Defining Feature #4

Address an Authentic Issue

Authenticity includes meaningful, real-world issues, problems or concerns that are relevant to the learner and the discipline and are shaped by practical constraints of time, space, or resources.

This feature focuses on the ways that knowledge is made real. The usage of this language hopes to capture the need to make content come together in real world settings.


Experiential learning demonstrates to the student that learning is a value-laden and lifelong process where the goal is not merely memorizing bits and pieces of information. Rather authenticity offers students the ability to understand knowledge in a direct way (rather than through a secondhand experience, as in reading about issues and topics). Instructional theory and research has argued that learning activities that require learners to apply knowledge and skills to the solution of problems develop higher cognitive skills(DiConti, 172). For example, a science program is not complete without lab components and a social work program is not complete without field experiences.

For some CUEs this may take the form of work experience, i.e. internship, practica, coop, or student teaching. The authentic nature of the experience signals that there is a purposeful intent to synthesize course content (from across the program of study) into real life, genuine translation. Examples of this sort of experience might include the student teaching experience/requirement for teacher preparation programs or an equivalent independent study/internship approved by the home department as offered by the Communications department.

For some CUEs, direct connection to the world of work, within that discipline, will be more applicable. Examples of this sort of experience might be using case studies in the class work (Social Work), working through actual problems in a particular company (Marketing), solving a existing problem in the development of a software program (Computer Science), or working through a problem identified by the discipline (History).

For example, authenticity does not necessarily mean you have to take students to the Louvre to learn about art, but that each lesson plan should subtly increase the amount of authenticity involved in the tasks. Tasks can fall on a continuum of authenticity where memorizing facts about paintings would be less authentic than visiting a web site that has a guided tour. But the guided tour is less authentic than actually visiting the museum. The aim is to make student experiences as authentic as possible to what happens in real life, and in doing so should provide support for the students to be reflective and to learn.


  1. Computer Engineering and Computer Science Senior Capstone - The capstone course in Computer Engineering and Computer Science (CECS 590) has a single major project on which a team of 3-4 students works for the duration of the semester. The project involves both software and hardware development and integration. Assessment of student performance includes numerous presentations, progress reports, critical thinking essay and evaluation from the projects "client" or industry sponsor. Since projects are proposed by clients (industry partners) they are by definition authentic. As mentioned above assessment of student performance includes numerous presentations, progress reports, critical thinking essay and evaluation from the projects originators. The typical results of a CECS capstone project is an electronic device with custom made software/hardware. An occasional research paper may also be produced as a result of experiments related to the development of the product requested by the client.
  2. Dental Hygiene Senior Capstone Course - This course (DHED 417 – Extramural Education Program) provides students with extensive clinical experiences at the conclusion of their program of study. A required assignment of this course involves students writing up a clinical case from their own experiences. The assignment is described as: "Each student will select one anonymous, de-identified patient clinical case for development of a treatment regimen complete with hard tissue, soft tissue, and periodontal charting records; social, medical, and dental histories; radiographs and photographs."

Further Readings

  • Arndt, K. (2002). Creating a culture of co-learners with problem-based learning. Essays on Teaching Excellence, 14(5).
  • Astin, A. Vogelgesang, L. Ikada, E., & Yee, J. (2000). How service learning affects students. (p. 1-7). Los Angeles: CA. Retrieved August 5, 2009 from the Higher Education Research Institute.
  • Burgess, H. & Taylor, I. (2000). From university teacher to learning coordinator: Faculty roles in problem-based learning. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 11 (2&3), 83-96.
  • Cox, M. et. al. (eds.) (2000) Issues in problem-based learning. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, Vol. 11, No. 2 & 3.
  • Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. West Lafayette, IN: Kappa Delta Pi.
  • DiConti, V. (2004). "Experiential education in a knowledge based economy: Is it time to reexamine the liberal arts?" The Journal of General Education, 53 (3-4): 167-183.
  • Duch, B., Groh, S., and Allen, D. (2001) The Power of Problem-Based Learning: A Practical "How To" for Teaching Undergraduate Courses in Any Discipline. Virginia: Stylus Publishing.
  • Duch, B. (1995). What is problem-based learning? About Teaching: A Newsletter of the Center for Teaching Effectiveness, (47).
  • Evensen, D. and Hmelo, C. (eds.) (2000) Problem-Based Learning: A Research Perspective on Learning interactions. Mahwah, New Jersey and London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
  • Gatch, D. (2010). "Restructuring introductory physic by adapting an active learning studio model." International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Volume 4, Number 2.
  • Groh, Susan. Organizational decisions in using pbl. Retrieved from
  • Kolb, A., & Kolb, D. A. (2009a, June). Experiential learning theory bibliography (Vol. 1, 1971–2005). Retrieved December 5, 2011 from EBLS Web site:
  • Kolb, A., & Kolb, D. A. (2009b, June). Experiential learning theory bibliography (Vol. 2, 2006–2009). Retrieved December 5, 2011 from EBLS Web site:
  • Kolb, D. A. (1983). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Knowlton, D. and Sharp, D. (eds.) (2003) Problem-based learning in the information age. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 95. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Peterson, T. O. (2004). So you’re thinking of trying problem based learning?: Three critical success factors for implementation. Journal of Management Education, 28 (5), 630-647.
  • Postman, N., & Weingartner, C. (1969). Characteristics of good learning issues. Teaching as a Subversive Activity. New York: Delta Publishing.
  • Savin-Baden. (2000) Problem-Based Learning in Higher Education: Untold Stories. Buckingham (England); Philadelphia: Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press.
  • Shulman, L. (2005). "Pedagogies of uncertainty," Liberal Learning, 91: 18-25.
  • Sil, D. Harward, B., & Cooper, I. (2009). "The disorienting dilemma: The senior capstone as a transformative experience," Liberal Education (AACU): 50-55).
  • Speck, Bruce (2000). Fostering collaboration among students in problem-based learning. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 11 (2&3), 59-65.

Teaching Techniques/Tips

Problem based learning - Students are given a problem to solve that requires gathering new knowledge before they can solve it. The problem is posed before the learning in order to motivate learning and enhance long-term retention and application to new material. The links below describe the process for using this approach and provide numerous examples in all disciplines.


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