Case Study: Authentic Assessment on the Being Human Unit (CfIE)

Dr Keir Williams, Senior Lecturer in Design Thinking

The Practice

This case study shares an approach to ‘authentic’ learning using an example from a unit I direct for first-year Innovation students at the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (the Centre). My teaching approach is participatory, student-led, and grounded in principles of inclusion, civic engagement, and the value of transdisciplinary collaboration. To be ‘authentic’ in my teaching, I follow these principles to design my assignments and teaching delivery.

  • Use experience-led projects with civic and industry partners in Bristol for assessment.
  • Provide the opportunities and skills for everyone to participate and contribute.
  • Produce valuable outcomes for project stakeholders and students.

Being Human: Design By Nature Awards

In the first year of our Innovation program at the Centre, students work in transdisciplinary teams of five people. Our assessment briefs this year were based on the submission for the Design By Nature: Student Design Awards. The awards focus on ‘inspiring innovative ways of living that are good for the environment’. The brief asked for the following:

Create an affordable, practical, and evidence-based prototype that brings the multiple benefits of Nature into the homes of low-income inner-city communities.

The Being Human unit teaches students to learn, apply, document, and reflect on participatory design and research methods for Innovation. We have ~120 students from thirteen different disciplines on the unit.  We delivered the unit this year through facilitated online workshops and asynchronous teaching materials. I teach with two other staff on the unit Dave Jarman and Dr. Malé Lujan Escalante. They each bring their practice as academics, innovators, and entrepreneurs teaching. This unit focuses on developing the ‘evidence-based’ design insights that inform the students’ prototype design in the parallel first year unit. The assessment requires students to submit a team research report providing a critical reflection on their professional development and their design insights on the following:

  1. Inner-city, low-income communities – The audience and participants for the project.
  2. Nature on your Doorstep – The Nature in our participant’s homes and the local area.
  3. Design for Nature – Methods to engage communities with local Nature.
A submission from one of Keir’s students.

Formative Challenges: Modelling Practice

The unit was structured around a series of two-week challenges. The challenges supported our students to produce content for their research report in a systematic process. To bring a wider set of practices and experiences for our students to consider we recorded interviews with practitioners from industry, civic and community organisations about their professional practice. We asked them to provide references and resources and help designs tasks for the challenge. The outcomes for the tasks in the challenges included reflective writing, map-making, photography, and social media posts. Each formative challenge runs over two weeks and has the following three tasks:

  1. In the first week of the challenge, students carry out an applied research task which we introduce in a facilitated session. Students use an online research board to discuss and document their collaborative research process.
  2. In the second week of the challenge, the teams complete a synthesis task with the material from their team research boards and use the results to produce design insights using a template.
  3. Across both weeks, the professional development task students critically reflect on their professional practice as a team and individually.

Teaching Resources

Each week we provide a facilitated teaching session, video lectures from teaching staff and industry guests, case studies, and library resources to help our students complete each challenge. These included:

  • Lecture SeriesWe provide a lecture video that will contextualise the facilitated session and share our guest’s professional practices.
  • Library Resource – The library skills resource, developed with our specialist subject librarians Dr. Marika Zeimbekis and Sarah Brain, provides the resources, skills, and confidence to use the library resources at the university for design-led research.
  • Professional Development Resource – These video series and resources support the professional development task.

Note: links require UoB single sign-on and play counts are not representative

The Impact

My authentic approach assessment aims to help students develop an individual, ‘authentic’ and innovative practice grounded in discipline. We have five teams that have chosen to submit for the award. If they don’t win it is a valuable opportunity for engaged learning for the students. I have provided some examples from our students’ and graduates’ feedback on our teaching and ‘authentic’ approach.

“Dr. Williams teaching style is extremely empowering and enables students to get out of the lecture theatre and explore new material by using Bristol as a learning city. He has transformed how I see the world and opened up a world of new ideas and career opportunities.” – 1st Year Anthropology and Innovation Student, Dr Keir Williams Best of Bristol Lecturer Award Nomination

Feedback BoardWe ran a feedback session with our students in the final week of the unit. This board has the student’s comments as post-its at the bottom of the unit overview.

Graduates: The graduate destinations of my students show an impact on their methods and focus in their professional work. A good example is the Peequal startup that is recently getting a lot of coverage for their innovative female urinal:

Next Steps

I am working with several partners across the university for next year’s teaching, including an ongoing collaboration with the Theatre Collection, Brigstow, and other URI’s to inform and structure our teaching. The work we have done on this unit was within the limited resources of the teaching team and the Centre. We require support to develop further and share the best practices of this ‘authentic’ assessment approach.


I am always excited to collaborate with new people and disciplines, so please email if you would like to talk or propose a collaboration. |


I have created a final unit overview which sets out the weekly themes, resources, and challenge for the unit. Enter as a visitor. Please double-click resources to view them. Most resources require a UoB login to view.Being Human TB2 Overview, Resources and Feedback. –

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