Why Authenticity Matters: 5 Ways Authenticity Impacts Student Learning
You may have heard the terms “authentic learning” and “authenticity” bandied about on education blogs and at conferences and department meetings. And you may feel guilty for not integrating authentic learning experiences into more of your lessons, but what exactly does that entail?
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The definition of authenticity is difficult to pin down. Though some may argue that truly authentic experiences (building the bridge, visiting the doctor’s office) are the only ones that “count” as authentic learning, it is not necessary to always take such a hardline approach. Methods such as project-based learning, housed within the ideas of constructivism and student-centered learning, can include real-world problems and open-ended questions that require students to engage with material and with others instead of simply memorizing facts. The chance to produce language, products, or performances that have meaning beyond the classroom is valuable, and though these practices differ greatly from the “traditional” classroom activities of the past, they can achieve amazing results.
So why does authenticity matter in education? Here are five ways it impacts student learning.
#1 Brain Power
Students use more of their brains when they are actively involved in multi-sensory experiences. Sitting in a classroom and taking notes uses minimal brainpower and may discourage creative, critical thinking. Further, students are less likely to remember information if it is never contextualized and internalized.
By reading, writing, explaining, evaluating, and carrying out a plan or solution, students can cement concepts and systems through practice and use those experiences to inform future experiences. In short, authentic activities allow for use of higher-order thinking skills, so students engage with more of their brains, and engage their brains in different ways.
#2 Multiple Intelligences
When students are working collaboratively on a project rather than filling in answers, they get a chance to be creative, communicate with others, and think critically. While logic and math may be key to figuring out the correct answer on a certain type of traditional test, using interpersonal, visual, and language skills to solve a real-word problem can be just as, or even more, valuable in the long run. Authentic activities can balance out the playing field for students who may be weak in one area but especially strong in another and can create more well-rounded and well-adjusted people.
#3 Student Interest and Engagement
The cliché, often used in TV and movies, of a student staring out a window as the teacher drones on, got to be a cliché for a reason. Too often, students fail to engage with a static classroom because it has no relevance to their lives outside of school. If teachers can illustrate the connections between concepts in the classroom and the real world using artifacts and current information, and challenge students to design, create, and interact with what they are learning, students won’t have time to daydream.
The feeling of pride and accomplishment students get from building an authentic product or being part of an authentic interaction is an additional advantage. They might even find a new interest or passion through direct experience with something they never had the chance to wonder about previously.
#4 Preparation for the 21st Century
The idea of authenticity fits in with the 21st century skills that have begun to take center stage recently. Whether you embrace the 4 Cs or include problem-solving and digital literacy among these emerging abilities, the principles of authentic learning complement them all. This approach to learning mirrors real life in more than just the fact that there isn’t a test at the end.
As students grapple with how, when, where, and why, they are navigating the process of problem solving and traversing the ambiguities that come with life. Instead of providing the answers, teachers provide guidance and support, meaning that students are ultimately responsible for what they produce. In this new role, instead of sources of information, teachers become sources of guidance, reflection, critical feedback, and collaboration.
#5 Integrating Technology
The proliferation of content available in new editions of textbooks and available online outside of academia means that teachers and students alike have the opportunity to utilize technology in new and exciting ways. In authentic learning’s quest to have students create for the real world, technology enables access to information, but perhaps more importantly to software and other tools that help them to create high-quality products and a platform on which to share them. Using a learning management system (LMS), such as Schoology, can help educators to curate content for their students, manage progress on projects, engage students in collaboration and evaluation, and even provide a space for students to display their work to others.
Authenticity matters because of the changing demands of our world. Content is at everyone's fingertips. Children in elementary school can Google faster than they can walk. This leaves some teachers in limbo, unsure of how to engage students who are captivated by the ever-present glowing screen. Instead of fighting against this change, education must evolve with it, getting out of the textbook, out of the classroom, and into the real world, where authentic learning happens.
Dive Deeper into These Concepts at Schoology NEXT 2018 Session
I’ll explore these ideas and practical considerations in my session at Schoology NEXT. Join me as we explore authenticity through a variety of lenses for all educators.