Giving Students the Third Degree: Using Authentic Assessment Techniques in Extra & Co-Curricular Activities (ECCAs) to Improve Teaching Standards on Academic Law Programmes
Authentic assessments are closely aligned with activities that take place in real work settings, as distinct from the often artificial constructs of university courses. The undergraduate law degree differs from many other degrees, in that it requires arguments to be constructed, at even the most academic level. While the traditional ‘paper-based’ assessment strategy provides a pragmatic solution to the problem of a general lack of time and resources to grade students en masse, the authors believe that the use of authentic assessment techniques, in accredited and university-run extra and co-curricular activities (ECCAs), are perfectly placed to augment legal education. As long as the ECCAs are delivered with academic law degree learning outcomes taken under consideration, and are rigorously delivered by staff who are trained and experienced to elicit optimum student performance, students will benefit from authentic assessment in other indirectly connected areas of their academic lives. By delivering authentic assessments methods in ECCAs, a combination of formative and summative techniques used throughout the assessment processes improves student performance, which thereby has positive cross-impact onto law degree academic performance. This two-way communicative assessment strategy allows students to benefit from continuous mid-assessment feedback, which serves to best demonstrate the adversarial nature of the legal system and the demands placed on lawyers to provide clear, simple, usable legal advice – a skill best learned in the ECCA authentic assessment environment, rather than in the artificial ‘one-shot’ approach to traditional coursework and paper-based exam assessments, which provides primarily a summative assessment and/or a weak/unusable formative element in future assessments. In this regard, the authentic nature of ECCAs not only ‘requires students to make judgements [and] choices’ Burton (2011: 24) but also fits with Boud & Falchikov’s (2007) observation that assessment should be seen as an act of informing a student’s judgement. This is reflected in further benefits, such as increased confidence in critical reasoning skills, also improve the students’ academic performance. Since authentic assessment is a two-way process, the authors assert that the deployed techniques improve teaching performance on the law degree programmes by encouraging the identification of crucial critical analysis points in legal topics, and rewarding the construction of legal arguments. The authors have constructed a set of interactive questions which demonstrates that traditional paper-based assessment strategies are not the optimum way to monitor and improve teaching practices, and that authentic assessment, when used in conjunction with ECCAs, improves student performance on the academic law degree programme.