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Rethinking authenticity

January 22nd, 2007 by Graham Attwell

I read a lot of journal and conference papers – its part of my job. And just occasionally, you read one and think ‘wow, this is so cool’.

So, I am recommending the following paper to you – ‘Authenticity in Learning: Transactional Learning in Virtual Communities‘ by Karen Barton, Patricia McKellar and Paul Maharg.

The context for their work is law education but the ideas in the paper apply to any sphere of learning. The first part of the paper looks at the idea of authenticity. I was particularly taken by a quote from Barab, Squire & Dueber (2000) who say “authenticity lies ‘not in the learner, the task or the environment, but in the dynamic interactions among these various components […] authenticity is manifest in the flow itself, and is not an objective feature of any one component in isolation”.

They go on to describe the environment they have designed for providing simulations of legal practice.

They suggest that “if we focus on creating carefully-designed simulation tasks along the lines of what I shall call ‘transactional learning’ and create flexible, sensitive software instruments by which students can express themselves and carry out that task-based learning, then we become involved in creating an environment where students can begin to comprehend through active learning the complexity of a professional legal task or transaction.

They also define transactional learning based on their practice as:

  • Transactional learning is active learning

    Transactional learning is based on doing legal transactions.

    Transactional learning involves reflection on learning.

    Transactional learning is based on collaborative learning.

    Transactional learning requires holistic or process learning.

Students work in groups of four, forming virtual legal companies. Particularly important is that assessment is based on the performance of the company, not of individual students, with members of the company responsible for agreeing on the work to be submitted.

The only slight disappointment with the paper is the conclusion, which talks about change management. I’m not saying change management is not important, but it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the paper.

Great stuff – make sure you read this. And thanks to Al Harris who forwarded me a copy.

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