eDesign Collaborative Blog

The eDesign Collaborative (eDC) Blog is a dedicated resource to announcements, updates, upcoming events, surveys, and other items for the eDC community. 

Thought Piece: Transforming Problem Sets into Authentic Assessments

Shelly Brazelle, an adjunct professor in Forensic Science at George Washington University, was drawn to the field like many others for the thrill of crime. TV shows like CSI and Forensic Files popping up, cast an allure revealing the drama and glamour of a career in Forensics. While there are still high stakes for her job, the day to day is mostly spent in the lab or office comparing fingerprints.

Like many classes, a crucial component to Shelly’s course was weekly problem sets. Students were required to identify matching characteristics in different sets of fingerprints and submit their work online. While the exercise itself gets mundane time after time, there’s also no context. Whatever the field of study, quantitative or not, students engage more fully with the content when there’s a story behind it. Particularly, if this story mimics a real-life situation they could face in their field.

Instead of matching arbitrary fingerprints in the problem sets, Shelly came up with a creative solution to engage students and introduce a bit of the drama students were craving. We took to the internet and found actual news coverage of mostly petty crimes.

Using the narrative and characters in the article we had students create their own casework, naming the suspects guilty or not. To make this assessment authentic, we created lab reports nearly identical to those used in the field and created real fingerprint cards for the suspects.

Placing a narrative with real people behind the assessment gives the students more meaning to their work. By using lab reports and fingerprint cards used in the field, they’re gaining skills directly applicable to their future careers.

What real-life context can you pull into your authentic assessments? Is there a particular industry that uses the skills you teach? What are some of their use cases? Maybe you can get in touch with these companies and ask if they’d be willing to share some data for students to work with. Or fabricate a company students are doing the work for, that way you can easily manipulate the data. Small things, even like changing the name of the assignment from ‘problem sets’ to a name of the practice in the field, and formatting their responses styled as official ‘documents or reports’ make the assignments more interesting.

I’d love to hear what authentic assessments you’re planning to try or already using. Please feel free to share in the comments!

– Tara Lifland

  The eDesign Collaborative serves higher education instructional design teams (instructional designers, multimedia developers and team administrators) in higher education seeking networking and professional development.


Learn more about the UPCEA eDesign Collaborative here.


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