Creating An Authentic Classroom

By EdTech Leaders Steven Anderson and Shaelynn Farnsworth

Reimagining education is frequently sparked by advancement in technology. From the introduction of the №2 pencil to the streaming of video to support learning and teaching, technology is typically the driver to change. Ubiquitous technology in learning environments has sparked a current redesign of the “classroom” and asks us, as educators, to once again create authentic classrooms for the students of today.

Before I left my position as a Director of Instructional Technology, our district was undergoing this shift (albeit a bit late, but we were headed in the right direction). We were going to allow students to bring their own device to the classroom to use in the course of their learning. But through a pilot program we discovered that the focus of our professional development around BYOD needed to not be on technology. Rather, we needed to focus our efforts on pedagogy and the change in instruction needed when students have access to all known knowledge at their fingertips.

When we combine the ubiquitous use of technology and the near constant access to all known knowledge the classroom environment must change. The traditional “stand and deliver” instruction model negates the fact that teachers are no longer the source for all information. Authentic-Based Learning Environments emphasize the need for a shift in curriculum to one of Project and Problem Based Learning where students are immersed in learning that has them identify and solve real-world problems. Students are at the center of Authentic-Based Classrooms and take ownership of the information they need to solve these problems and determine their own methods of demonstrating understanding.

What are the characteristics of an Authentic-Based Learning Classroom?

  1. Real-World Learning and Tasks: In these classrooms learning and tasks are centered around real-world problems. Students are investigating issues that face their school or their community or themselves as individuals.
  2. Content Is Student Selected: In Authentic-Based Classrooms, student choice in content (full or in-part) heightens relevance and engagement. Students begin to understand their own ways of learning and what methods best meet their individual needs.
  3. Interdisciplinary Learning: In these classrooms there will be a variety of content sources that naturally lend themselves to interdisciplinary study. Students may be working on math and music or science and art, all at the same time, which only serves to show them the natural connections between what we learn instead of the traditional silos many students experience.
  4. Open-Ended Inquiry: Students may all be working on the same learning but there are going to be varied approaches to the solutions. And through their discovery students may see that there are many paths they can take and they should be allowed to follow them.
  5. Frequent Reflection: Learning happens throughout the process and not necessarily at the end of a unit. Portfolios and process journals, for example, provide a reflective space for students to capture their learning. In Authentic-Based Classrooms regular reflection is a must. Students take time to review, plan, and set new goals in their learning, while teacher reflection serves as a type of formative assessment which informs instruction.
  6. The Knowledge Of Others Is Valued: In these classrooms there is great value in the knowledge not just from traditional sources but also from subject matter experts and non-traditional sources like blogs and social media. Students can reach out through the use of their growing Personal Learning Network (PLN) to collaborate and learn from others. Access to technology connects students with experts from across the globe. Global connections not only provide access to primary sources, but serve to teach our students about diversity, tolerance and empathy. Through connections, social media, and digital publications, students see how information is constantly changing and how they must adapt.
  7. Creation is Valued Over Consumption: In these classrooms the emphasis isn’t on the acquisition of knowledge. The value is in what students create with the knowledge they acquire. Similarly to student choice in content, choice is creation and demonstration of understanding amplifies student voice and provides students multiple modes in which to elaborately communicate their learning.
  8. Assessment Focuses on Mastery of Concepts: Not only is the learning authentic but the demonstration of student understanding is as well. Simple regurgitation of information or traditional letter grades do not provide any type of meaningful feedback. Mastery of standards and evaluation of learning against teacher-student created rubrics are what is seen. Students’ understanding looks at more than knowledge gained and aims to have students do something more meaningful with that knowledge.
  9. Authentic Audience: In Authentic-Based Classrooms, there is a shift in audience from the traditional lone teacher to one that is determined by the student or task. Student learning regularly reaches outside the classroom. Therefore, the audience does too by having students sharing with the community and often times on a more global scale.
  10. Flexible and Evolving Learning Spaces: The physical set up and the types of tools and technology students have access to is constantly changing and adapting to meet the needs of the learners. Furniture can be moved so that students can collaborate more easily. Classroom environment may also spill over into the community or to a virtual space. Student choice in device or other resources is possible, allowing them choose the best tool for the job. Educators understand that though it may look chaotic, the classroom space is an extension of how students choose to learn.

The Authentic-Based Learning Classroom is one of fluidity. There is constant change and adaptation to new methods of content discovery, different ways of demonstrating understanding, and, of course, new problems to solve. Technology enhances the ability of the student to do more but remember, technology isn’t the focus here. The focus is on the authenticity of the tasks, the authenticity of the learning, what new knowledge students can create and what problems they can solve.


Steven W. Anderson is a learner, blogger, speaker, educational evangelist, author and Dad. As a former teacher and Director of Instructional Technology he is highly sought after for his expertise in educational technology integration and using social media for learning. As @web20classroom he regularly travels the country talking to schools and districts about the use of Social Media in the classroom and how they can better serve students through technology. He is the author of 3 books, The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning, The Tech-Savvy Administrator and Content Curation: How To Avoid Information Overload. He is also responsible in helping create #edchat, a weekly education discussion on Twitter that boasts over 500 weekly participants. Steven has been recognized with the the 2009 and 2011 Edublogs, Twitterer of The Year Award, a Microsoft Heros of Education award, along with a 2013 Bammy Award, recognized worldwide as the Educational Emmy, for his work with #edchat. Visit his blog at http://www.web20classroom.org.

Shaelynn Farnsworth is a leader in the convergence between literacy and technology. As High School teacher she redefined her English classroom as not only a place to learn about literature but also explore how technology is shaping the future of communications. She continues this exploration as a School Improvement Consultant for AEA 267 in Iowa. There her primary focus is on technology, literacy and authentic instruction, providing support to schools in Planning and Implementation of various school based initiatives. She is a Google Certified Innovator and has training in Project Based Learning from the Buck Institute. Visit her site at: https://shaelynnfarnsworth.com.


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