So, I will be honest, I have been dwelling on this blog idea for a while now, and the reason I haven’t written it is because I was stuck. I was struggling to come up with the perfect name for my idea. I hope the name I have come up with makes sense. But first some background…
I have been dwelling on the idea of Authentic Learning for a very long time now, probably as far back as 2003 when I started teaching, having worked for a few years as a practicing engineer. I have developed ideas and strategies, based on my own experience, that I have tried across a number of units. Then, at some point last year I read Marilyn Lombardi’s paper on Authentic Learning (2007). It was such a beautiful moment as it summarised my own practice so clearly and succinctly. She articulated what I had innately known. I made a matrix of the 10 facets of authentic learning and mapped my own units against them. With the exception of reflection (and more on that in another blog post I hope) I had been doing everything she listed for years.
Note: If you would like a further explanation of authentic learning I wrote a blog post on the subject last term as part of my “The Office” project, which you can read here.
However I also noticed a gap. An 11th facet of authentic learning, if you will. Providing feedback whilst staying ‘in role’. I started to call it authentic feedback. But a quick internet search of the term ‘authentic feedback’ shows that the term was already taken, by another idea on feedback. And so I floundered and my ideas paused. Until now.
And so here it is, my idea. Providing feedback in an authentic context. I know it’s not as snappy as authentic feedback, but I think it says what it does on the tin. I don’t need lots of paragraphs explaining what I actually mean.
So how have I (and in-fact we in engineering) been providing feedback in an authentic context. Below are just a few examples.
The Design Team Meeting
A few years back I created a unit called Understanding Architecture. It teaches Civil Engineers to understand what the architect is trying to achieve by placing them in the architect’s shoes. The unit is very practical and includes the students developing a conceptual design for a building. I wanted to create a formative feedback point within the unit to help students as they developed their ideas. However rather than just ask them to submit their ideas up to that point I put it into the context of professional practice and asked them to lead a design team meeting (known, rather unimaginatively, in industry as a DTM).
A design team meeting is a staple of the building design process, all the different disciplines come together, with the client, and discuss their progress, problems and conflicts. It is an interactive design space where the team then solve the problems moving the design forward.
So, we created this context. We invited engineers, architects and client representatives to be part of the meeting, and our students had to both present their ideas and chair the meeting. It creates a space for constructive feedback, where the design can be pushed and pulled. The client can confirm if the brief is right, the engineers can challenge some of the practical aspects of the design and the clients architect can question some of the design decisions. This way students are given feedback whilst staying in role and in an authentic manner.
The Quality Assurance Review
In Timber Engineering – a unit I blogged about obsessively last term (see https://bilt.online/the-office-episode-0-trailer/) I carried out a similar exercise to the above Design Team Meeting, but took it in a different direction. This time I recast the formative feedback as a Quality Assurance Review. Every project I worked on was subjected to internal reviews as part of our practice. These ensured the design was safe, was fulfilling the brief, but also looked for opportunities, how could we do this better, how can we learn from this project and share these ideas etc. The review was carried out by a director not directly involved in the project and there was a checklist of items which we had to ensure we had covered.
I used the same approach for my fourth year timber engineering unit. I created a series of Quality Assurance forms and a procedure. Students then presented the different projects they had worked on and I was able to provide feedback across a number of facets. One of the strengths of this approach was that all work presented should have been reviewed by another member of the students team, this form of peer review is both helpful for learning, and normal practice in industry. The Quality Assurance Review then checks has this has been carried out and what can we learn from this process?
The Stakeholder Presentation
At the other end of our programme, in the first year, my colleague Jeff Barrie runs a project in our design unit, where students must come up with an engineering solution to an authentic brief. The only problem is that there are three stakeholders, with conflicting interests. It is therefore very difficult to create a solution that satisfies all three stakeholders. This is brought to life when students present their schemes (including fantastic models) to the stakeholders (three assessors each play the role of a different stakeholder). Some stakeholders are delighted with the design, others not happy that their needs have been met or their concerns have not been heard. The aim is not to create a solution that works for everyone but to be able to articulate why the solution is the most suitable when there are conflicting requirements.
The Green Pen
Finally, in industry, people red pen everything! Every drawing I drew, every report I wrote, would reappear on my desk a few days later covered in red pen. Taking in drafts and writing comments on them is actually incredibly authentic. However, I would like to suggest going a step further. An ex colleague of mine used to work for a practice called Alan Baxter’s. As was common practice everywhere else people would red pen each other’s work as a way of checking and providing feedback. But in Alan Baxter’s no one was allowed to use a green pen. No one, that is, except Alan Baxter. When Alan reviewed a drawing or report he wrote in green!
What I like about this idea is that we can, and should, encourage students to red pen each other’s work, to support each other’s learning (and learn themselves in the process) but we should also provide feedback, and we can differentiate our feedback from thier’s by simply using a different colour pen. This way we can create feedback in an authentic context.
What feedback in an authentic context have you done?
I would love to hear from other authentic learning practitioners who have stayed in character to provide feedback. You could email me, or even better, tell the world by adding it to the comments below. I think there is so much space for innovation and creativity in this area and I would love to explore it further.
Lombardi M., “Authentic Learning for the 21st Century: An Overview”, Educase, 2007.
Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching