Week 4: Comment on Herrington et al.

The ten-point definition provided by Jan Herrington, Ron Oliver, and Thomas C. Reeves in “Patterns of Engagement in Authentic Online Learning Environments” (Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 2 003 [19.1], 59-71) is a useful place to begin a discussion on authentic learning activities. When viewed as a process, the whole as well as the relationship among the different elements become clearer.

From Jan Herrington’s YouTube video “Authentic Learning: What Is It?” Uploaded 9.26.11. Red circle added. (Update added 3.21.12, 7:00am.)

In the authentic learning process, the selection of a suitable problem is critical. The first criterion is that it is relevant or “real,” i.e., it exists in the world outside the classroom (1). (The number in parentheses refers to the order in which the 10 items are listed.) This relevance, however, must extend to the students, too. That is, they must be able to “own” the problem. Equally important is that it must be “ill-defined” (2) or, put another way, “up in the air,” and this one requirement pretty much absorbs some of the others such as allowing for a wide spectrum of possible views (4, 10) and multi-disciplinary approaches (7). In other words, the issue matters to the students and the world at large, is controversial, isn’t fully understood, and isn’t anywhere close to being solved. In short, it’s wide open.

Examples of real and ill-defined problems abound: natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and flooding; social problems such as public schools, housing, drugs, crime, trash, healthcare, hate. The key, though, is to limit the subject so it is relevant and do-able for the student. This is where the teacher’s facilitation is critical. S/he must be able to guide students toward a segment or definition of the problem that they can address within the context of their own lives and the course. As a learning project, it must be scheduled over a substantial but manageable period of time (3), include collaborative opportunities (5), and produce a product, service, or idea that contributes to the ultimate solution of the prolem (9).

Finally, formative and summative evaluations (8) must be built into the process, making the learning recursive rather than linear. This means that students will, from the beginning of the project to the end, continually monitor the outcomes, analyze (6) them, and adjust their plan and procedures to achieve their goal.

Before leaving this subject, the idea of “collaboration” may be worth exploring further. In some cases, we should perhaps not limit it to classmates but include, wholly or in part, people in the community. Technology makes this community option a viable option, and the potential benefits are obvious.

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2 Responses to Week 4: Comment on Herrington et al.

  1. Greg Walker says:

    Good point about including people in the community. For the AOL project we ask faculty to contact and consult with an “expert” in the field, for feedback on their ill-defined problem and suggestions for possible tasks.

    Here is how people are included from the community for another project we are involved with called scenarios based learning:
    Authenticity is a key requirement for a scenario-based task. The challenges offered to students must be real-world — something they would be asked to do if they had been hired for their target job. The details and supporting documents must ring true in order to generate student involvement and provide useful work experiences.
    Our Industry Advisory Panel convenes to assure continued authenticity of our scenarios, tasks, classroom techniques, and course material. For our latest project, we have an Ad Hoc Advisory Panel that consists of industry professionals and researchers who serve as judges for student presentations, subject matter experts for faculty and researchers, reviewers on assessments and tasks, advisors for faculty needing additional skills, and in myriad other ways that add to the quality and authenticity of the scenario-based experience for our students and faculty.
    We thank our panel participants for generously sharing their time, ideas, knowledge and experience with our faculty and staff. http://learnpbl.com/industry-advisors/

    • JimS says:

      Greg, scenarios are a terrific way to provide real-world contexts for critical and creative thinking projects, and one way to make sure that the scenarios are viable is, as you say, to work with subject matter experts and professionals in the field. From a student’s perspective, there’s nothing more stimulating than to be placed in the field — simulated or real — to address issues faced by current practitioners and researchers.

      This is also the way you and your iFacilitate team are approaching this workshop — putting us, the participants, in touch with the cutting edge issues and a wide range of the latest representative thoughts associated with those issues. Our critical thinking task is to explore as much as we can before constructing our opinions and conclusions. An integral part of that exploration is the discussions that we’re having in iFacilitate.

      Thus, we don’t have to look very far beyond our noses for an example of authentic learning.

      Updated 3.21.12 at 6:30am:
      Hua Bai’s posting guide in “Facilitating Students’ Critical Thinking in Online Discussion: An Instructor’s Experience” (Journal of Interactive Online Learning, Summer 2009, 158-59) is also an example of how this workshop is demonstrating best practice. The following in each phase stands out: Trigging: “Presents background information that culminates in a question”; Exploration: “Presents many different ideas/themes, some could be unsubstantiated contradictions of previous ideas” and “Adds to established points but does not systematically defend/justify/develop addition”; Integration: “Builds on or adds to other’s ideas”; Resolution: “Various application to real world.”

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