Authentic Learning Experiences and Assessments

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Weekly Tip: Authentic Learning Experiences and Assessments

Don’t miss this week’s accompanying Inclusive Access Approach, at bottom

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

—Benjamin Franklin

What does it mean to involve the learner?  Some of WSU’s own believe finding value in standard tasks as well as project-based learning is the key:

Giving students projects where they have to work together to solve unstructured, real world problems allows them to simultaneously apply their [mathematical] understanding and learn how to problem-solve with their peers. Not to say we must replace all our standard tasks with project-based learning, but that there is value in both.

—William Hall, WSU Mathematics Faculty

Project based learning is the core of an authentic learning experience. Such an experience will include lessons and assessments that highlight essential concepts and practices. Lessons should allow students some autonomy and require that they provide rational for the conclusions they come to. When constructing your next lesson, consider the following:

  • Is this lesson activity based around a current, real world question or challenge?
  • Is this question or challenge student derived and something that they care about?
  • Is there a professional who could come speak with the class to add authenticity to the lesson?
  • Is there an interdisciplinary interaction opportunity for the students?
  • Does the lesson activity present an open-ended problem where students can take different directions in how to solve the problem and provide justification for doing so?
  • What amount of stimulating conversation, innovative thought, and investigative efforts does the lesson activity evoke?

Students come to our classrooms with valuable experiences and not only are we making our lives as educators more difficult by leaving that resource untapped, but we’re doing our students a disservice by not helping them see how those experiences play a role in what they’re learning.

—William Hall, WSU Mathematics Faculty

Once the students have completed the lesson, a thoughtful evaluation of what they have accomplished is needed. Standard evaluations come in the form of exams and essays. Considerations for developing creative assessments are below:

  • Does the assessment require the student to solve a real-world problem in which they are able to use the skills and knowledge they acquired from your lessons?
  • Is there a professional who could help provide feedback and revision to the project?
  • Is there a real-world audience (victims, stakeholders, etc.) to whom the students can present their solution?
  • Is there a rubric available to the students that will provide a measure by which they will be able to assess their own effort prior to handing in a final work?
  • Is the rubric something you and the students can create together, making the rubric more of a personal standard rather than a classroom formality?

Giving students a rubric is a must for me. When I complete a project and I receive criticism based on standards I wasn’t privy to ahead of time, it’s frustrating. This is true for our students as well. If you are not clearly outlining how grades are assigned prior to students working on the tasks, they are at a significant disadvantage. If you have goals you’d like students to meet, one of the best things you can do is share what those goals are and how you will assess them with the students.

—William Hall, WSU Mathematics Faculty

Key Components

Authentic learning experiences engage learners while increasing their knowledge capacities and skillsets, better preparing them for advancements in their academic journeys and professional careers.


Given context, students will define the problem they want to solve.


  • Provide real world context by arranging for students to speak with key stakeholders to discuss needs. (Students can seek out these persons on their own as well). Allowing students to define problems with the beneficiaries in mind will give them focus while developing solutions and practice with communication skills and a broader audience.
  • Bring authenticity and personal connection to the situation by leaving the four walls of the classroom and taking the students to the problem (can happen virtually).


Students will work together to generate ideas regarding how to solve the problem.


  • Create a “Think Tank” type space where students are encouraged to engage in positive exchanges and research solutions to the problem. Think tanks and brain storming sessions can instill the notions that no idea is a bad idea and the more ideas the better.
  • Equip students with creative spaces and ways to compile their ideas by making use of physical supplies and technology. Supplying dry erase markers, reserving a room full of white boards or tapping into the creative meeting spaces at the Washington State University Spark and across campus, are great environments for innovative thought processes.


Students will work together to create a visual presentation of their solution or prototype.


  • Provide students an opportunity to present and or display a first draft of their solution. This can include video presentations, 3-D models, simulations, storyboards, or even a PowerPoint presentation. In this stage of the development of their solution, students will be able to receive feedback, consider modifications to their solution and/or trade ideas to address possible challenges.


Students will work together to test and/or present their prototype or solution, to a real-world audience for assessment and critique.


  • Provide real world context by arranging for an invited guest to assess the student presentations of their solutions. An invited guest could be, but is not limited to professionals, stakeholders or even victims. Involving the community in part of the assessment will give the students the opportunity to present their finalized solution to a real-world audience, creating a space for realistic presentation opportunities, credible feedback and valuable communication experience.
  • Provide an authentic presentation experience and a stronger sense of professionalism to the assessment by leaving the four walls of the classroom and reserving a space for the students to present their finalized solutions to a live audience.

Learn more about setting Clear Expectation with Rubrics and Creating Impactful Student Experiences.


Examples of How Different Learning Tools Aid in Authentic Learning

Keep an eye on future training and workshops at Faculty-Led Workshops.

Inclusive Access Approach

This section emphasizes how this week’s tip can help nurture an equitable student experience by providing an inclusively accessible course to a diverse student population. This population includes students who have varying characteristics and qualities. These may include, but are not limited to, physical and mental abilities, gender, gender identity, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, education, socioeconomic background, life experiences, geographic location, religious beliefs and values.

Offering diverse authentic learning experiences and assessments provides all students the opportunity to individually and/or collaboratively work together to solve real world issues. Students should be encouraged to think critically, and to bring their personal and cultural strengths as well their knowledge, to examine content from multiple angles. In these authentic experiences, students should share and learn from each other’s diverse perspectives and experiences, and they should be provided self and peer assessment and reflection techniques to critically solve problems.

When authentic learning experiences and assessments are included in a course, they provide more chances for a diverse student population to engage with the course content, to be a part of a learning community with their peers and instructor, and to become active participants in their learning. These learning experiences also help broaden student perspectives and knowledge as well as offer all students opportunities to learn the relevance the course content has in their lives and their future endeavors (e.g., community, relationships, careers, etc.).

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