What is authentic learning?

I have spent a lot of time this year reflecting on what is happening in the classrooms in my school.  Don’t get me wrong-there are countless good things going on.  I still have to wonder if some of the things we are doing would be considered authentic learning.

What is authentic learning anyway?

Research tells us that children, and adults for that matter, learn better by doing.  I think if we were to ask them, most students would tell us that they would rather learn by doing then just listening to the teacher.

I am always struggling with the idea of student engagement.  How do we get them engaged?  I listen to conversations all the time that involve the same few ideas:

1.  My students do not want to take responsibility for their own learning.

2. My students do not get their homework done, and if they do, it is sloppy and poorly completed.

3.  My students do not put any effort into their work and hand things in half done or completed with very little effort.

What I have to wonder is…

Could these problems all be solved or at least improved drastically if we were able to improve student engagement through authentic learning activities?

I have successfully applied for a grant to start in the fall.  My inquiry question is whether or not we can improve student engagement with middle years social studies by using web 2.0 tools.  I will have to get back to you on how that turns out.

I do know at this point that using the tools won’t be enough.  We will also need to make sure that we are planning  authentic learning activities and setting our students up with some rigorous questions that require more than a Google search to answer.

I am including a list of 10 ideas to consider when planning authentic learning activities in any domain.

1. Real-world relevance: Authentic activities match the real-world tasks of professionals in practice as nearly as possible. Learning rises to the level of authenticity when it asks students to work actively with abstract concepts, facts, and formulae inside a realistic—and highly social—context.
2. Ill-defined problem: Challenges cannot be solved easily by the application of an existing algorithm; instead, authentic activities are relatively undefined and open to multiple interpretations, requiring students to identify for themselves the tasks and subtasks needed to complete the major task.

3. Sustained investigation
: Problems cannot be solved in a matter of minutes or even hours. Instead, authentic activities comprise complex tasks to be investigated by students over a sustained period of time, requiring significant investment of time and intellectual resources.
4. Multiple sources and perspectives: Learners are not given a list of resources. Authentic activities provide the opportunity for students to examine the task from a variety of theoretical and practical perspectives, using a variety of resources, and requires students to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information in the process.
5. Collaboration: Success is not achievable by an individual learner working alone. Authentic activities make collaboration integral to the task, both within the course and in the real world.

6. Reflection (metacognition)
: Authentic activities enable learners to make choices and reflect on their learning, both individually and as a team or community.
7. Interdisciplinary perspective: Relevance is not confined to a single domain or subject matter specialization. Instead, authentic activities have consequences that extend beyond a particular discipline, encouraging students to adopt diverse roles and think in interdisciplinary terms.
8. Integrated assessment: Assessment is not merely summative in authentic activities but is woven seamlessly into the major task in a manner that reflects real-world evaluation processes.

9. Polished products: Conclusions are not merely exercises or substeps in preparation for something else. Authentic activities culminate in the creation of a whole product, valuable in its own right.
10. Multiple interpretations and outcomes: Rather than yielding a single correct answer obtained by the application of rules and procedures, authentic activities allow for diverse interpretations and competing solutions.

Authentic Learning for the 21 Century: An Overview, by Marilyn M. Lombardi, http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI3009.pdf

As a learning support teacher, I spend time helping students one on one in tutorial type situations.  I find this very rewarding.  I do get frustrated at times when I am helping students complete long assignments without any connections to their worlds.  I am not sure what learning is taking place when they are not making any connection to what they are being asked to do.

At the same time, I feel nothing but hope for the progress we are making.  At times it may seem slow, but most teachers recognize a need for change and are moving toward those changes that are necessary for authentic, student driven learning.