Authentic learning experiences in a theory heavy learning context

Jurgen Schulte, Neela Griffiths

Abstract


Assessment in an undergraduate physics subject was re-designed to challenge and inspire students to develop and apply their disciplinary and non-disciplinary skills in a practice-based, authentic assignment task. The aims of the re-design were to expose students to workplace practice and increase their engagement in the subject. Traditionally, as a response to its emphasis on disciplinary theory, science is assessed by way of content focussed class tests and examinations, activities not reflected in workplace practice. These summative assessment types measure student attainment of knowledge rather than enable deeper understanding and learning. However, introducing students to ‘real-world’ practice-oriented assessment tasks can enhance student engagement and promote learning. To achieve these aims the assignment was carefully scaffolded to give students the opportunity to improve their scientific writing skills, develop an approach to systematic research, build a greater understanding of the peer-review process and acquire skills in self and team management. The task required students to work in groups to research and write a research paper based on a meta-study model. Their papers were then compiled and published in a student peer-reviewed research journal. The impact of this intervention was evaluated through a focus group discussion with the majority of the students commenting positively on their learning and engagement in the subject. This reflective article discusses the effectiveness of the assignment design, its scaffolding, the peer-review process and the authenticity of the workplace-setting. Suggestions are made as to how to further improve this type of assignment design. This workplace-focused intervention may be of interest to educators in other disciplines.

Keywords


work integrated learning; practice-based learning; authentic learning; peer-review; student engagement; professional communication skills

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