Designing, Implementing and Evaluating Online Authentic Assessments

Steps to Designing Authentic Assessments

Applying an authentic assessment in your course may seem like a daunting task. Many questions arise. Where do I start? How much time will it take? How do I grade it? Is it valid?
The remainder of this module offers guidance on designing, implementing, and evaluating authentic assessments.

In the Authentic Assessment Toolbox, Jon Mueller lays out four key steps in authentic assessment design (Mueller, 2018):

four steps to designing authentic assessments; described in caption
Credit: Durham College Centre for Teaching and Learning
Identify learning goals; Select and authentic task; Define the criteria for meeting learning goals; Develop a rubric

Authentic Assessment Design Steps

  1. Identify the learning goals
  2. Select an authentic task
  3. Define the criteria for meeting learning goals
  4. Develop a rubric

Follow along as we apply these steps to the design of an authentic assessment for a hypothetical course in Public Relations Management.

1: Identify the learning goals

As with any type of assessment, begin by outlining the knowledge, skills, and attitudes learners will be asked to demonstrate. Consult the course and program learning outcomes to identify relevant learning goals for the assessment. Create a list of what learners should know and be able to do, including any transferable skills. Remember that authentic assessments often measure the performance of more than one learning objective.


Read through the scenario. Use the arrows to navigate between slides.



2. Select an authentic task

Sometimes the learning outcome clearly denotes the authentic task the student must perform.

In other cases, we must ask ourselves how this knowledge and these skills would be applied in the real world. What discipline-specific tasks related to the learning goal would a graduate perform in the workplace? How could these skills be used in real life?

The following table lists examples of authentic assessment tasks suitable for online assessment.


Read through the scenario.



3. Define the criteria for meeting learning goals

As mentioned, authentic assessments require constructed, personalized, and creative solutions to real world challenges. This attribute often confuses instructors and teaching assistants when it comes to evaluating the assignment. Since there are no right or wrong answers, it is essential that the assessment design specify the characteristics of good performance.

Determining these evaluation criteria is perhaps the most challenging part of crafting an authentic online assessment. When defining the performance measures, focus only on the essential criteria necessary to meet the learning goals and match the number of criteria with the complexity of the task. Align the criteria to industry and professional standards of practice where appropriate.

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Involve learners in the criteria definition process by asking what good performance on the task means to them. Co-creating assessment criteria improves learners’ understanding of assessment expectations and what they must do to meet these standards of performance.


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4. Develop a rubric

The final step in authentic assessment design is to incorporate the criteria into an evaluation rubric. The rubric clearly describes the standards and expectations for each performance level. Rubrics are important tools when grading authentic assessments. They allow us to quickly evaluate diverse responses and solutions consistently and objectively by defining exactly what is being measured. Rubrics also make these expectations clear to learners, allowing them to focus on the important learning goals. Be sure to include the rubric in the assignment instructions to your learners. Consult Module 4 for step-by-step guidance on rubric development.


Read through the scenario.



Scaffolding for Success

Scaffolding is “an instructional strategy to provide students with a framework that guides and supports their learning” (Sardo & Sindelar, 2019). Strong scaffolding is essential for authentic assessments, as learners may still be developing the necessary skills for completing the tasks. The goal of scaffolding is not to make learners dependent upon this guidance, but to help them build their own abilities and work independently. Tailor scaffolding to what the learners most need and gradually reduce the supports as they progress through the assessment.

Here are a few scaffolding strategies to consider for your online authentic assessments (adapted from Sardo & Sinclair, 2019):

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In this video from Griffith University in Australia, Professor Popi Sotiriadou discusses the positive impacts of a scaffolded assessment approach in her second-year sports management course.

If your scaffolding strategy includes breaking the assessment into smaller deliverables, distribute the weight of each graded deliverable fairly. Consider the amount of work required, the learners’ proficiency levels, and the overall contribution towards the learning goal. Avoid assigning heavy weights to early drafts and remember that not all deliverables need to be graded. Keep your learners’ workload in mind, both in your course and overall, and do not assign more deliverables than necessary to support the main task.

Create opportunities for formative feedback throughout the assessment. Be deliberate about when and how to provide this feedback and include it in your scaffolding strategy. Feedback can come from instructors, other learners, or take the form of self-reflection. It can be written or verbal, formal or informal. Module 4 discusses feedback strategies for online authentic and alternative assessments.


Read through the scenario. Use the arrows to navigate between slides.


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Use the Authentic Assessment Planning Worksheet to help you design your authentic assessments.

Download Worksheet [DOC]

Considerations and Challenges

Implementing a fully authentic assessment in your course raises a number of valid concerns (Lombardi, 2008). While there is no single solution for addressing these challenges, you may find the following strategies useful.



Use the Authentic Assessment Planning Worksheet (DOC) to map out an authentic assessment for one of your online courses. Begin with the learning outcomes and follow the four steps described in this module to sketch out the assessment design. Consult with your institution’s teaching and learning centre specialists for feedback on your proposed assessment.

Coming Full Circle

The assessment cycle

Click on the “+” icons to reveal more information.

Adapted from (University of Northern Iowa, n.d.)


After you implement the authentic or alternative assessment, take time to reflect on the results. Were the learners able to meet performance expectations? On what portions of the assessment did they excel? On what portions did they struggle? Include your learners as partners in this process and gather their feedback. An online discussion forum, Padlet, or brief LMS quiz are convenient tools for collecting learner perceptions.

When determining the assessment effectiveness, identify any valuable attributes that you cannot measure with a rubric through observations and conversations with learners. For example, how important was the assessment to their aspirations? What were they able to accomplish? How did it help them develop? Keep in mind the core learning outcomes discussed in Module 1 as you frame these questions.

Use this feedback to improve upon future assessments. Revisit your authentic or alternative assessment and make adjustments for next time. Remember, good assessment design is a key contributing factor to learner success.


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Rethinking Assessment Strategies for Online Learning Copyright © 2022 by Seneca College; Durham College; Algonquin College; and University of Ottawa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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