Using Technology to Create Authentic Learning in the Classroom

Triggering Event Question: As a 3rd grade teacher, how can I design, develop, and evaluate authentic learning experiences and assessments that incorporate contemporary tools and resources to maximize content learning to develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes identified in standards?

Authentic Learning with Technology

Students engage in authentic learning using tablets. Source: EdTech Review.

Authentic learning is defined as learning through applying knowledge in real-life contexts and situations. Four characteristics that typically define authentic learning are: the activity involves real-world problems and involves presentations of findings to audiences beyond the classroom; it involves the use of open-ended inquiry, thinking skills, and meta-cognition; students engage in discussions and exploration in a community of learners; and students direct their own learning through project work. Authentic learning gives students the opportunities to focus on real-world problems and their solutions with the help of problem-based activities (Saxena 2013). They help students develop judgement skills while searching for authentic information, patience while working with others across cultural and disciplinary boundaries, analytical skills, and independent thinking skills (Saxena 2013). Most importantly, authentic learning allows students to find out information on their own, instead of being fed the information and facts from textbooks and lectures.

In their article, Carol H. Walker and Frank R. Yekowich provide an overview of an urban literacy program done with K-3 students in Washington, D.C. This Technology-Rich Authentic Learning Environment (TRALE) develops a “responsive instructional package,” rich with technology, in order to instill in students a variety of literacies. The article goes on to explain the rationale behind the project—that academic skills are problem-solving in nature and are best acquired in problem-based learning environments. While children are developing their academic skills, they are also reinforcing their social skills, which “directly shape the nature of a person’s cognitions” (Walker, 57). Through this instructional framework, children experience a “cognitive apprenticeship” that helps build social skills while they learn about a given profession or career. Students worked individually and collaboratively, applied problem-solving skills with scaffolding from a teacher (when necessary), and they understood the purpose of their learning. The essential dimensions of TRALEs are that the framework is goal-directed, authentic learning with a shared responsibility, using technology and multiple modes of expression and learning.

I think a sort of technology-rich program, such as the TRALEs to Literacy, is highly appropriate for 3rd grade students, as part of either a culture or career study. As they journey through problem-based learning, students could use computers or tablets to research a chosen profession. After looking up professions, they might conduct an interview of someone in that field via social networking (with teacher supervision) such as Skype. They could research colleges and universities that offer degrees to fit their chose field of study. Finally, they could hone their math skills by creating a real-life budget that they would need to make to live successfully in their chosen city. As part of a culture study, students could use technology and Skype in the Classroom to research different cultures across the world. As a connection to the culture, as well as part of our literacy and language arts block, students might explore the point of view and “day in the life” of a child in that culture. The type of assessment that would follow this learning activity would be more summative, rather than formative, as students would be assessed by their ability to meet Washington State Standards in Speaking and Listening and ISTE Standard 2, which would be shown in their presentation of their career study. They would be assessed in their ability to orally present their findings using a technology-based and multimedia presentation. Additionally, students would be assessed in other state standards in math, reading, and writing.

Another great idea stemmed by this article is the creation of a classroom museum. My 3rd graders would benefit from this while working on our Volcanoes, Earthquakes, and Tsunamis unit. As a part of this unit, I would apply the TPACK Model and be sure that the material being used by the computers fits expectations for Technology, Pedagogy, and Content Knowledge. To accomplish this, I might have my students utilize their research of a tsunami-affected area somewhere in the world (i.e. the Japan Tsunami of 2011), gathering pictures and evidence from the disaster, and then create a Word Press blog to write from the point of view of an 8-year-old in Japan. From this, students might also create a Sway (digital storytelling) to tell the story of the tsunami from the perspective of that fictional 8-year-old. From their research, I could use the program Edmodo, a resource shared by fellow classmate Jenessa, to create a quiz and/or poll that would help me assess my student’s learning on a daily basis and assure that they are meeting the intended learning objectives for science (such as understanding the effects of a natural disaster).

Additionally, my 3rd graders could create a classroom News Room where they would work to create a newspaper that documented a historical event, such as the eruption of Mount St. Helens, from the time it happened. The newspaper would be dated May 19, 1980 (the day after the eruption) and would include pictures from the disaster, as well as mock interviews from witnesses of the event. Technology would be required for this project, not just supplemented, and students could use websites such as for newspaper templates (see Figure 1).

newspaper template

Figure 1: Newspaper templates can be edited to demonstrate students’ learning of a specific historical event.

This project would be authentic as students put themselves into a different perspective as they research and learn about natural disasters such as volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis. They would also need to conduct interviews from real-life people who actually witnessed the event, which might involve a teacher-supervised Skype interview or email. Assessment on this type of activity would be formative and summative, assessing both the Washington State Standards for Speaking and Listening, Reading, and Writing, along with ISTE Standard 2. I would create a formative assessment that would address facts from a specific event (i.e. historical facts from a volcanic eruption) that students would have needed to address in their work. Formative assessments could come in the form of an Exit Ticket reflection, which would be personalized for each student based on their learning abilities and the topic or event that they are researching, or an Edmodo quiz. The Exit Ticket would be typed through Microsoft OneNote, which my students use on a daily basis. This reflection and assessment could become part of their Word Press blog and portfolio.




Rule, A. (2007). “The four characteristics of ‘authentic learning.’” Educational Research Newsletter, 20 (1). Retrieved from:

Saxena, S. (2013). “How Technology Can Support Authentic Learning.” EdTech Review: India. Retrieved from:

Walker, C.H., & Yekovich, F. R. (1999). TRALEs to Literacy. Educational Leadership, 57(2), 57. Retrieved from: 






This entry was posted in 2 Instruction, 3 Differentiation, 4 Content Knowledge, 5 Learning Environment, 6 Assessment, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Using Technology to Create Authentic Learning in the Classroom

  1. jenessaliang says:

    Creating authentic learning environments in the classroom is a great idea! I especially love the integration of blogs and online resources as formative and summative assessments, these look like a very engaging class projects!

    Liked by 1 person

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