Technologies and Authentic Activities


Authentic learning tasks are real-world activities -- tasks or problems that a student would encounter in life. For example, an instructor gives college students the task to produce a documentary film. Since technology has advanced, this kind of project provides learning tasks that result in a real product. The task requires a student to solve a series of problems that lead to a final meaningful product (Reeves, Herrington, & Oliver, 2002). Teachers need to develop learning activities that are grounded in reality. I don't think we can ask students to memorize long lists of dates that have no meaning outside the need to pass an exam. True-false questions or multiple choice answers are teacher driven. That is the traditional assessment. Authentic learning and assessment, as in life, requires that a student demonstrate proficiency (Mueller, 2012).

Ten characteristics of authentic learning tasks were identified by Reeves, et al. (2002) to help instructors design authentic tasks. They included:

1.  Real-world relevance for all tasks -- Activities match real-world tasks of professionals.
2.  Ill-defined -- Requiring students to define the tasks and sub-tasks needed to complete the activity.
3.  Complex, sustained tasks to be completed in days, weeks, and months rather than minutes or hours.
4.  Multiple perspectives where students examine the task from different perspectives.
5.  Collaboration is integral and required for task completion.
6.  Value laden -- Provides opportunities to reflect and involve students’ beliefs and values.
7.  Interdisciplinary perspectives enable learners to play diverse roles and build expertise.
8.  Assessment is integrated with learning that reflects how quality is judged in the real world.
9.  Activities create polished products valuable in their own right rather than as preparation for something else.
10.  Multiple possible outcomes -- Activities allow a range and diversity of outcomes open to multiple solutions of an original nature, rather than a single correct response obtained by the application of predefined rules and procedures. (Reeves, et al., 2002)

However, the list of nine elements to design authentic learning tasks adds the importance of guided learning (Herrington, Reeves, & Oliver, 2010):

1.  Provide authentic contexts that reflect the way the knowledge will be used in real life.
2.  Provide authentic tasks and activities.
3.  Provide access to expert performances and the modeling of processes.
4.  Provide multiple roles and perspectives.
5.  Support collaborative construction of knowledge.
6.  Promote reflection to enable abstractions to be formed.
7.  Promote articulation to enable tacit knowledge to be made explicit.
8.  Provide coaching and scaffolding by the teacher at critical times.
9.  Provide for authentic assessment of learning. (Herrington, et al., 2010)

Guided learning is a necessary component of authentic learning, where technology and skill of one person (be that the instructor or other specialist) provides an atmosphere of collaborative learning. Without the guidance, students can become discouraged as they attempt to complete difficult tasks that require previous experience (Mascolo, 2009). In my example of the authentic task to complete a documentary film, students will excel if they have access to experts who can model the process rather than be left to "hunt" for answers on discussion boards or a Youtube instructional. Instructors must consider cognitive load theory when leaving students to make their own discoveries or how to use a technology such as Final Cut Pro. While students do not like to be bothered with "busy work" or seemingly useless tasks, they still have a need for guidance in successfully completing an authentic task (Herrington, 2010).

Technology provides many applications that can be integrated in authentic learning tasks. In fact, students have laptops, smart phones, and tablets or ipads to access the Internet. The problem for teachers in creating authentic learning tasks today is in their need to understand what sources are available and how to use them. Technology provides opportunities for creative designers to assist educators in developing authentic activities that can be supported by professionals.

Technology That Supports Authentic Learning Activities

#1 Project provides real world relevance. 

Example -- Film making provides students with the task of developing a documentary film that can be uploaded to Youtube, Vimeo, or burned onto a DVD. Two technology options can be used for either the Mac or PC. However, this is where guided instruction will be necessary to use the features effectively for either of these applications.

#2  Students define tasks,  #3 complete complex sustained tasks,  and  #4 look at different perspectives.

Students can use technologies to outline their tasks and look at different perspectives for completing them. However, guidance may be needed to answer questions and even provide a list of tasks. Collaboration should feed into this process. Defining the tasks will not be possible without some expert input.

Scrivener is a content generation tool for writers. It is useful to develop a script, novel or make a storyboard. Other storyboard software can be found here.

#5 Students use collaboration tools to communicate.

Collaborating is where students work together to either solve problems using the film editing software or getting ideas. There are several options: 

Voice and video conferencing:

#6 Students reflect and  #7 Take on diverse roles through collaboration.

Students reflect as they review the footage and editing, collaborating through the process. Various technology applications exist for this type of reflection and sharing. Evernote is helpful for sharing across the board, with sync-ing of information on phones, laptops and the cloud.

#8 Assessment and #9 Task enables learners to creates polished products valuable in their own right rather than as preparation for something else. Although this task leads to other projects.

#10 Multiple Outcomes happens when students choose their own subject matter and develop their project.

This example provides tools to meet the needs of an authentic learning task, but the elements for designing this learning experience must include the nine points to have a successful outcome. The instructor provides not only authentic tasks, but the means to accomplish them, or the tools to use. This would include expert modeling and collaborative support. The students cannot be left to figure out how to make a documentary film. Experts should be available to provide solutions to problems when they are encountered and examples of the process. There is plenty opportunity for creative thinking within the constructs of guided instruction. Technology alone does not provide an authentic learning task, but it must be supported with professional guidance in the form of collaboration.


Reeves, T., Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. (2002).  Authentic activity as a model for web-based learning.  2002 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA, USA.  Retrieved from http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/7626/1/authentic_activity.pdf

Herrington, J., Oliver, R., & Reeves, T. (2002).  Patterns of engagement in authentic online learning environments. Proceedings of Auckland Educational conference.  Retrieved from  http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/auckland02/proceedings/papers/085.pdf

Herrington, J. (2010).  What is authentic learning, why is it needed, and how can we promote it? Authentic Learning. Retrieved from http://authenticlearning.info/AuthenticLearning/Home.html

Mascolo, M. (2009).  Beyond student-centered and teacher-centered pedagogy: Teaching and learning as guided participation. Pedagogy and the Human Sciences (1) 1 p. 3-27. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/1027631/Beyond_student-centered_and_teacher-centered_pedagogy_Teaching_and_learning_as_guided_participation

Mueller, J. (2012).  Authentic tasks.  Authentic Assessment Toolbox.  Retrieved from http://jfmueller.faculty.noctrl.edu/toolbox/tasks.htm


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