Lesson 3: Assessing an EL activity

Illustration of a person holding a trohpy in front of a circle with a three.


One of the more common concerns instructors have about Experiential Learning is “I see how a hands-on activity could be beneficial in my classroom, but I have no idea how to assess it or measure student learning.” And that’s a valid concern. Experiential Learning can be hard to assess. It is unpredictable, students may not be uniform in what they take from the experience and it’s a type of learning where the process is just as important as any artifact a student may produce. How can one rubric even cover all of these criteria?

Authentic assessment and EL

Authentic Assessment is often used in Experiential Learning assessment because the type of assessment required by real world activities is based on the student being able to apply knowledge learned to new tasks. 

To assess authentically, is to see how the student has learned in the new situation and to provide more freedom and opportunities for them to exhibit their new learning (Fook & Sidhu, 2010). 

Authentic assessment involves “engaging and worthy problems or questions of importance, in which students must use knowledge to fashion performances effectively and creatively. The tasks are either replicas of, or analogous to, the kinds of problems faced by...professionals in the field” (Wiggins, 1993).    

The complexity around assessing EL activities is that many higher education institutions focus on:

Measuring students’:

  • adherence to replicate decontextualized material 
  • ability to memorize content 
  • articulation of content knowledge 

(Villarroel et al., 2018)

Validity and reliability indices because:

  • subjective appraisals are discomforting
  • limited subject-matter experts to conduct more meaningful appraisals
  • calibration across experts requires coordination and time
  • application of knowledge and skills may be context-dependent
  • learning experiences may be particular and individual
  • processes including critical thinking or problem-solving can be invisible rather than demonstrable

(McCabe & O’Connor, 2014)

Experiential Learning assessment is more meaningful if it is done through the lens of authentic assessment. The first section will guide you through how the principles of authentic assessment can anchor EL assessment and following that we will show you how to develop a rubric for an EL activity.

Principles of authentic assessment

The Taylor Institute of Teaching and Learning Guide on Student Assessment explores eight guiding principles that are useful to think about when designing assessment for EL activities. Think about which (two or so) are most important to you, or most aligned with your teaching philosophy.

A Black student working with electronics with a brown teacher standing behind explaining.

A student in Schulich Studio works on a project.

  1. Culture shift to focus on evaluation of student learning as support for student learning not student performance in isolation
  2. Authentic in reflecting the work of the discipline and respecting the integrity of epistemologies
  3. Is a developmental and sustainable process that fosters self-regulated learning, academic integrity, and life-long learning
  4. Is a continuous process embedded and holistic across course, program, institution (profession); not final unit of student learning
  5. Is a process based on discussion between students and instructor to foster and be responsive to student learning and feedback
  6. Provides a balance of formative and summative opportunities and a separation between feedback and grading
  7. Provides for transparency, fairness, clarity, and quality of the what, how, and why of the assessment of students' progress and learning status and expectations as a process
  8. Is aligned with learning outcomes and instructional protocols/strategies

Individual instructors vary in their likelihood to implement authentic assessment across roles, level of experience, organizational culture, and other factors. Implementing authentic assessment principles often requires making adjustments or changes to prior practises. There are some critical questions you can ask yourself as you are designing authentic assessment practices for your experiential learning activity.

Critical questions to orient you to authentic assessment 

To help you determine if your activity is suitable for authentic assessment practices, work through these questions. Also available in the workbook and as a PDF below.

Will this activity:

Challenge your students?

If yes, to what extent?

Result in a student performing, or producing an artefact?

E.g. digital portfolio, etc.

Is the student being partially assessed by a third party?

E.g. a client, community member, industry stakeholder, Elder, etc.

Require that transfer of learning has occurred?

By means of a student’s demonstration of skill? 

Invoke a demonstration of your student’s metacognition?

Adhere to actual or simulated activities in the profession?

Or field of practice? To what extent does the activity offer fidelity to practice?

Require discussion and feedback?

Require student collaboration?

Many EL activities, like work-integrated learning or student research will include all these questions when considering authentic assessment for EL. Other forms of EL activities done in the curricular space like simulations, case studies, field trips, guest speakers, capstone projects, design projects or performances might not require assessment beyond the instructor.


Before one starts to develop a rubric it’s a good idea to determine the type of assessment strategy you will use to measure the learning in the EL activity. Some of the more common forms of assessment strategies used with EL include:


Poster presentations

Critical reflection submissions

Essays, video entries, photo essays


Conference presentations, classroom presentations

Public performances


Oral assessments

With instructor or TA

Rubrics are used to clearly signal to students how they will be assessed, and what the criteria for assessment will be. Rubrics are typically illustrated as a table that includes a row or column for values or qualities of demonstrable learning (sometimes called criteria), and rows or columns of descriptors of your expectations. They work well for evaluating and appraising Experiential Learning because they allow for the individual and learning-as-a-process aspects of EL. 

In some cases, the design of a rubric employs multiple gradients to indicate to students what combination of values/qualities and descriptions will result in what kinds of grade, indicated by a letter or percent. 

To determine what values and qualities are important to you, and that you may like to incorporate into your EL assessment, look at this table by Cottrell (2012). Often our instructional values and qualities are significantly informed by our discipline’s traditions and or professional characteristics or skills. 

Aspects of Learning

  1. Effective/Meeting Expectations

    Draws on personal and specific experience

  2. Not Yet Meeting Expectations

    Assumes the experience is an end in itself and that everyone's experience is/would be synonymous

  1. Effective/Meeting Expectations

    Assumes individual responsibility for the learning

  2. Not Yet Meeting Expectations

    Deflects responsibility; assigns blame

  1. Effective/Meeting Expectations

    Is selective about defining the context and variables

  2. Not Yet Meeting Expectations

    Covers too many unspecified variables; is conflated or confusing.

  1. Effective/Meeting Expectations

    Considers audience, including register, style, ethics, aesthetics, and other conventions background knowledge

  2. Not Yet Meeting Expectations

    Defies consideration of confidentiality; is illegible, unintelligible, or incoherent.

  1. Effective/Meeting Expectations

    Adheres to time or word limits

  2. Not Yet Meeting Expectations

    is too narrow or broad in scope; is too long or short (is repetitive)

  1. Effective/Meeting Expectations

    Delves below the surface and reaches for meaning and connection to other contexts and possibilities

  2. Not Yet Meeting Expectations

    Remains superficial or constrained to the most obvious points or renderings

Tackles complex issues, multiple perspectives, or navigates contested or ambiguous terrain

  1. Effective/Meeting Expectations

    Tackles complex issues, multiple perspectives, or navigates contested or ambiguous terrain

  2. Not Yet Meeting Expectations

    Tends to mostly safe, singular, traditional, or conservative phenomena and interpretations

  1. Effective/Meeting Expectations

    Draws on relevant theoretical standpoints; relates to prior scholarship or practice; evokes broader social and political implications

  2. Not Yet Meeting Expectations

    Mainly describes or catalogs events or theories rather than interprets, analyzes, critiques or images in the intangible theoretical stances according to situations, content, context, or events

  1. Effective/Meeting Expectations

    Depicts change in perceptions, expectations, understanding, skill acquisition, advancement, application, or personal/professional development. Refers to opportunity and applies possibilities to future prospects

  2. Not Yet Meeting Expectations

    Contains little or no evidence of personal growth, self-knowledge, awareness of others' experience, nor significant skill development. Does not connect the experience to other contexts or across domains of learning

  1. Effective/Meeting Expectations

    Synthesizes the experience and understanding; posits future possibilities and improved potential for approaching other contexts and opportunities; summarizes and concludes; provides recommendations or take-aways for self or others

  2. Not Yet Meeting Expectations

    Contains little or no evidence of personal growth, self-knowledge, awareness of others' experience, nor significant skill development. Does not connect the experience to other contexts or across domains of learning

Reflect On This

Think about the eight authentic assessment principles that could inform your assessment practice. What two or three principles resonate with you and why do you think they resonate? Is there anything about authentic assessment that you find challenging?

Note: If you want to email your reflection to yourself, you may enter your email and hit "Save." Otherwise, you can use this space to write down your thoughts without saving or use the PDF workbook to record your notes.

Your Turn

Developing your own rubric for an EL Activity

Look at these sample rubrics in the Resources and then answer these questions:

  • What do you like about the functionality of the rubrics you viewed? 
  • What do you dislike about the complexity or simplicity of the rubrics you viewed?
  • Which one could best serve as a template or exemplar for what you could use in your context?
  • What would you change or adapt about the example you selected? 

Note: If you want to email your answers to yourself, you may enter your email and hit "Save." Otherwise, you can use this space to write down your thoughts without saving or use the PDF workbook to record your notes.

Your answers

Building a Rubric

This is to show you how to build a rubric to measure learning in an EL activity. If you want to learn how to build a rubric for a critical reflection assignment, please visit the Critical Reflection Online Module.

As you build a rubric for your EL activity you will want to refer back to Cottrell’s table of qualities and values to determine which values and qualities are important for you and to develop some criteria that will measure student achievement. Here are some questions you might want to answer to get started. List specific tasks that will show you that the student has learned the value and quality you want them to learn:

  • Do you value your student’s personal experience? If so, you might incorporate this quality into the design of your EL assessment rubric. 
  • Do you value your student’s ability to refer to or ground their learning in theory presented in your course? If so, you might then consider including theory as a critical element. When you assess students learning, you’ll want them to demonstrate an ability to include relevant theory.  
  • Do you want your students to consolidate this experience with plans for future learning? 
A student speaking with their teacher.

These values and qualities become the ‘criteria’ for assessment in the rubric. Insert values/qualities that students can demonstrate to you about their different levels of learning in the columns to the right. Add in descriptions of what it looks like when students have a mastery, developing or emerging level of your expectations of the activity.

Criteria (Value/Quality)MasteryDevelopingEmerging