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Creating Authentic Learning

Written by Drew McConnell.

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Chris had a story to tell. He had thoughts, ideas and interests he wanted to express. The only question was how. Then Chris heard about Film Fest, a month long event at his school where students work together to write, film, direct and produce their own short films. Immediately Chris knew this was his opportunity to express his ideas. The only problem was Chris didn’t know the first thing about film-making. He was a decent writer, but his film-making experience consisted of taking videos of his dog with his smart phone. Luckily for Chris, his school’s goal was not just to provide students with the opportunity to express themselves, but the tools, skills and resources with which to do so.

Chris wasted no time recruiting a team of friends to help create his film. He and his team rented high quality video and audio equipment from the school and received one-on-one training on how to use it. They also attended workshops from experts the school brought in on lighting, script writing and video editing. Whenever they needed help throughout the process, he and his team went to the school media lab to get pointers. At the end of the month, All of the student films were shown at an event open to the entire community and judged by professionals. Chris’ film was well received by the judges and audience, and he found meaning in the way he had expressed his story to the community through film.

Chris’ experience with Film Fest is a great example of authentic learning. He learned a wide variety of interdisciplinary skills such as script writing, filming, and video editing, but more importantly he did so through a meaningful contribution to his community. The authors of Connected Learning, led by Mizuko Ito, stress this idea of learning as social participation. According to the book, the purpose of school is “to prepare young people for contributing and participating in social life” and not simply “to impart ‘generalized’ skills and knowledge that will be subsequently applied to work or further education.” By “social life”, the authors do not mean to suggest that young people do nothing but socialize, but rather learn to become contributors to “economic activity” as well as “civil society, family, and community.” This is precisely the opportunity Chris was given through Film Fest. By providing him with the opportunity to autonomously express himself, the tools with which to do so, connecting him with experts and valuing his contribution, the school laid the foundation for authentic learning. Chris learned not only valuable technical skills, but also how to engage with and contribute to the community around him.

What are other ways we could implement authentic learning in the classroom? How can we make formal education look more like authentic learning? How can we tie classroom learning with real-life experiences?

Ito, Mizuko; Gutierrez, Kris; Livingstone, Sonia; Penuel, Bill; Rhodes, Jean; Salen, Katie; Schor, Juliet; Sefton-Green, Julian; Watkins, S. Craig (2013-01-14). Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design. Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. Kindle Edition.