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8 Ways to Make Student Work Authentic (Part 2)

Both learners and facilitators want their ‘why’ to be an integral part of the learning process. Authentic learning can make learning real and optimal for all learners. Project-based learning practitioners, as well as many educators who take a personalized 21st-century approach, use authenticity as a foundational metric of both pedagogy and success.

How can facilitators make work more authentic? Here are the final four of eight broad areas (see Part 1) that increase authenticity in teaching and learning:

5. Authentic Skills

Historically, teachers have evaluated student success primarily based on what the student knows rather than what the student can do. However, academic norms are shifting. We live in a performance-based world. It’s not enough for students to know something. They need to know how to apply what they know. In recent times, we’ve seen a renewed emphasis on skills acquisition, from technical skills to soft skills. Other authentic skills include those in the areas of technology, literacy and presentation. Project-based learning allows learners to improve across skill areas simultaneously. Facilitators identify skill goals for learners, offering them effective, timely, regular feedback on the development of these skills. Collaboration, or teamwork, is a prized skill in the workforce, and it’s something learners can practice, improve, understand deeply and be assessed on. 

6. Authentic Tech / Authentic Gear

School equipment in the past was fairly standard and didn’t reflect its real-world work counterparts, but learners love to use authentic, professional equipment and the latest technology. In light of the tech revolution, do we really want learners to make posters for their presentations, or would it be more authentic for them to create professional slide presentations complete with images, videos, links, survey tools and resources? Schools should observe what’s happening in industries and offer learners access to relevant tools, such as 3D printers, welders, plasma cutters, high-end cameras, studios, specialized software, maker spaces and STEAM/STEM labs.

7. Authentic Products / Authentic Outcomes

In project-based learning, learners create and share products that the public can experience and critique. The list of authentic products is endless, but they’re similar to what professionals produce as their final work. They’re things learners can make, build, create, design, produce and present. These may be presentations, videos, public service announcements, printed materials, websites, logos, companies, organizations, or events. Learners tend to care about their work more when there are public expectations of their final products. And their final products often combine many authentic elements, such as real-world problems and challenges, technology and gear, audiences and collaborators and more. As educators, we care about the learning process and metacognitive journey that learners will engage in while producing their best public product. 

8. Authentic Competition

Let’s be perfectly clear. Not all projects need to have a competitive component. That said, competition is one avenue that can create more interest and authenticity for learners. Why are athletics, performing arts and other co-curricular endeavors so popular? There are many reasons, but their competitive nature is one of them. Those in the visual arts (video, media, art, graphic design) have long enjoyed participating in various local, regional, national and even international contests. Educators working in Career Technical Education realized long ago that contests, such as Skills Challenge USA, engaged learners with real, relevant and applicable work. Schools can create the contest, or competition, in any authentic learner work. If we’re addressing a school or campus concern, for example, the administration can offer awards or incentives, such as implementing winning solutions. Business and community partners can offer a competitive component, such as awards, scholarships or internships. What if our learner products, presentations and work used Shark Tank–like tactics and allowed public audiences and collaborative partners to choose, as well as invest in, selected final works? There are online contests for almost every imaginable endeavor. Sometimes we just need to include or make our learners aware of these options. 

Wrapping Up

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of ways to encourage authentic learner work. Connecting learning with the real world will become increasingly vital over time. These various paths to authenticity can help solidify that connection.

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