Making learning authentic: ‘real-world’ assessments for Masters level study

Workshop presented by Jude Brereton, Lecturer (T&S) in Audio and Music Technology, Deparment of Electronics. 30 January 2017.

Jude presented in her workshop the assessment method developed for her Masters students which can be adapted and implemented with any students, from any discipline, as it can be tailor-made and used in most modules, thus ensuring its relevancy, authenticity and meaningfulness.

When Jude devised the new assessment, she reflected on the experience of her alumni to help future students build a portfolio – making them aware of how important it is to develop their employability skills -, that they would be able to show to prospective employers, something that in her own words, would ‘survive beyond the programme’. Jude developed the assessment for a brand new MSc in Audio Music Technology taking into account the module learning outcomes and programme level learning outcomes as well as other essential criteria needed to design the new 180-credit Masters course.

She wanted students to be highly motivated in their learning and while working on their assessments, being able to both see the benefits and enjoy the process, incorporating active learning and Problem Based Learning (PBL), widely used in the Department of Electronics. Assessment tasks had to be real, not ‘pretend’ real, but actually authentic, and challenging for Masters level students. It is important to note that although the term ‘authentic’ means real, also carries the connotation of meaningful, and what is meaningful for one person might not be the same for another and so on. Therefore, when designing ‘authentic’ assessment it must be diverse and inclusive – appealing to the broad spectrum of learners, their interests and personalities.

Recently, Jude was told by an international employer that a degree was not considered essential for his company, as long as a candidate could demonstrate the appropriate professional attitude, ability, innovative thinking and could do the things that they would be expected to do at the workplace – someone with the desirable transferable skills. The employer added that for them the most important requirement was to be able to programme. Furthermore, the ideal candidate would be someone with cross-discipline skills, who could appreciate the final product, being able to work and develop the different layers of the task/job: someone who could do and understand both software and hardware; who could do programming and was able to appreciate music – in Jude’s field – aesthetically; who could do Maths but also would know how to reflect and write about the job and the process; someone who knows all the technical words but at the same time is able to communicate and engage with the general public. As Jude has put it, the future is ‘hybrid’: in this day and age, mastering one thing is not good enough; her advice to students is to do as much as you can – variety and quality – and to make sure you can show it.

In the workshop Jude also showed how she uses Google Docs to share and follow group work and provide individual feedback to each group.

Zepke’s and Leach’s article titled Improving student engagement: Ten proposals for action (2010) clearly resonates behind Jude’s assessment model – follow the hyperlink to access it.

Click here to view Jude Brereton’s presentation

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Workshop follow-up: PBL a fairy tale

The Forum workshop earlier this week explored Problem Based Learning (PBL) and provided a fascinating and inspiring insight from the York Law School (YLS) into the realities of designing and delivering an entire curriculum with PBL at its heart. From the outset though the presenters were at pains to point out that this was not a “sales” pitch for PBL, nor was the approach discussed the only was that PBL can be delivered – this was just a discussion of how YLS have gone about implementing it and how it has worked out for them.

Jenny Gibbons, Scott Slorach and Richard Grimes, highlighted the approach that YLS has taken to delivering PBL. Weekly problems are devised spanning the core themes of the programme, engaging students with real life issues which integrate with the curriculum but transcend boundaries of module content. Students are introduced to the PBL process from the outset, developing transferable skills in problem solving, group work and collaboration that has significant impacts on graduate employability (and KIS data!)

The session attempted to address three core questions:

  1. How much work is involved in creating resources to support PBL? The reality is that designing and developing well thought out and effective resources to support PBL is not a trivial task. Even when an entire department’s pedagogic approach is centred on a  well established PBL structure (right down to the design and layout of the building) and maintaining PBL resources to ensure they are up to date and reflect changes to law is a significant task. Much of this work comes from the amount of collaboration across the modules required to ensure that the problems and resources can be truly cross-curricula. However, Jenny et al clearly felt that this investment was clearly worth it to produce such a rich and effective learning experience.
  2. Can the model adapt to change? In short yes, and it is continuing to do so, influenced by other disciplines, particularly in response to joint modules such as Law for Art Historians.
  3. Can PBL support student learning? Ultimately this is clearly the key question and the answer seemed to be an emphatic “Yes!”. There is more detail on the rationale, challenges and benefits of PBL in the handouts provided (attached below) but the take home message seemed to be that this is well worth the effort and if you want to discuss your ideas for how PBL could be applied in your discipline then you should get in touch with Jenny, Scott or Richard from the Law School.

Handouts / resources from the session

Students work on whiteboard collaboratively

09/02/15 Enhancing Engagement: Problem-based learning – A fairy tale?

problembasedlearningWhen: Monday 9 February 2015 (week 6) 12.30-2.00pm [Lunch available from 12.15]
Where: Room HG09, Heslington Hall
Who: Jenny Gibbons, York Law School

The relative merits of a problem-based learning (PBL) model as compared with other learning and teaching methods continues to be a topic of discussion at York and in higher education more generally. For staff involved in designing materials at a module, programme or departmental level some of the recurring questions about PBL are:

  • How much work is involved in creating resources?
  • Can the model adapt to change? and
  • Do the students actually benefit more from PBL than from the approach we adopt at present?

This session is aimed at clarifying some of the truths and dispelling some of the myths about the PBL model using examples from the York Law School. The intention is to discuss the rationale behind PBL and highlight some of its strengths and weaknesses before breaking into discipline sub-groups to work through the practical implications.

So is PBL the genie in the lamp who will answer all your wishes, or just an Emperor who has invested in a new set of clothes…?

Please come along and decide for yourself.

If you wish to attend an event, please use our booking form or email

If you are unable to attend an event but would like a copy of the materials, please contact