Authentic Assessment in Higher Education: Applying a Habermasian Framework


  • Mr. Graham Lean Ontario Tech University
  • Wendy Barber Ontario Tech University



authentic assessment, higher education, Habermas , adult education


The pursuit of authentic assessment has challenged educators to redesign and reformulate assessment and evaluation to better meet the needs of digital-era learners. Its primary goal has been to bring more accurate representations of “real world” situations and characteristics to education through assessment. However, these moves toward authentic assessment have too often limited notions of authenticity to an external real world, which itself is often limited to the world of work. This restricted view of authenticity in assessment risks neglecting key aspects of students’ ontological and epistemological subjectivity, and their ever-changing, evolving and authentic notions of self. Authentic assessment requires a holistic approach that underscores the student as an individual within a society. This means we must strike a balance between social expectations and individual autonomy because authentic assessment that aims to replicate the world of work risks neglecting student agency, self-determination and the desire to achieve subjective authenticity. This paper’s purpose is to critically interrogate authentic assessment and analyse theoretical frameworks upon which higher education can build and implement balanced and holistic approaches to authenticity in assessment. Resting on Jurgen Habermas’ Knowledge Constitutive Interests, the authors argue for a more balanced approach to authentic assessment that incorporates human drives for objectified knowledge, communicative rationality, and emancipatory learning. After establishing the relevance of Habermas’ theoretical framework to authentic assessment, this paper examines the value of self, peer and negotiated assessment and the potential of digital tools to aid these processes.

Author Biography

Mr. Graham Lean, Ontario Tech University

Graham Lean is an Associate Researcher at the Education Informatics Lab , Faculty of Education, Ontario Tech University. He holds a BA in Sociology from Newcastle University and is pursuing a Master of Education at Ontario Tech University. His areas of interest include critical pedagogies for online learning, democratizing online learning, student agency and digital technology, metacognition, and authentic assessment.

Dr. Wendy Barber is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa, Canada.  She is the recipient of Teaching Awards of Excellence in Health and Physical Education, Teacher Development, Resilience, and Online Pedagogy. Her research is centred in the PHEWISE Digital Research Lab at She is also an Associate Researcher with the Education Informatics Lab at