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Authenticity

September 10, 2013

I have given myself a bit of a challenge around blogging. I am going to try to blog at least once per week. I don’t believe at this point I will be able to publish something daily. However, I do feel I will be able to put something together weekly. So, for the rest of the school year, I will endeavour to write a blog post every week. Wish me luck:)

Over the past few weeks of this new school year, I have thought quite a bit about the idea of authentic learning activities. The blogs I read and the people I follow on Twitter often refer to authentic learning. When I really thought about it, I did not have a firm definition about what it meant. On the surface, I understand what all of the words mean individually. But, when put together, I didn’t think I had a firm grasp of the concept. Authentic to me means real. But as I read I came to understand that authenticity in learning means a great deal more.

One of the people I follow and admire is David Truss (@datruss, http://pairadimes.davidtruss.com/). David is an educator in British Columbia and runs a program called Inquiry Hub. I asked David a few weeks ago on Twitter how he would define authentic learning. His response was to point me to this blog post: http://pairadimes.davidtruss.com/7-ways-to-transform-your-classroom/. David suggests that authentic learning must involve opportunities for inquiry, opportunities for students to have a voice, ensuring students have an audience, establishing a community, opportunities for student leadership, opportunities to play, and the creation of networks. By doing these things, teachers create authenticity in learning. To me this speaks a great deal to the idea of creation vs. consumption.

A vast majority of people spend their online time as consumers. We consume information constantly through media sites and our social networks. Google has gone from a tech company to a verb. This obviously applies to students too. In classrooms, students are asked to be consumers of information in order to fill in charts and complete worksheets. If we adopt David Truss’ concepts, we can encourage students to be creators and not just consumers. But, it isn’t enough just to have them create a web page or a presentation. We must then provide them with an audience to present this information to, and the audience cannot just be within the classroom. We must encourage students to present their ideas to an audience that stretches beyond the classroom into a larger community. In addition, teachers must encourage students to ask questions. The students should lead the charge in determining what they would like to examine and search. We must allow students to have fun with what they are doing.

One teacher that I see doing this is Jesse McLean (@jpmclean, http://www.jessepmclean.com). He has taken the idea of inquiry, and combined it with the concept of Genius Hour (@geniushour, http://www.geniushour.wikispaces.com, @gallit_z) to create unique inquiry opportunities for his middle school students during a week long project called Innovation Week. They are encouraged to play and discover. They establish networks and collaborate with classmates and experts to create. Their creations are then shared with a wide audience. The goal is not perfection. The goal is to work through a process with supports and encouragement. To me, this is the embodiment of authentic learning.

Today I read a blog post from Shawn White (@swpax, http://swpax.us/5-365/) about failure. While I wasn’t initially thinking about the concept of failure, after reading Shawn’s blog, I have come to believe that failing is a major component of authentic learning. Shawn writes:  “There has been a lot of educational discussion around the word fail as connected educators grapple with the meaning of this word as it applies to both learning and our educational system; note that I delineate the two. When discussing failure there are two contexts from which we may view it: failed attempts to complete an authentic learning task and the failing of an academic, too often behavioral task such as receiving an F on an assessment or a course final grade. I’ll address the latter in a later post” (http://swpax.us/5-365/). Shawn goes on to write about the connotations a word like “fail” has in an education setting. In fact, over the last week on Twitter many educators have discussed the idea of failing as being a positive aspect of learning, unlearning, and relearning. However, Shawn suggests a substitute phrase instead to use when referring to authentic learning. He writes: “How about Frequent Attempts In Learning? The choice of the word Frequent gets beyond First to clearly define the frequency of attempts required for authentic learning. It frames or primes a mindset of the growth, perseverance, and vigor that deep, authentic learning requires” (http://swpax.us/5-365/). Rather than use fail or first, Shawn suggests we use frequent attempts as a way to convey the process of authentic learning.

All three of the teachers referred to above are shaping my concept of authentic learning as is my wife, Laurel Beaton (@laurelbeaton, http://www.laurelbeaton.wordpress.com). In her capacity as a coordinator with Alberta Distance Learning, she encourages teachers to provide authentic learning experiences in a distance format. She suggests, that “in order for learning to be authentic, it must be something that students actively participate in creating.  Learning that is socially constructed within learning networks.  These networks (student to student, student to teacher, student to experts, student to authentic relevant real world content) help students to pose and solve complex problems by collaborating and creating with others.” In addition, Laurel suggests that in order for learning to be truly authentic, the entire community must be engaged in the process. She goes on to say that the ideas suggested by Will Richardson (@willrich45, http://www.willrichardson.com) encapsulate the idea of authentic learning:

  • “Designing and sharing information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes.“
  • “Building relationships with others to solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally.“
  • “Managing, analyzing and synthesizing multiple streams of information?“

–      Adapted from Will Richardson

Clearly, I have a lot to think about. As I look at my year, I am trying to determine how I will include David Truss’ seven components of authentic learning,  Jesse McLean’s ideas about authenticity, Shawn White’s ideas about frequent attempts at learning, and Laurel Beaton’s ideas about connected participation into my Grade 12 Social Studies classroom. As I teach in Alberta, my students are faced with a high stakes, standardized diploma exam at the end of the year worth 50% of their grade. Given that reality, how to I encourage true inquiry about ideas students are passionate about? How do I allow my students to play when we must cover so many topics. I believe very strongly in the concept of authentic learning and truly want to make it happen in my classroom. I’m just not entirely certain where to start. Guess I need to read and think a bit more.

Have a great day,

Sean Beaton

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2 Comments
  1. Great post, thanks for sharing!

    Three things come to mind Sean:

    1 & 2. On my post, David Deubelbiess commented, “Although implicit in all these principles – I think it should stand alone as an 8th – Purpose. What is lacking in most classroom activity is a link to “the real” and that things are done because they matter and not because it gets a grade or the teacher said so or, or, or …..” We’ll said! That really makes the learning authentic. As a second point, I hope you can maintain your blog weekly, I want to do the same but bi-monthly seems more the norm these days. The real power of a blog is that it is authentic learning. Blogging opens the door to feedback that often challenges or extends our own thinking, as David did for me… (Just realized that I need to go respond to that comment.)

    3. With respect to ‘failure’, endulge me and have a listen to a post Edcamp reflection podcast where I talk about ‘My epic failure’ being a portfolio requirement: http://podcasts.davidtruss.com/pair-a-dimes-8-my-edcampwest-reflections/

    Cheers,
    Dave

    • Dave,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I will take a look at the podcast you suggested. I agree that the idea of making things “real” is a key component in authentic learning. I think that is where I am getting a bit stuck. I find myself spending a lot of brain power in thinking of ways to develop tasks that matter. As I write this, I wonder if a way to develop tasks that matter because they are important and not because they are worth a grade is to ask students, to involve them in my thought process.

      I am uncertain if I will be able to maintain my weekly blogging efforts but I will try. I am finding that my thinking continues to be extended by the reading I do and the comments I receive. Thanks for taking the time to respond, Dave. I know how busy you are. Have a great weekend!

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