The Importance of Authenticity Inside and Outside the Classroom
I teach graduate educational technology courses at Boise State University to mostly in-service teachers. One of them is Integrating Technology Into the Classroom. It as a course with a project-based learning framework. Learners are given a series of course projects and asked to develop learning activities for their particular content areas and grade levels. Examples include developing a video library and associated lesson for their content area; developing a lesson for their content area that uses social media, etc.
This morning I received the following communication from a co-instructor:
Jackie, I thought you would want to know this. I teach 514. I ask each student to reflect on a “best learning experience” and this semester I have a student in 514 who wrote the following:
My experience of EDTECH 541 stands out for me as the best experience I have had in learning. I say this for many reasons, and they start with how the structure of the course allowed such creative freedom along with the exploration and experimentation of new tools. With every assignment, I just remember thinking how fun it was, and how great it was that a school class could engage me so much.
Each assignment just seemed to get better. It also seemed like everything just flowed, and the work I was doing had some real impact. I was using the skills I practiced and learned the night before working on the project, the next day in my workplace. I even helped coworkers based on some of the things I learned in the class.
A major moment in this course was some validation of my work that I was not used to. A few of my assignments were used as examples, and some were even tweeted out, and retweeted! The fact that a professional in this field (the professor) and others thought my project had real value and took the time to share it thrilled me. That has been one of the best moments in my education, because for the first time I felt my work extended beyond the gradebook. I also felt like my work gave me some validation and confidence that I just might be able to put some things on a resume that might land me a sought after position someday.
I also remembering throughout the course how great it would be to do that kind of work for a living. It validated my choice and the months I spent trying to find a master’s degree I wanted to pursue. And it was a vast amount of time. I looked for nearly 4 months trying to find something, and just by chance I discovered this program. The EDTECH 541 experience I had was worth it.
Of course, educators love getting feedback like this. It is affirming, but more importantly are the rewards the learner received. Note that the tone of this communication was not about me as the educator but her as a learner and student. This is what excites me the most. Messages gleamed from this feedback:
- Learners need to be given authentic tasks which asks them to put their “selves” into the learning projects.
- As noted in this communication, school should be fun and engaging.
- Skills being acquired by learners should be relevant and usable in their lives outside of the classroom (regardless of age).
- The educator should help learners establish authentic audiences where the learners can share their work to authentic audiences outside of the classroom, to audiences of their peers. (Note: peers aren’t necessarily others of the same age. They are those who share the same interests and passions, who have similar perspectives of the world.)
- Social-emotional gains are important. Learners gaining confidence in themselves and their abilities should be an intentional goal in all learning environments.
- The bottom line, which I have stressed in the past, is that the educator should set up the conditions for learners to say, “I am a good and confident learner,” rather than “You are a good teacher.”
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