8 Ways to Make Student Work Authentic (Part 1)
In the middle of a school lesson, a student asks, “When am I ever going to use this?” Since the advent of formal education, it’s been the question heard around the world.
Facilitators of project-based learning aspire to make learning real. Authentic learning optimizes education 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 first four of eight broad areas that increase authenticity in teaching and learning:
1. Authentic Problems / Challenges
One of the best ways to make learning authentic is to pursue real-world problems, challenges and questions. Real-world problems are all around us, though not typically in textbooks or standardized curriculum. They’re in the news, in industries, in our local communities and in our homes. If professionals are spending time, resources and careers seeking solutions to a problem, it’s a real-world problem. Often, solutions to these types of problems can change the world, create new career opportunities, lead to new products and services, and rewrite cultural norms and expectations. Authentic learning invites learners to attack real-world problems and generate real-world solutions. The result is more than simply learning; it’s how our best jobs are created.
2. Authentic Audiences
Who is going to see our learners’ final work? In many classrooms, only the instructor sees the work and sometimes peers do too. However, we live in an age in which that is simply not enough. We want more people to see our students’ work for a variety of reasons. One, it can potentially motivate or focus students based on how many will see their work. But two, it’s the real world. Most of us work in environments where someone, often many, see our work. And because of that we care. We have an authentic reason to produce higher quality work. If no one was ever going to see or use our work, we might not care about producing our personal best. So, how do expand the real audiences for our projects and student work? We need to think beyond the classroom. We need to engage other members or our school communities (staff, administrators, parents, community members, etc.) as a start. We can extend beyond that and include industry and business partners, government officials, higher education partners, community groups, non-profit organizations and others. All of these groups represent an expanded audience and those that can have a direct impact on the quality of the student work, as well as the many opportunities that can arise when we produce higher quality work. Finally, technology and things like social media platforms allow us to truly expand our audiences globally. More on that later when we talk tech.
3. Authentic Partners
In addition to working with one’s teachers and advisors, as well as one’s peers, authenticity is now influenced by the number of diverse partners a student can collaborate with in a variety of capacities. Student work, as well as their future careers, can be positively affected and altered by the distinct partners that get involved. The potential partners are many. They include, but are not limited to industry professionals, business leaders, government and civic leaders or officials, community leaders, non-profit leaders and staff, parent volunteers, higher education partners, entrepreneurs, alumni and more. What can these authentic partners offer our educators and their students? Again, the list includes, but is not limited to advice, critique and feedback, expertise, evaluation, judging competitive events, resources, equipment and technology, more partners, event coordination, access to their websites and social media for student work, actual problems and challenges they are currently working on, networks, audience members and more. Collaboration is the most important career readiness skill so let’s give our students lots of opportunities to collaborate with a variety of partners.
4. Authentic Clients
Facilitating consultant-client relationships for our learners is invaluable. If we coordinate with our partners — especially in the private and public sectors — learners can design real services and products to address real needs and challenges. Learners are more engaged when they know a real person will benefit from their work. In a consultant-client relationship, they also improve their marketable skills. Why manufacture arbitrary deadlines, challenges or needs when a client partner can present real ones?