Assessing Authentically, News

Assessing Authentically: Aerospace Vehicle Design and Systems Integration

This unit provides practical hands-on experience of a multidisciplinary task to design, build and test an unmanned aerospace vehicle. The learning experience covers technical disciplines but also crucially offers experience in skills such as project planning, management and communication.

The Teaching

Students learn in large ‘companies’ of 100 students with work broken down into manageable chunks for ‘divisions’ of 30 students. For some tasks (including the group assessment) students are further broken down into groups of 6.

Students are taught content through lectures, seminars and training workshops in TB-1 before being given time to be ‘hands on’ and begin manufacturing their vehicle in TB-2

The Assessment

[40%] – team technical performance and report [with peer review weighting to encourage a fair division of work]

[10%] – group presentation [preceded by a formative presentation with feedback]

[30%] – January technical exam [Traditional MCQ format]

[20%] – individual reflective portfolio 

The Student Voice

The overwhelming majority of students believe that the teaching on this unit taught them valuable skills that they will need in their future careers. This is perhaps reflective of the more vocational nature of engineering when compared to very flexible programs such as English. However, students reported feeling more motivated to work harder on a unit that felt like it would be applicable to their future which is a take-away that can be applied to any discipline. 

I think the teaching on this unit taught me the skills I’ll need in my future career”

Transferable Skills

Students were clear that the most useful part of this unit wasn’t necessarily the ‘content’ but the transferable skills they developed along the way.

We had a really good 3-hour session with a professional actor on presentation skills and public speaking. I think that was one of the greatest things I took from this unit, it was stuff like how to work in a group, and then the professional practice like how to manage your project.”

“I think the teaching on this unit taught me transferable skills.”

“The non-technical aspects of this unit were really beneficial, and I’ve been using it in my interviews”


70% of students agreed that this assessment method was authentic, and the majority preferred this assessment method over a ‘traditional’ assessment commonly found in their course. This is interesting as student feedback also suggested that students found this assessment more difficult and time-consuming than an exam.

“I worked really, really hard for this project. Harder than I did for any of my other units. I was in the lab every single day but that was okay because I enjoyed it”

 It seems students are willing to accept increased difficulty when they can see the value of the assessment beyond their grade.  

“I preferred this assessment method over a ‘traditional’ assessment method”


While some comments were made about the initial difficulty engaging with the content and a feeling of ‘overwhelm’, the majority of students felt that this unit was an enjoyable addition to their timetable. They reflected on the development of their transferable skills though presentations, project planning and a huge amount of teamwork. Overall, students enjoyed this authentic assessment method and saw a great deal of value in this alongside their more traditionally structured units. 


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