How to design low-stakes authentic assessment that promotes academic integrity

Robust assessment design is more important than ever in the battle to maintain academic integrity, say Nguyen Bui and Simon Feros


26 Oct 2022
bookmark plus
  • Top of page
  • Main text
  • Additional Links
  • More on this topic
Cheating with phone in exam

Created in partnership with

Created in partnership with

Australian National University

You may also like

Professors, stop pretending that you never cheat
Preacher man. Academics need to drop the holier-than-thou attitude and sees themselves in their students when it comes to cheating

In recent times, blooming illegal services have made it tremendously difficult for the academic community to address academic misconduct. Many studies show that contract cheating has been constantly growing, especially during these pandemic times. One such study reported that a Google search for the term “assignment help” retrieved about 279,000,000 results in 2020 and 302,000,000 in 2021. While online invigilation services offer some level of mitigation, concerns remain over their exorbitant prices, privacy infringement and potential commodification of student information.

Countless efforts have failed to stop academic fraud, because no online assessment software and plagiarism software can completely curb all cheating practices. Students can find diverse ways to cheat because assessment still tends to be based around answer-seeking rather than problem-solving.

As we are now living with technology rather than merely using it, promoting academic integrity requires holistic considerations of how technology, teaching practices and learning assessment intersect on a larger scale. As such, it is now time for academics to shift their views of the very nature and purposes of assessment, as well as its impact on students’ relationships to academic integrity. One possible solution is for teaching staff to directly promote authenticity in their design of low-stakes assessment tasks to mitigate academic integrity breaches in their own classes.

Why should teaching staff design low-stakes authentic assessment tasks?

Authentic assessment measures the student’s actual ability to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills – while also offering students opportunities for personalised learning. By breaking down the elements of scaffolded tasks in low-stakes assessment, teaching staff lower students’ test anxiety and their grading pressure. The scaffolded tasks should also gather frequent feedback to help lecturers make prompt teaching interventions that prevent cheating temptation. Low-stakes authentic assessment goes beyond recalling information but requires students’ actual performance, along with their personal reflections or frequent reports on the work-in-progress subtasks; therefore, it reduces the likelihood of students cheating or outsourcing to third parties.

Steps to design a low-stakes authentic assessment task that limits the potential for cheating

Depending on their teaching disciplines, teaching staff may consider the following steps when designing an authentic assessment task:

  1. Set standards: Use the Backward Design approach to determine what transferable skills, professional competences or graduate attributes students will get out of the task and where they might apply these in real-life situations.
  2. Design a task (and subtasks):
  • Decide what real-life scenarios students will simulate to authentically demonstrate their knowledge and skills. This includes decisions on the physical contexts and social relationships involved.
  • Provide opportunities for students to engage in the task design process and personalise the task.
  • Break down the elements of the task and use one or more as a low-stakes subtask.
  • Use technological tools to support the design and implementation of the assessment task if necessary.
  1. Select criteria for results: Determine how the finished product will look in a contextualised situation and what task elements should be evaluated.
  2. Create assessment tools: Develop a rubric, a feedback form, a peer review worksheet or an observation sheet to evaluate students’ levels of performance and cognitive skills accurately and fairly and to standardise results transparently.
  3. Engage with feedback:
  • Include evaluative judgement activities that allow students to jointly develop the assessment task, engage in peer review and self-assess their progress.
  • Provide frequent low-stakes grading and timely feedback for subtasks to make students the agents of their own learning and to establish productive student-teacher conversations.
  • Require a final reflective statement articulating if and/or how students have used feedback to improve their learning.

Promoting authenticity in assessment design requires a time commitment. Teaching staff should have sufficient allocated time and assessment literacy, plus adequate support to design suitable scaffolded assessment tasks and provide timely feedback. Because there is no one-size-fits-all solution to maintaining academic integrity, academics should personally promote the design of low-stakes assessment tasks for authentic learning.

Nguyen Bui is an education designer at the Centre for Learning and Teaching, Australian National University.

Simon Feros is a senior education designer and manager in the education design team at the Centre for Learning and Teaching, Australian National University.

If you found this interesting and want advice and insight from academics and university staff delivered direct to your inbox each week, sign up for the THE Campus newsletter.


You may also like

sticky sign up

Register for free

and unlock a host of features on the THE site