Using Authentic Assessment to Integrate Current Events Into Courses

Authentic assessments are activities, whether for marks or not, that involve students addressing “real-world” problems in a way that reflects activities they might engage in as a professional in the discipline. Authentic assessments can provide several benefits to both students and instructors, including:

  • Enabling students to actively engage with current issues to increase engagement in learning
  • Allowing students to see the role the discipline may play in addressing issues
  • Broadening the audience, which may lead to increased effort and quality
  • Sharing potential solutions outside of institution is “what the world needs”
  • Reducing issues around academic integrity

When creating such activities for your students there are a number of things that you will need to consider. You want to make sure that any assessments align with your course learning, so always start with the outcomes and then choose an appropriate assessment. What do you want students to be able to demonstrate in terms of knowledge, skill, understanding, etc. by the end of your course? Those are your course outcomes.

Based on your outcomes, think about what an authentic assessment in your discipline addressing these outcomes may look like.

  • Do you have an existing activity that could be modified or will you be creating a new assessment?
  • What will you accept as evidence toward students achieving those outcomes?
  • How will you differentiate between “well” and “really well”?

The “what” you assess could be a product the students produce such as a poster, video, or webpage, or you could assess the students’ reflections on the learning process. See this post on how a U of S instructor is already doing this.

You should also consider how students might share their work. If they are creating something like a video or poster, others may benefit from their work. Plus, research shows that students whose work is shared with an audience larger than just the instructor produce higher quality work.

If you are looking at ways for students to share their finished work, you should provide them with individual choices as to whether they’ll share it, if so, what license they’d like on their work.

Other considerations include:

  • What is a need in your discipline (for information or ideas) that your students could fill?
  • Who is the audience that needs this information?
  • What is the best way of presenting the information to make it easiest for the audience to understand it, be interested in it, and stumble across it?
  • How will you or others review what your students create for accuracy and quality?
  • How will your students be assessed? Can you use experts and community members to provide feedback to your students during or after the project?
  • Are funding and technical supports available to help you?
  • How will your students work together on shared documents and idea generation?  Consider communication platforms, project management materials, etc.

To help you move forward with authentic assessment, here are some ideas for embedding such activities into your courses, whether undergraduate or graduate:

  • History – make an ongoing project out of improving existing Canadian History open textbooks to better reflect the history and contributions of groups often excluded from history texts.
  • Marketing – have students create and publicly share marketing campaigns around raising awareness of one or more pressing issues. Such a project was done in British Columbia to create a plan to raise awareness about the United Nations Climate Action Campaign.
  • AgBio – as people are more interested in home gardens, have students create plain language tip sheets or brochures (openly licensed and freely downloadable) for those who are  just getting started growing food in their own yards or community gardens.
  • Education – have students create and publicly share resources for teachers and students on how to teach / learn remotely, addressing concerns around access and time management.
  • Health Sciences – have students revise existing open resources on taking patient histories when needing to do patient intake through virtual means OR have students revise such resources to be more culturally inclusive.
  • Kinesiology – have students create and openly share resources for people to be more active at home.
  • Engineeringhave students collaborate on potential solutions to some of the issues facing schools and post-secondary institutions around the use of on campus classrooms during a health crisis, sharing their results with relevant stakeholders in the community and farther reaching.

If you have questions or would like more information about authentic assessment or would like to apply for some potential funding to support authentic assessment, please email us at the GMCTL.

Why Open Educational Practices in Our Context?

In the previous post about open educational practices (OEP) at USask, I explained what they are. In this post, we will explore why so many people are already engaging in OEP, and why you should consider integrating these practices into your own teaching and research.

Our beliefs make us Open supporters

Open allows students to participate in the co-creation and sharing of text on current major issues (BLM / Indigenous lives, the pandemic, climate change, struggling small businesses) in their learning, demonstrating that USask is engaged with addressing major issues shaping the world and giving students relevant career skills they can demonstrate for potential employers.

When students create materials to share with an authentic, public audience, they work harder and care more, increasing student engagement with the course and discipline. Students who understand why a discipline matters take more courses in that subject.

It is principally important to share student work with the world (keeping it locked in the U of S isn’t what the world needs), because it engenders students with a deep understanding of the value of sharing and disseminating knowledge, making them allies of a primary mission of all universities, as described in Our learning Charter. These students become more effective ambassadors while on campus, and could be more inclined to see USask’s work as important when they become alumni.

Why now?

The COVID-19 pandemic has, in many ways, brought people together for a common cause, from neighbours getting groceries for neighbours, to scientists across the planet collaborating to find treatments and a vaccine for the virus. The U of S is playing a significant role in this research, but collaboration for and sharing of knowledge towards solutions to major problems doesn’t need to be limited to graduate students, post-docs, and those who have finished their formal education.

The world needs a place where students can learn about, engage with, and even create knowledge and find solutions to the problems we face, from issues around such problems as COVID-19, climate change, and racial and other forms of inequality. The world also needs such a place to share that knowledge and those solutions outside of the institution’s walls so that others can benefit and build upon the work being done. The U of S is in a position to be that place, to be “the university the world needs”.

Demonstrating our commitment to our students doing meaningful course work that contributes to knowledge

Undergraduate research, including through the FYRE (First Year Research Experience) program is being conducted in a growing number of courses across the U of S, with results being shared through poster sessions, on open websites, and in the open access Undergraduate Research Journal. Undergraduate research shared publicly allows for more than just the student researchers to learn from it, which is why the Undergraduate Research Initiative has begun promoting the open sharing of undergraduate research at the U of S.

The development of knowledge and finding potential solutions to the world’s problems can be embedded throughout the disciplines at the U of S. Providing students with opportunities to see how your discipline can contribute to these solutions not only increases student engagement within your courses, especially if that knowledge and ideas for solutions are shared beyond just your class, but may also encourage them to take additional courses in the program.

Support is available to help you engage in open educational practices

If you have questions about open educational practices (OEP) or need help finding open educational resources (OER) contact:

  • The Gwenna Moss Centre or Heather M. Ross directly
  • The Distance Education Unit if you are working with them on a course(s) where you would like to integrate OER or other OEP
  • The Library as your Library liaison may be able to help you find resources

What Are Open Educational Practices in Our Context?

We have seen significant growth in the use of open educational resources at the U of S in the past six years. As of this fall, more than a dozen open textbooks have been created or adapted at by instructors and students have saved well over $2 million dollars. “Open”, however, is about more than just textbooks and money saved, it’s about a way of thinking about teaching and learning.

This is the first in a serious of posts looking at the integration of open educational practices (OEP) already occurring at the U of S, as well as about the potential for integrating OEP into courses and programs across the institution. To start, what are OEP in the context of teaching and learning at the U of S during this time of COVID-19 where most of our courses are happening remotely.

OEP at the U of S in this context may include:

Materials are accessible

Open educational resources (OER) are freely available and shareable, increasing the access to the materials. Accessible also means that they should be available for those with differing abilities (e.g. use a screen reader) and for those who may not have access to higher-end technology, including high-speed internet.

Anyone can create, collaborate on, and share the materials

The principles of open not only allow, but rely on the ability for anyone to create / modify, collaborate and share materials. Examples of this include instructors collaborating on an adaption of an existing open textbook to better meet the needs of their students, and students engaging in the creation of learning materials to demonstrate their understanding of a concept (open pedagogy).

There are choices for the creator of materials as to what they will create and how they will share Whoever creates the materials may decide on the license they wish to put on their materials, which allows them to dictate how the materials may be used, changed, and shared. In addition, choice means providing creators / adaptors of materials, including students, to determine the format for the materials that they create. For example, for a particular assignment, students may be given the option of writing a paper, updating a Wikipedia article, or creating a poster for presentation

Making research data and publications available for everyone to access, use, and build upon

As most research is publicly funded, the data and results should, ideally, be made freely available to the public. In addition, such sharing of data and results allows for greater collaboration in addressing major issues facing the world such as COVID-19, environmental challenges, inequality, etc. This sharing and collaboration may happen with instructors, graduate, or undergraduate students (undergraduate research).

Reflecting on teaching and learning so that others may learn from our experiences

Reflecting on what has worked and what hasn’t in our teaching and learning allows us to learn from our successes and mistakes. Sharing those reflections with others through publications, blogs, and conversations allows others to learn from our experiences and the opportunity to offer us both support and potential solutions to problems.

Support is available to help you engage in open educational practices

If you have questions about open educational practices (OEP) or need help finding open educational resources (OER) contact:

  • The Gwenna Moss Centre or Heather M. Ross directly
  • The Distance Education Unit if you are working with them on a course(s) where you would like to integrate OER or other OEP
  • The Library as your Library liaison may be able to help you find resources

Virtual Poster Presentations – Recommended Tools

Note: This list assumes student work is already coming in the likely poster formats (PDF, image as JPG or PNG, PPT, DOC) as opposed to being presented using some unique platform (e.g., Prezi, Sway).

Please investigate the help pages linked below first; additional resources are being compiled at

If you require additional help with one of these tools, email


Tool Strengths and Challenges
Blackboard Discussions ·       Asynchronous (students can access at any time ahead of a given deadline)

·       Students attach their poster to a thread which classmates can view

·       Classmates can add comments / feedback to the thread

·       Simplest tool that enables student interaction!

Panopto assignment ·       Asynchronous

·       Students produce a narration of their poster, so must have a microphone

·       Students will need instructions for downloading the Panopto recorder, recording their video, uploading their video to Panopto, and adding their video within a Blackboard discussion

·       Works best if poster is already in dimensions that display well on-screen (best with Powerpoint)

·       Students can comment on each others’ videos via the Discussion Board

WebEx live session ·       Synchronous; potentially difficult for students to meet schedule demands of a live session

·       Students must be scheduled to present at a specific time with their peers in attendance

·       Students must have a microphone (webcams optional)

·       Classmates can send chat replies or ask questions over microphone

·       Difficult for students with poor or unreliable internet access (e.g., rural, northern, on-reserve)

·       Instructor must set up the WebEx session and facilitate it (e.g., by passing the display to presenting students)



·       Asynchronous

·       Instructor must upload posters to WordPress, as students cannot do this

·       One-way transmission only (WordPress sites do not enable student interaction – you’d need to pair with another tool for that, e.g., Discussion Board)

·       Website can be public, but should be password-protected if any images used by students are not copyright-compliant (i.e., the students’ own work OR licensed with Creative Commons)

·       Enables a year-to-year repository or showcase of student work that can be used in following terms

·       Requires additional work by DEU to generate these sites and set up instructor as an Administrator, so this approach may need to be limited

From a resource created by Julie Maier @juliejeremiah at the Distance Education Unit at the University of Saskatchewan under a CC-BY-SA license.

Featured Instructor : Colleen Bell

Image provided by Colleen

Course Innovation Community CIC 2019

Colleen Bell, Assistant Professor

Faculty Member in Political Studies

Colleen teaches International Studies 110, Global Studies, to a class of over 80 students. By participating in CIC, Colleen was able to gather new ideas on structuring student debates, improve her use of rubrics, and better able to select and sequence the content necessary to engage students (which sometimes felt like a sacrifice!). She used some of her CIC funding to support grading and coaching and another part to have a team-based competition in class. The competition motivated students to watch and evaluate videos made by their classmates.

Image provided by Colleen

Colleen’s concerns with large class teaching were that students at the back of the room often feel less connected and that class sizes were determined by factors outside her control – and beyond sound pedagogy. Through the CIC experience, she was able to get helpful ideas such as how to structure large class debates by watching a colleague’s class and she spent more time getting in touch with students outside of class time. In her own words, here are some practices she was able to implement:

  • I created rubrics and posted them in advance of assignment deadlines
  • I expanded my use of visual material and high profile events to explain and demonstrate concepts
  • I used class time to discuss academic and life challenges
  • I took significantly more time to explain assessments, and the learning benefits associated with them.
  • I demonstrated the political significance of content.
  • I positioned learners as researchers who could make discoveries
  • I designed a debate for the largest class I have ever taught to deepen learning and apply ideas
  • I took more time to gauge student understanding and talk it through

Colleen also took this opportunity to develop a first-year research experience (FYRE) where her students were exposed to the research cycle of questioning, investigating and disseminating findings. Students got to peer-review each other’s work and get formative feedback this way.

Through these changes, Colleen observed that students seemed to have a higher attendance level and that course evaluations were quite positive. By changing some of these small practices, students were more comfortable approaching Colleen for help outside of class time and she felt that this student rapport improved their learning.

Overall in the CIC 2019 cohort, Colleen met her goals to build connections with students, build foundational academic skills, improve attendance and enthusiasm, motivate students to collaborate productively, and most critically, develop the political consciousness and agency of students.

Practice Your Research Skills Early and Often

by Merle Massie, Coordinator, Undergraduate Research Initiative

We tend to think of university as a place to soak up knowledge, to learn stuff, to end up with a ‘brain full of smartness,’ as one twelve-year old boy once explained.

Yet the new University of Saskatchewan Learning Charter promises, and expects, more.

While content knowledge is important, the Charter sets out skills and practices that students, faculty and staff are expected to pursue.Three of those skills and practices are specific to research. USask wants students, faculty and staff to:

  • be able to locate, understand, evaluate and use information effectively, ethically, legally and with cultural appropriateness
  • develop and apply appropriate skills of research, inquiry and knowledge creation and translation
  • Communicate clearly, substantively and persuasively in different academic, professional and cultural contexts; nihtâ-âcimowin/nihta achimoohk (being a good storyteller).

An excellent place for students to start their skill journey is FYRE:
First Year Research Experience.

In 2018-2019, there were over 2700 student enrollments in FYRE classes. A FYRE class is a regular first-year 100 level course in every way except one: it deliberately uses research as a way to teach and learn.Students take on a research project (sometimes individually, sometimes in groups). The project must follow the research cycle: build a research question; investigate the question using the tools of the discipline; and share that knowledge with peers beyond the professor.

From the educator’s perspective, FYRE responds to another key point in the Learning Charter: strive for excellence in teaching. Using FYRE, the professor provides “opportunity for students to be inspired and engaged with and in the process of authentic inquiry, wherever possible, in their learning.”

A few thoughts on building FYRE into your first year course:

  • Consider course outcomes, beyond content. What skills does your discipline require? These could be discerning good sources, building and executing a survey, working in a lab or archive, analyzing data, synthesizing research to date, and so forth.
  • Build skill development into your course, scaffolding student learning. Give them room to develop skills, try, fail, and succeed.
  • Build a course component that could be a FYRE project. Students must move through all three parts of the research cycle: Question∼Investigate∼ Share.
  • Register your course with Merle Massie, Undergraduate Research Coordinator (email and choose a paid research coach.
  • Build a project timeline, with student feedback from a research coach and deadlines.
  • Design a way for students to share their findings beyond the professor.

FYRE allows educators to bring research into the classroom, to use it as a teaching tool, and to be up-front that FYRE is about learning and practicing research skills.

Research can be messy, confusing, frustrating and hard. It can also, at the same time, pull a student in and give them a whole new way to look at what it takes to build and add new knowledge, and to share that knowledge with others. Your learning, and theirs, will catch FYRE.

Learn more:

Teaching Students About Research: Open Data = Quality Data with Easy Access


When we teach students research skills and ways of approaching being a researcher, we know that research is more than just plugging in numbers or following a script.

Canadian Open Government Data Lib GuideIn a statistical analysis, being able to select the variables to use (and not use) and the analysis to answer the question is as important as running the analysis.

We want students to design their own questions and analysis. The challenge though is where to get appropriate data easily and ethically?

At the U of S, we are in luck! Our librarians have identified several key Open Data sources:

Canadian Open Government Data
Site has 120,000 data sets that are freely available for anyone to use. They are from ten departments: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; Citizenship and Immigration Canada; Environment Canada; Department of Finance Canada; Fisheries and Oceans Canada; Library and Archives Canada; Natural Resources Canada; Statistics Canada; Transport Canada and the Treasury Board Secretariat.

  • Canada Open Data Pilot Project – “This pilot portal will make more than 260,000 datasets from the following ten participating departments available to all Canadians: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; Citizenship and Immigration Canada; Environment Canada; Department of Finance Canada; Fisheries and Oceans Canada; Library and Archives Canada; Natural Resources Canada; Statistics Canada; Transport Canada and the Treasury Board Secretariat.
” (U of S library guide description)
  • 2011 Census of Canada Web Module
 – Released February 8, 2012
    includes the Census of Population and the Census of Agriculture.
  • CANSIM – “Cansim is Statistics Canada’s key socioeconomic database of survey data. Updated daily. FREE as of February 1, 2012. License Information: This is an Open Access resource freely available on the Internet. Systematic copying or downloading of electronic resource content is not permitted by Canadian and International Copyright law.
” (U of S library guide description)

United States Open Government Data

  • White House Open Government Initiative
  • NASA Open Data

These datasets are either exportable or have web portal access to aggregated data. Contact your Librarian to learn more and for Government data, contact Rob Alary at Data Library Services:

Have a question about teaching research design, or an exciting way to use Open Data in your course? Connect with me at the GMCTE or

(Thank you to Darlene Fichter, U of S Library, for providing feedback and up-to-date information)

Complying with the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications


By Diane (DeDe) Dawson, Science Liaison Librarian, University Library

The new Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications came into effect on May 1st 2015. This policy applies to all grants awarded from that day and onward (exception: CIHR has had this policy in place since Jan 1, 2008). This blog post is intended to be a handy, practical introduction to the policy and how to comply.

The Policy Details:

“Grant recipients are required to ensure that any peer-reviewed journal publications arising from Agency-supported research are freely accessible within 12 months of publication” (emphasis my own).

There are two routes to achieve this:

  1. Online Repositories (a.k.a. the “Green” route)
    Grant recipients can deposit their final, peer-reviewed manuscript into an institutional or disciplinary repository that will make the manuscript freely accessible within 12 months of publication. It is the responsibility of the grant recipient to determine which publishers allow authors to retain copyright and/or allow authors to archive journal publications in accordance with funding agency policies.
  1. Journals (a.k.a. the “Gold” route)
    Grant recipients can publish in a journal that offers immediate open access or that offers open access on its website within 12 months. Some journals require authors to pay article processing charges (APCs) to make manuscripts freely available upon publication. The cost of publishing in open access journals is an eligible expense under the Use of Grant Funds.

Tips and Tools for Complying:

Green/Repository Route:

  • You do not need to publish in an OA journal – just make sure that the journal you want to publish in complies with the Tri-Agency OA Policy. This means the journal/publisher must allow you to post a copy of the manuscript in a repository within 12 months of publication (often known as the “embargo period”).
    • Check Sherpa/Romeo for publisher’s policies.
    • Carefully read your Copyright Transfer Agreement (CTA) when publishing; negotiate with the publisher to keep the rights you need to post a copy (use an addendum tool).
    • Make sure you post the proper version of the article. Most publishers permit posting of the “post-print” or “author’s accepted version” (the final copy of the manuscript after peer-review and after final revisions have been made). Sherpa/Romeo and your CTA will tell you which version is acceptable to post by your publisher.
  • Currently the U of S does not have an institutional repository, but there are a growing number of disciplinary repositories that you can post to. Search the Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDOAR).
  • Posting on your own website is not enough. You must also post in an institutional or disciplinary repository. Although the Tri-Agency has not clearly stated this, it is likely that posting in a social network site like ResearchGate is also not an acceptable route to compliance.

Gold/Open Access Journals Route:

The Green and Gold routes are not mutually exclusive. If you publish in an OA journal, you can still post a copy to a repository. In fact this is encouraged. Why not have your article available in more than one location? It will increase discoverability, accessibility, and ultimately readership and citations!

All of these resources (and more!) are listed on the University Library’s Open Access Guide.

This is a modified version of a blog post originally posted on May 1st 2015 here:

Undergraduate Research: Co-Publishing With Students


By Jason Perepelkin, Assistant Professor, College of Pharmacy and Nutrition

Passive listening and dumping information on exams doesn’t give students the depth of learning and experience that lasts beyond the scope of a course. Having students engage with practitioners and specialists and in a real world environment helps students learn more deeply; chasing grades doesn’t do this but chasing experience does.

The elective fourth year course Marketing for Pharmacists is designed for up to 20 students. The course is a project based course where students, working in groups of two to three, work directly with a practicing pharmacist. By working directly with practitioners, on an issue identified by the practitioner, the students learn, in a hands-on manner, about a specific practice site, while the practitioner learns about marketing and how it can be used to enhance practice.

In the first year the course was offered there were 20 students, which is the maximum. This year, 6 students were enrolled, and as a result it could be run much more as a seminar. Half way through the course I thought (out loud), based on the enriching discussions around current events in pharmacy, if I was thinking we would’ve written a manuscript on these issues. The students came back a week later and said “can we do this?” I said only if all of you are willing to be involved. They said yes, so I approached a journal to see if they would be interested in an article surrounding our class discussions; the journal responded indicating their interest.

After working on the article as a group, and in consultation with myself, we submitted the manuscript for peer-review to the Canadian Pharmacists Journal at the beginning of December. In early January we received notification that our manuscript was accepted for publication, but required some minor revisions first. Since the students were not in the course anymore, and were out on experiential learning rotations across the country, I wasn’t sure if I was the one that would be completing the revisions; however, the students jumped at the chance to revise the manuscript, and even spoke of how they learnt, from the reviewers, how the manuscript can be enhanced. This allowed the students to experience the entire process, from the idea, to the research and drafting of the manuscript, to receiving feedback from peer-reviewers, and ultimately to acceptance. The manuscript was accepted the day after the revised manuscript was resubmitted, and will be published in the May/June 2015 issue.

I am not sure if this would work as well as it did, especially since it arose – after the course was half completed – from an organic process of critical thinking and discussion in class, with a different group because the maturity of the group and their willingness to cooperate was very high. As a sign of maturity, at the beginning of the course when students are to form groups of their choice, all agreed they were willing to work with anyone in the course (despite not being in the same ‘clicks’), and therefore I put all of their names in a hat and randomly selected members of each group.

Some students want to do this sort of a project and these students are the ones working on projects before they even start the course. If enrollment increased, it would be harder to ensure all papers got published and this could lead to disappointment for the students. A smaller class allows full participation in the publishing process, and in the course as a whole.

Context is incredibly important in making this work. For some students in this college marks are not as important as experience and peer-accountability is in motivating them to first enroll in the course, and second engage in the course and project. This sort of course gives students a different experience from traditional pharmacy courses, and brings recognition to other concerns such as how marketing can be used to better meet the needs of patients and the health care system as a whole. This is the first course of its kind in Canada, and provides those students that take the course the ability to learn a unique skill set that is not readily available once they enter practice; there are only a minimal number of continuing education opportunities in the area of marketing.

Crafting Artful Teaching


I’ve been a teacher since I was 6 years old and I still absolutely grin when I see a class that is well-structured and flows with lots of student and instructor excitement and enthusiasm that is “on purpose.” When the class time flies by, things are “accomplished,” there’s action, and “learning” is palpable, that is what we strive for, and to me it’s as beautiful as a great movie, a heart-felt song, or a painting that claims your attention.

I saw these qualities in a 50-minute class taught by Leah Ferguson, a new faculty member in Kinesiology. I was absolutely grinning by the end of the class so I asked Leah if I could interview her to find out more about how she planned for it…Just so you know, this was an 08:30 class that started at 08:31 with all seats full and only one student coming in very shortly after things got underway.

Where Do You Get Your Examples?


I recently interviewed Leah Ferguson, faculty member in Kinesiology, about how she chooses the examples she uses to illustrate concepts in her first year KIN class…

This might surprise you at first but then it’s an “of course!!” What a way to make research real, build a sense of collegiality, highlight what’s going on in the college, and let students know about the research of their other professors. The real examples from the college make the concepts come alive!

The interview is about five minutes…let us know what you think.