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Authentic Assessment Tasks: Students take a deep approach to learning

By Sujana Adapa / April 2015

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Students' overdependence on teachers can impede their independent studying abilities. Contemporary teaching methods are often criticized for relying heavily on the teacher-centered approaches [1]. A student-centered solution is needed. Existing research calls for embedding a deep approach to learning to enhance the critical thinking and problem-solving skills of the learners [2], as employers are increasingly looking for these qualities in potential hires. Academics need to focus on integrating deep approach to student learning that fosters adequate student engagement and heightened curiosity with the subject matter \ [3]; as it also correlates with the students' intention to understand and helps students to construct their view of reality [4]. Furthermore, students demonstrate critical analysis of new ideas by linking to the known theoretical concepts and principles. Their problem-solving abilities also improve. They experience active interaction with peers and the course coordinator, and display the ability to distinguish between argument and evidence. They are also able to make connections with the subject content and link the course content to real-life, industry specific situations. Given this contextual background, educators can direct students' to engage in active learning process by way of generating authentic assessments in the learning environment [5].

Distance education offers a unique context from traditional classroom learning. The effectiveness of the learning process is correlated to the interaction that exists between the educator and the students. The lack of physical interaction between the educator and the students in the online classroom offers distinct challenges in terms of student engagement patterns. At the University of New England (UNE), which is traditionally known for distance learning, it is often a challenge for instructors to effectively engage students in an online environment. This article will specifically focus on two undergraduate marketing courses, for which innovative and technology-based teaching resources were developed to enhance student engagement with the subject content.

Teaching Resources and Assessment Tasks

At the UNE Business School, the marketing instructors' approach to teaching traditionally focused on the development of interactive multimedia resources and constructive alignment of these resources with various formative assessment tasks and summative assessment tasks. However in two third-year, undergraduate marketing courses (e.g., MM314 Services Marketing and MM316 Strategic Marketing), an embedded learner-centered approach was introduced through the development of interactive multimedia resources such as case studies, online activities, audio podcasts, lecture summaries, and presentations that initiate subject-based dialogue between peers and between the learner and the instructor.

Authentic Assessments

Assessments feed into the learning process. At UNE, the goal was to develop authentic assessment tasks by integrating ongoing formative tasks that support the students' ability to articulate the subject content with greater clarity using summative assessment tasks, which met the needs of employers and offered educative value. The assessment tasks that were developed aligned to goals of subject, course, discipline, profession, and higher education [6]. Assessment tasks linked to industry were also outcomes of student learning as these tasks enabled students to present possible solutions and arguments to a real-world problem. Students were involved in the client and provider relationship in a real-life industry context, which allowed them to learn a process integral to their future professional work life [7].

The formative assessment tasks included scenario-based case studies and assessment tips that enhanced problem solving, critical thinking abilities, and a deeper approach to learning.

  1. Summative assessment tasks, in the form of application-based services marketing plans and strategic marketing plans, fostered authentic learning and achievement of quality learning outcomes.
  2. Clear and comprehensive assessment tasks integrated the theoretical concepts with real-life work situations.
  3. Detailed formative and summative feedback assisted distance learners in developing core competencies required for contextualized learning. The feedback included feed-forward elements that were generative in terms of explicit suggestions for areas of improvement.

The commitment to distance learners and the approach taken to develop quality assessment tasks, feedback, and learning support fostered ongoing student engagement, as well as a self-regulated learning and study experience.

Student Evaluations

The learning resources were restructured to ensure key concepts were grounded in real-life examples; readings and resources were made more relevant to learners' lives and their career aspirations. Over a three-year period, 2011-2013, students were asked to share their feedback at the end of their respective course. Learners commented: "[the] learning material seemed very relevant and useful for a future career in marketing" and "I like the real life case studies." Formative assessment tasks encouraged deep learning and provided evidence about the learners' understanding of the subject content and achievement of the learning outcomes. Another learner shared the following, "I really enjoyed the article, it was a great exercise and I thoroughly enjoyed the critical thinking aspects." The summative assessment tasks encouraged learners to think beyond the prescribed unit content, discipline, and university environment to expand their knowledge, skills, and core competencies by applying their understanding to real-life situations.

Distance students' appreciated the application-based learning as "the opportunities to put into practice the concepts and create our own marketing plan," explained one student. Formative and summative feedback provided to learners allowed them to become self-regulated learners by monitoring their own work in the absence of face-to-face contact with the educator. Students noted the instructor "provided thorough, timely, and outstanding feedback with areas for improvement." The excellent students results, low attrition rates, and grading distributions are further evidence of the positive influence the revised teaching approach has had on self-regulated learning and quality study experience—attrition rates dropped from 7.14 percent to 2.30 percent for MM314 and from 10.96 percent to 5.80 percent for MM316.

Project Impact

In the case of UNE, teaching was revitalized in the marketing discipline through the development of interactive multimedia resources at the undergraduate level. Efforts have resulted in teaching innovations such as technology-enabled interventions to assess off campus and online teaching, the latter being of high-strategic importance for the entire university. These efforts have led to a number of University-wide course commendation awards, consistently high student and unit evaluations outcomes, lower student attrition rates, higher student GPAs, and continuing praise from students regarding their learning experiences within the marketing discipline. MM314 and MM316 are two important distance courses within the Bachelor of Business program at UNE, and thus have large, diverse student enrollments. This created challenges for enhancing student engagement with threshold concepts and approaches; meeting those challenges in the online environment required innovative teaching resources and integration with industry specific assessment tasks. Before these initiatives, engagement and interaction with the Moodle Learning Management System was minimal and instruction at the third-year level had been less than inspiring. Things have significantly been turned around to the point where the pedagogical approaches in these units fostered a deep approach to learning. Encouraged by deeper learning approaches students showed intrinsic curiosity with the subject, active engagement on the discussion forums, and performed well in the academic work. Students developed better time management skills and exhibited a positive experience to education leading to confidence and study success. As deep learners students showed interest in intellectually stimulating and challenging assessment tasks that allowed them to demonstrate their understanding of the course content and suggest solutions to the real-industry problem.


[1] Ganda, F., Ngwakwe, C. and Ambe, C. M. Independent research and a deep approach to learning of accounting concepts: Students' view. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences 5, 6 (2014), 75-89.

[2]Burnett, S. The future of accounting education: A regional perspective. Journal of Education for Business January/February (2003), 129-134.

[3] Biggs, J. B. Teaching for Quality Learning at University Buckingham. SRHE and Open University Press, 1999.

[4] Gijbels, D. and Dochy, F. Students' assessment preferences and approaches to learning: Can formative assessment make a difference? Educational Studies 32, 4 (2006), 399-409.

[5] Grayling, I. Learning theories: In initial teacher training. East Midlands Centre for Excellence in Teacher Training, 2011.

[6] Pelliccione, L. and Raison, G. Promoting the scholarship of teaching through reflective e-portfolio in teacher education. Journal of Education for Teaching 35, 3 (2009), 271-281.

[7] Axelsson, M., Eriksson, M. and Wideström, J. Negotiated and authentic assessment with a focus on creative processes: Case studies from courses in digital media. Shifting Perspectives in Engineering Education. Ed. Michael F. Christie. Chalmers Strategic Effort on Learning and Teaching (C-SELT), Chalmers University of Technology, 2006.

About the Author

Dr. Sujana Adapa is a senior lecturer in management (strategy and marketing) in the UNE Business School at the University of New England (Australia). Adapa principally teaches marketing related units such as introduction to marketing, services marketing, strategic marketing and consumer behavior. Her research areas include small- and medium-sized regional firms, corporate social responsibility, innovation adoption, destination branding, and cross-cultural consumer behavior. She has attracted small research grants from the Institute for Public Accountants and the UNE Business School to investigate various marketing and management issues within the small and medium sized regional accounting firms.

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