Leaders in Professional, Continuing and Online Education

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.


UPCEA Blogs and Updates:  

Smart Cities and Transportation, and the Impact on Higher Education

Despite the increase in distracted drivers, the number of accidents has declined. While a number of factors may be at play, better technology and engineering are certainly having an impact. While accidents have declined, fatalities from large vehicles, vehicles to pedestrians and vehicles to pedal-pedestrians has increased. Will the self-driving vehicle help improve safety? To…

Read More

Deconstructing the Economic Factors Affecting Professional Learning

By SmartBrief Editors This post is produced in partnership with UPCEA. The desire to advance in a career field or life in general is not enough for individuals who are ready to learn more and better their circumstances. Disparity exists when it comes to post-secondary education, including traditional college, certification programs and other forms of…

Read More

Competent Marketing Teams in a Turbulent Economy

As a fan of Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch, I’ve come to relate the world of higher education with the rough waters of the Bering Sea. Enrollments can be as elusive as the prized Opilio crab. Different crab (Opilio, Alaskan King, Bairdi) react to different baits and locations, just as there are differences between Generation Z,…

Read More

Policy Matters | Increasing Partisan Divide in Views on Education (August 2019)

Welcome to the third installment in our monthly public policy primer, Policy Matters. Each issue has the latest updates and actionable items in public policy for adult and nontraditional education stakeholders. We’ve set up a form if you’re interested in learning more, and for continued updates from Policy Matters. Please note that you must sign up with this…

Read More

Fake Meat and an Informed Generation on Higher Education

I went out of my way to go to Burger King to try their Incredible Whopper.  It wasn’t bad, but it got me reflecting on “where did this come from and why?” After one of my presentations on Generation Z a few years ago, a higher education administrator said to me, “You can’t compare education…

Read More

The Cybercrime Urgency in Professional Learning Spaces

By SmartBrief Editors This post is produced in partnership with UPCEA It’s no secret that hackers are getting more sophisticated and that no businesses or organizations are immune. A reported 60% of large businesses and more than 50% of high-income charities have experienced cyber security breaches in the last year and a small business is…

Read More