Students often doubt the relevance of a classroom education––as any teacher knows, “When will I use this in real life?” is a perennial question. Authentic learning is a methodology that educators can use to bridge the disconnect between education and “real life.” In an authentic learning experience, students address real-world problems that are personally and culturally relevant. They engage with these problems for a long period of time, working through challenges and complexities as they arise and producing a final product as evidence of their hard work. Pioneer Academics incorporates all of these elements into its cutting-edge student research program.
Students address complex, real-world problems
In an authentic learning experience, students are not given artificial problems with clear-cut answers. Instead, they tackle real-world issues in all their complexity. When Harshika, a Pioneer scholar from India (Environmental Science, 2019), read an article about coral bleaching, the problem felt tangible. She remembered a snorkeling trip she took with her family in the Great Barrier Reef. “It’s such a beautiful region, and it was such a fun experience, and it just made me feel so sad and disheartened that such a beautiful and vibrant region is on the verge of destruction,” she said. This motivated her to research the fate of coral reefs and to search for a solution to a real-world problem that matters. Her paper evaluates possible methods for saving coral reefs, including using genetic engineering to speed up the evolutionary process. In the future, Harshika hopes to use computer science to help the environment.
Topics have personal and cultural relevance
In addition to addressing real-world issues, Pioneer scholars are also encouraged to choose topics that are personally relevant. Lal, a Pioneer scholar from Turkey (Economics, 2019), had often heard friends and family talk about the effect of refugees on the economy but was unsatisfied with the evidence they gave to support their views. “Everyone either said it was a good thing or a bad thing, but nobody actually gave me a good answer about why it was good or why it was bad,” she explains. After volunteering with Syrian refugee children in Turkey, Lal knew that she wanted to engage with the problem through research. In conversations with family and friends, Lal often heard that the influx of Syrian refugees to Turkey increased prices on consumer goods. As such, she expected to find a positive correlation between refugee distribution and prices. The reality was just the opposite–prices were actually lower in areas with a high density of Syrian refugees.
Students engage in sustained investigation through the research process
While many traditional curriculums try to cover the basics of a wide range of topics, the focus of the Pioneer research program is on depth, not breadth. Research is a long and demanding process. Students work on one research paper for months, becoming experts in their topic.
Students must overcome obstacles in the research process just like professional researchers
Because Pioneer scholars engage in authentic research, they often face the same obstacles and challenges as any other researcher. Adam Song, a Pioneer scholar from China (Physics, 2019), had to use creative problem-solving to meet these challenges. Adam’s research concentration was Computational Fluid Dynamics, a field that uses computers to model and solve problems that involve fluid flows. His research topic was creating a 3D model of the renal arteries, small arteries that carry blood from the heart to the kidneys. In order to create this model, he had to compile images from CT scans and MRIs. However, he soon realized that there was a limited amount of images that showed kidneys from the angle required to create his 3D model. Adam had to use creative problem solving to make up for this gap in previous research. For instance, he looked for images of lungs that also showed kidneys and even referenced scans of dog kidneys. This kind of creative problem solving can only take place in an authentic learning experience.
Students create a finished product in the form of a highly polished research paper
An important piece of authentic learning is the creation of a final product at the end of the experience. Pioneer scholars produce a highly polished and professional research paper through sustained time and effort. For most Pioneer scholars, this is the longest and most involved piece of writing they have ever produced in their academic careers up to that point. Paper topics are refined with the mentorship of a professor and must be both original and feasible. Furthermore, with the support of tutors at the Writing Center, students are expected to produce a paper with impeccable language and style.
When Pioneer provides the opportunity for students to engage in authentic learning through the research process, its students rise to the challenge. Wrestling with real-world problems and creating a final product to be proud of, Pioneer scholars emerge with confidence in their abilities and increased passion for their academic interests.