#Change11 Authentic Learning in Classroom and Higher Education

This is my second post relating to Authentic Learning. Here is my previous post on authentic learning, where I have thought about using community as the classroom.

Jan’s video about authentic learning well illustrates the concepts and principles behind.

Here Jan distinguishes the learning – academic and real tasks into four main categories:

1. Academic tasks set in academic settings (Tests, quizzes, essays, lab reports, short answers questions, exercises). Jan remarked that more than 90% of the schools and universities are using these methods for assessment.

2. Realistic tasks set in academic settings.  Jan suggested that this to be the authentic learning rendered possible in classroom setting.

3. Academic tasks set in a real setting.

4. Real tasks completed in a real workplace.

To what extent is such authentic learning applicable to the classroom teaching, especially in High School and Higher Education Institutions?

I have great interests in the teaching and assessment strategies employed by the 2 professors – Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig of Stanford University course on AI.  George Siemens once commented on the way it (AI course) was structured, urging for transparency in learning and assessment (who is behind the scene) and a pedagogy moving towards more substantial active student engagement (a connectivist approach), when scaling it up with openness. As shared by Tony Bates here, and here in my previous post on re-inventing education, the teaching is based similar to the Salman Khan’s approach in posting videos instructing readers on the steps and concepts behind those theories, with examples.  The assessment falls mainly with the academic tasks under a classroom framework, though it is still using typical assignments, quizzes, examinations to assess the learners.  The use of computerized assessment further validated that it is more “decontextualised” rather than authentic in nature.  Nevertheless, these are bold experiments based on an innovative approach, especially when it comes to openness in the instruction and interaction with the learners.

Here in the blog post:

“Not all educators are enamored with Khan and his site. Gary Stager, a longtime educational consultant and advocate of laptops in classrooms, thinks Khan Academy isn’t innovative at all. The videos and software modules, he contends, are just a high tech version of that most hoary of teaching techniques—lecturing and drilling. Schools have become “joyless test-prep factories,” he says, and Khan Academy caters to this dismal trend. Khan’s approach “suffers from this sort of ’school über alles’ philosophy: They’re not going to question anything the schools do. They’re not going to challenge any of the content.” Stager admires the fact that Khan is trying to improve education, but he says research has shown that kids who are struggling at math won’t be helped by a “filmstrip.””

So, here comes the first challenge, with online distance learning, where we don’t have enough background information of the learners, and then, as instructional or learning designers, we might have to exercise constraints, in order to make it effective and efficient, and be scalable, by using standardized test, assignments and quizzes (which would allow for computerized marking) and examinations which are criteria-based, not norm based.   With openness, there comes competition, as the results of all assessment would then be compared to the norms of the cohort of learners, indicating who are the best achievers and who are the mediocre performers, and those who fail to achieve the minimum benchmarks.  This could be a good and fair way of assessing learners, based on an objective system, from a teaching and educational point of view.  But it could also lead to a dilemma.

Are these courses designed for the elites, or the “average” students?  Though the courses are open to anyone interested in the courses, there are pre-requisite skills for the course.  So, it is not true that anyone would be able to follow the course, though one could argue that so far if you are interested in the content, why not just follow the course without doing any assignments, quizzes or examinations, as you could still benefit from it, by learning something new there.  From a personal learning point of view, I think that is what open education could offer, and that is why I greatly appraise the professors and the University in making this education available and allowing students in interacting with the professors, through various means.

However, when it comes to education, one of the greatest challenges is to check on students’ prior learning, the educational background, and how to assess on the learning progress of the students, through formative assessment.

What happens if the learners are falling behind in the learning, in connectivity, or in the submission of quizzes, assignments or poor performance in examination?  Learning analytics might reflect what would likely be the issues, when it comes to lack of engagement with the resources, artifacts, or failure to watch the video, or poor connectivity.  But it may not reveal what the actual problems are, like the failure to understand the concepts behind the theories, or failure to remember the “answers” to the questions, or the failure to comprehend the lectures, due to lack of language skills (fail to understand English).

How could authentic learning be applied in this situation?  May be decontextualization is the only way to assessment of students on a massive scale,  as computerized system is employed.

Another question is: What are we trying to assess in a course?  Is the course having standardized and rigid learning outcomes?  Are the learning outcomes catering for the learner’s needs, or are they designed to cater principally for the accreditation of the course?

Paul in his post on The Complexities of Designing Authentic Learning in Open Distance Learning says:

“While residential lecturers have the luxury of seeing and knowing their students (I assume) in classroom interactions, open distance learning institutions never “see” their students – and open distance learning (ODL) institutions have to rely on up-to-date student profile data and learning analytics to get to know our students. Add to this that many of our foundational courses (modules) have more than 15,000 students per 16-week semester with relatively limited Internet access; then the issues Herrington raises such as “collaboration”, “coaching and scaffolding”, “authentic assessment” and “authentic activities” are real challenges.

With the digital divide slowly disappearing; mobile and online learning will soon create huge possibilities and opportunities for more authentic learning design in a 16-week semester. However, my main concern is that for authentic learning to become a reality, course design teams will really have to take student profiles and student contexts much more seriously.”

In this E-Learning – Learning Papers

“Leanne Cameron and Miriam Tanti describe an interesting case study of students as designers. They argue that the ‘students as learning designers’ approach challenges transmission models of pedagogy and requires teachers to relinquish some control to their students so that they might have the space to experiment and discover how to learn.  This paper outlined the findings of two studies that allowed students to explore new ways of learning, where they were encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning, and outlines what potential social media tools may have in facilitating this experience.  These projects demonstrate that when students are empowered to design their own learning activities, they can deeply engage in the learning process.”

So, instead of teachers as instructional designers of the course, would it be possible to encourage and support students as designers, where tasks, activities and even the course is based on what might be a product of negotiation, or coming from the students as an initiative.  Such an approach has also been reported by Williams et al (2011) here:

“Although the course emphasis is collaborative assessment, peer feedback, and students’ contributions to the marking process, it is acknowledged that the power of assessment remains invested in the tutors and institution and that there are hierarchical differences between students and tutors.  Whilst tutors recognise that academics are not necessarily authorities in a course where students can negotiate their curriculum and that they can learn a lot from the negotiated curriculum and students, the course is not a free-for-all and tutors do not abdicate responsibility for their students’ learning.”

So, to what extent would authentic learning and assessment be applicable to classroom environment, especially in open distance learning environment?

I reckon there are still some resistance, especially in the classroom environment, to resort to other means of learning, like on-the-job or workplace learning, or the project-based and problem-based learning with the learners at the center of teaching and learning, or being mentored or coached on a one-on-one or a small group, rather than being taught in the classroom, on a lecture basis.

For a course which have “simple” learning outcomes, especially at a vocational education and training or high school level, what would the learners expect?

Would the learners have expected quizzes, standard assignments, examinations?  Most of the students have been accustomed to this form of assessments, and might even be comfortable to taking tests and examinations, where they could respond to challenging questions set forth.

Would students like to accept authentic assessment tasks instead of taking examination?  Yes, and no. Yes, when students realise that those tasks or projects would add significant values to their learning, or in preparation of the vocation or career that they are going to take up.  No, since many students prefer to sit in a class, and listen to the “expert” teachers’ expositions, in the “transfer” of knowledge and skills, and then giving a “high satisfaction” rating to the teachers, because that is where they love the teachers, and how they have been taught, with their teachers “singing” the same song, because they are coming from similar or same cultural and ethnic background, entertaining them in the same way that they have been brought up, and engaging them in the learning process in the classroom.  Teaching becomes the norm, rather than the exception in these sort of classroom learning situation, and is the expectation of most institutions. Isn’t it the perfect learning scenario?

If both the teachers and students are highly satisfied with the “spoon fed” approach towards teaching in a classroom, where the learners could sit back and relax, why change?  I wonder! You might have the answer to this!

The above scenarios carried a lot of assumptions, and a lot of provocative special circumstances for me to reflect upon.  Surely, not every student or teacher are like that, I suppose.  However, the reality is, not every student is ready for changes, or willing to accept changes in the teaching or learning methods, unless they understand the values and benefits of those changes.  Besides, there are many constraints on how teachers could go beyond the typical standard approach of using quizzes, assignments and examination and academic tasks.  Unless there are sufficient proven research that authentic learning and assessment is far more superior to those standardized teaching and lecturing, or mastery learning approach, it is still challenging for both the teachers and students to experiment with the new and emergent approaches towards learning, as our research on Pedagogy of Abundance or Pedagogy to Support Human Beings reveals.  Or we might have to resort to Learning Analytics to understand how learners connect and learn throughout the course, and apply intervention in an emergent manner to ensure the authenticity of learning.

Postscript: George just posted this wonderful post with great insights.

I would also like to respond to Clive’s post relating to massive scalable training here.  I think it could work, and to some extent, it is already happening, in MOOCs.

An interesting post on digital literacy.