Key principles for developing authentic learning tasks

This weeks reading in BlendKit2014 refers to the development of authentic assessment and authentic learning tasks. Jan Herrington and colleagues have developed a wide range of theories and resources on what authentic tasks are, how they can be assessed and how they can be integrated into online learning. They list nine elements that are key to the process. Authentic learning tasks and authentic learning environments:

  • Provide authentic contexts that reflect the way the knowledge will be used in real life
  • Provide authentic tasks and activities 
  • Provide access to expert performances and the modelling of processes
  • Provide multiple roles and perspectives
  • Support collaborative construction of knowledge 
  • Promote reflection to enable abstractions to be formed
  • Promote articulation to enable tacit knowledge to be made explicit
  • Provide coaching and scaffolding by the teacher at critical times
  • Provide for authentic assessment of learning within the tasks.

It is clear from these guidelines that the right mix of challenge and support; the right mix of independent engagement and collaboration; and the right mix of action and reflection are key to designing such rich authentic tasks with  real-world resonance. The design of the task and the assessment framework are both critical. Herrington notes the qualities of an “authentic task”:

Activities match as nearly as possible the real-world tasks of professionals in practice rather than decontextualized or classroom-based tasks…..Authentic tasks are ill-defined, requiring students to define the tasks and sub-tasks needed to complete an activity: Problems inherent in the activities are ill-defined and open to multiple interpretations rather than easily solved by the application of existing algorithms. Learners must identify their own unique tasks and sub-tasks in order to complete the major task. (Herrington et al. 2006: 236)

The process, product an integration of the assessment framework is also vital:

In order to provide integrated and authentic assessment of student learning, the online learning environment needs to provide: the opportunity for students to be effective performers with acquired knowledge, and to craft polished, performances or products in collaboration with others. It also requires the assessment to be seamlessly integrated with the activity, and to provide appropriate criteria for scoring varied products.(Herrington et al. 2006: 236)

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