (2020). Authentic feedback: Supporting learners to engage in disciplinary feedback practices. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 46(2), 286-296. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2020.1769022
 Mathur, S., & Murray, T. (2006). Authentic assessment online. Online Assessment, Measurement and Evaluation, 238-258. Source.
 Mueller, J. (2008). What is authentic assessment? (Authentic assessment toolbox). Jon Mueller.
 Shaw, A. (2020). Authentic assessment in the online classroom. Center for Teaching and Learning | Wiley Education Services. Source.
Transforming Assessment in Higher Education
Assessment should be designed in ways that promote student learning; whether learning the subject or broader level. Advance HE believes that attention to the methods of assessment and feedback and the use of self-assessment and peer-assessment, coupled with tenets, is fundamental to student learning. Find out more.