Open and Closed Systems: A Reflection on Authenticity

If there is one key learning that has been resurfacing again and again for me during this course is that adding technology doesn’t necessarily mean learning is improved. Technology is a tool that has enormous potential to impact student learning and experience. However, if teachers are simply replacing paper and pencil for a screen and a cursor, without addressing pedagogical practice, then students and teachers are not reaching the potential available.

I think we need to have the same cautious approach when we start labeling authentic learning as being either open or closed. In the context of a blended learning course, open is usually used to mean open to the public (Twitter, open blogging, etc), and closed is used to mean a closed communication within the confines of the classroom. With these in mind, there are many pros and cons to open or closed. Danielle had some examples illustrating some of those exact issues. With most things in our teaching job, there is constantly a list of pros and cons for everything we use.  But the question is what is more authentic?

I was looking around for some information on authentic learning and I ran across an article from the Journal of Authentic Learning (sounds like I made that up, but I didn’t). This article in particular was produced from a study that cross-examined other articles to find what is meant by authentic learning. The article identified four emerging themes from an analysis of over 45 journals on the subject:

  1. Real World Problems and Audience
  2. Inquiry and Higher Thinking Skills
  3. Engaged in a Community of Learners
  4. Student-Directed

This list looks like an ideal classroom. It is easy to see how online learning can reinforce and propel students towards these objectives. Open and closed platforms can provide opportunities for students to engage in these skills. Authentic learning can be connecting to an expert on Twitter or by connecting to the person sitting across from us.

In any course, but especially in a blended classroom, our first focus is to plan for authentic learning – by design and by practice – then we can move forward to finding what devices, programs, and community spaces can do that for our students (which may differ between each student anyway).

I am learning more and more that with sufficient education and purpose, any tool or platform can be transformed into something meaningful for learning. If we think it is best for our students to be involved on an open online network, then lets appropriately prepare them to engage in that space. In the same way, I think learning can be just as authentic within a closed community, as long as we prepare our students to treat it as such.

Instead of starting with the question of open or closed, and then deciding which is authentic, let’s start with asking how our students can engage in authentic learning. The rest will follow.

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2 thoughts on “Open and Closed Systems: A Reflection on Authenticity

  1. Graham – I completely agree, technology doesn’t make learning authentic! Additionally, open does not necessarily equate to authentic either. We need to be aware of they ‘why’ behind choosing online tools – it needs to be done with purpose!


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