Discovering the New Frontier

No. This post is not going to engage in the topic astrophysics, outer space, or even Star Trek. This is a disclaimer to those who thought it might be, but since you have already started reading…

A few weeks ago, the cohort was given a “Do Now” that asked us to respond to the prompt of “Learning in authentic spaces”. The phrasing of this concept was puzzling to me because “authentic” has connotations that I feel are misleading, at least to my comprehension of the concept. Authentic usually means real or genuine, but saying, “Learning in ‘real’ spaces,” does not resonate in the same fashion (although genuine could).

Responses to the prompt included (sorry if I write your point incorrectly):

Authentic spaces are

Eric- “culturally relevant” with high accountability placed on learners.

Ryan- interactive, communal & discussion orientated.

Kaitlin-real science spaces.

Jess-real and changing, not stagnant.

Jillian-using your environment to create a conversation.

Tiarra- can be anywhere if you are creative enough.

Alanna- where you see things you are learning about coming to life.

My major issue was that “learning in authentic spaces” evokes imagery of observing nature or physical places of learning such as museums. Virtual environments such as online forums or blogging communities are also authentic spaces, but are not readily thought of due to the use of the term “authentic”. My instructors did inform me that “authentic space” did incorporate virtual spaces as well.

Despite our discussion about the prompt, I was still confused about what constituted an authentic space. My general takeaway from our discussion was that authentic spaces are on a spectrum, with some spaces being more authentic than others. It would be up to how the teacher cultivates that space that would determine the level of authenticity present.

To help ease my confusion, I decided to perform some research by asking my instructor for relevant readings. Then by using the Find function of the Chrome web browser, I attempted to pull out quotes involving the term “authentic space” to derive meaning from. None of the articles/chapters had the term “authentic space”, so I decided to look at instances of “authentic” and “space”. (Take note that the use of numbering the quotes simply made referencing them easier, it is not meant as a ranking.)

  1. Rich media representations (e.g., large screen documentaries) and digital technologies, such as simulations and immersive environments (e.g., visualizations, interactive virtual reality, games), can expand more traditional hands-on approaches to engage the public in authentic science activities” (Bell, 2009, p.59).


  1. “Informal environments (spaces) often provide opportunities for learners to engage in authentic inquiry using a range of resources, without pressure to cover particular content, yet with access to engaging phenomena and staff ready to support them in their own explorations and discoveries” (Bell, 2009, p.79).



  1. “Some have argued that schools and science centers should learn from the authentic moments of curiosity and exploration seen in everyday learning—and try to recreate them in their settings… While pursuit of scientific questions for the sake of pure interest is often a goal in planning curriculum or museum exhibits, visitors may not have that goal. Yet the personal histories of scientists suggest that sustained everyday experiences are often seen as a crucial influence on their expertise development” (Bell, 2009, p.115).


  1. “There are also concerns that technology may decrease the social interaction that is a hallmark of learning in informal environments” (Bell, 2009, p.281).



  1. “Third, it makes more sense to organize learning environments (spaces) that allow students to become knowledgeable by participating in and contributing to the life of their community, which has the potential to lead to lifelong participation and learning” (Roth, 2004, p.2).


  1. “This implies that science educators no longer seek to stack educational environments (spaces) to coax individuals into certain performances, but that they set up situations that allow a variety of participatory modes, more consistent with a democratic approach in which people make decisions about their own lives and interests” (Roth, 2004, p.5).



  1. “We are therefore particularly interested in forms of participation that are continuous with out-of-school experiences and therefore have the potential to lead to lifelong learning rather than to discontinuities between formal and informal learning settings (spaces)” (Roth, 2004, p.24).


  1. “Because active, collaborative learning is important, space should support authentic, project-based activities. In addition, space may support informal learning, such as using the walls to post current research or artifacts from previous discoveries” (Oblinger, 2005).



  1. “Learning spaces convey an image of the institution’s philosophy about teaching and learning. A standard lecture hall, with immovable chairs all facing the lectern, may represent a philosophy of ‘pouring content into students’ heads.’ An active, collaborative teaching and learning philosophy is often manifested in a different design. Space can either enable—or inhibit—different styles of teaching as well as learning” (Oblinger, 2005).

Quotes 1 and 4 both wrestle with the issue of technology and virtual spaces from different angles. I believe that there is opportunity for technology to create authentic spaces for learning in a myriad of ways. Even in the case of 4, where conventional social interaction is mediated by a technology that requires a one person operator (removing person to person interaction), that single person can still reach millions of people and vice versa. Though it is on that individual whether or not they decide to interact with those millions or not.

It seems that authentic spaces refer to informal environments that allow for collaboration between participants. They naturally allow for those participants to interact with others and the space itself. In this way, authentic spaces are both distinct and fairly general with much room for subjectivity to decide which spaces are more authentic than others. As quote 9 states, “space can either enable—or inhibit—different styles of teaching as well as learning” (Oblinger, 2005). As teachers, it is on us to determine our style of teaching and how we want our students to learn. Our classrooms, or teaching settings, must reflect our style to be as authentic as possible for our purposes.



Oblinger, D. (2005). Leading the Transition from Classrooms to Learning Spaces (EDUCAUSE Quarterly) | the Transition from Classrooms to Learning Spaces (EDUCAUSE Quarterly) | Retrieved June 20, 2014, from

Roth, W., & Lee, S. (2004). Science education as/for participation in the community. Science Education88(2), 263-291.

Bell, P. (2009). Learning science in informal environments people, places, and pursuits. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.


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