Bridging the Classroom-workplace Gap: Leveraging Student Ingenuity to Create Authentic Learning Experiences

Workshop Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Loosen your grip on content creation without losing control of your objectives through student-generated digital course content and the principles of authentic learning.


Joni Tornwall is the Manager of Instructional Services in the College of Nursing at The Ohio State University. She assists faculty with the integration of technology into their online and face-to-face classrooms and facilitates online course design and development. She serves as a Master Reviewer and trainer for Quality Matters, and she has taught in the traditional an online environments for 10 years. She is pursuing a PhD in Educational Technology at Ohio State.

Extended Abstract

1. Equip participants with a four-step design process to create an authentic course assignment in the online environment and a set of criteria to test the level of authenticity of any assignment.
2. Guide faculty in writing assignment instructions and assessment criteria that allow student creativity to flourish and that provide an adequate framework and sufficient guidance for students to complete the assignment.

Measurable objectives:
1. Describe the design process from initial conception to grading rubric for an innovative, authentic learning experience.
2. Apply eight criteria to determine the degree of authenticity of an assignment.
3. Identify strategies for writing assignment instructions and grading criteria that provide adequate structure for fairness and efficiency, yet flexible enough to inspire student creativity.

Session description for participants and program:
Many instructors struggle with the never-ending task of creating and updating course content in a constantly changing online learning environment. Faculty see their learners consuming course material and rehashing it on papers and quizzes, especially in large-enrollment courses, often without any reassurance that students can apply the concepts to a real-life, one-of-a-kind project that would be recognized as authentic in the workplace.

Instructors already know that their students bring a wealth of diverse experiences and unique skills to the classroom. Why not leverage that rich resource to create dynamic online products and performances that can serve as both an authentic assignment and engaging course content? Authentic assignments guide students to explore and apply theory and decontextualized knowledge and discover its real value in the workplace. Allowing students to apply knowledge in contexts that are very similar to real-world workplaces prepares them to exercise critical thinking skills in their professional lives. When students see their course work reflecting the work they will do in their professional roles, they are more likely to be deeply invested in their skill acquisition and course projects.

Authentic assignments can be intimidating for faculty to design and for learners to undertake because they challenge students to seek solutions to ill-defined problems and draw on their own unique strengths. Students may prefer the familiar teaching strategy of readings, lecture, and quizzes or papers, and asking them to discover their own strategies to meet course objectives is not always a comfortable space. As much as faculty would like to implement authentic learning in the online learning environment and encourage individual student expression through assignments, this approach to teaching can be time consuming and somewhat murky. It is particularly challenging in large-enrollment courses and classes with a high risk of drop, failure, and withdrawal.

Designing an authentic assignment requires faculty to loosen their grip on the course content while maintaining control of the course objectives through carefully designed instructions, support, and assessment instruments. However, designing an authentic assignment does not need to be a complicated or burdensome process. A flexible, supportive approach that allows students to demonstrate transference of knowledge to a workplace dilemma to achieve a specific outcome is feasible for instructors in any discipline by following four steps for authentic online assignment design. The assignment design can then be tested against eight criteria for authenticity.

Join a faculty member, an instructional designer, and a graduate student from a large university who will share their story about how they redesigned a traditional assignment in a public health nursing course to align with the principles of authentic learning and allow student innovation with technology. The course instructor will describe the course goals and instructional purpose and her initial vision for the assignment; the instructional designer will cover the design and development of the assignment instructions and assessment tool; the student will follow through with his perspective on how this assignment led his peer group to produce an authentic assignment productóa mobile app for vulnerable populations and community health organizationsóthat garnered attention from news outlets, the university's commercialization office and innovation stakeholders, and education and community partners across the state and nation.

In this Innovation Lab, you will:
ï Explore examples of authentic assignment designs and assessment strategies
ï Work through a four-step process to guide authentic design of an assignment
ï Apply eight criteria to determine the level of authenticity of an assignment
ï Choose learning technologies to support the authentic assignment
ï Consider strategies for dealing with potential challenges to implementation of authentic learning

You will leave this session with:
ï A four-step annotated guide to authentic assignment design
ï Eight evidence-based criteria you can apply to any learning activity to determine its degree of authenticity
ï A list of current learning technologies you might use to encourage student creativity and peer review and feedback
ï A worked example of a grading rubric you can apply to your own authentic assignment

Session schedule:

Discussion (5 minutes):
Introduction to authentic learning, its definition and principles, and how the literature supports it as a framework for development of teaching strategies.

Demonstration (20 minutes):
Three facilitatorsóa faculty member, an instructional designer, and a studentówill tell their story of how an assignment in a community/public health nursing course was redesigned for the digital environment according to the principles of authentic learning. A faculty member and instructional designer will describe implementation, and a student will share his group's assignment product as an example. This assignment will be assessed against eight criteria for degree of authenticity.

Innovation (20 minutes):
Participants will break up into three groups. Each group will be assigned one role of faculty member, instructional designer, or student. Each group will be given a task related to that role (5 minutes). Then, teams of three people will be formed, with each three-person team having one person from each role. The faculty-instructional designer-student team will then work through an authentic assignment design task created during the first five minutes of the team exercise. They will work through a four-step process to design an authentic assignment, determine its degree of authenticity according to eight criteria, choose learning technologies to carry out the assignment, and develop an assessment rubric.