It’s Easy to Fake It on the Internet. So Let’s Focus on Authenticity in...

Opinion | Digital Learning

It’s Easy to Fake It on the Internet. So Let’s Focus on Authenticity in 2019.

By Chris Caren     Dec 24, 2018

It’s Easy to Fake It on the Internet. So Let’s Focus on Authenticity in 2019.

This article is part of the collection: New Year, New Learning: Reflections on Education in 2018 and Beyond.

Chris Caren was nominated to share his thoughts by Arjun Singh, who wrote for the project in 2017.

Authenticity matters. This is hardly a revelatory statement, but in 2018, authenticity in politics, business and the technology industry as a whole feels more necessary than ever before.

The double-edged sword of technology is that it can be used to both obscure and amplify the truth. In an era of fake news, online anonymity and harassment, and the highlight reel version of life depicted on social media, edtech companies and educators must consider how technology can reinforce authenticity rather than mask it.

As the year draws to a close, I’m reflecting on the progress that we have made so far and the steps we should take to bring additional authenticity to the use of technology. From the edtech business perspective, cultivating authenticity starts with people. When it comes to hiring, I admire Warren Buffet’s perspective:

“Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don't have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it's true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.”

Technology solutions that address the problem of inauthenticity can only be created by individuals with integrity. Edtech companies must invest in people who are not only committed to tackling today’s educational challenges but can also anticipate the challenges of tomorrow.

With the ubiquitousness of the internet, outsourcing everyday tasks—grocery shopping, assembling furniture—requires just the click of a few buttons. Unfortunately, education has become no exception to this gig economy lifestyle: it is not uncommon for students to plagiarize content from the internet, or turn to a third party to complete their school papers and assignments—a practice that threatens the value of education as a transformational enterprise. And while technology facilitates these transactional practices, it can also help students learn the value of authenticity.

The process of producing original work and properly attributing ideas to their sources takes time, and that’s not something instructors and students have a lot of to spare. In the past, edtech has fostered authenticity by detecting when it’s lacking, such as by flagging text similarity when an assignment is turned in. In 2018, there remains a need for this form of safeguard, alongside new technologies, instructional practices and institutional policies that encourage students to be authentic on paper, in person and beyond the walls of the classroom.

The teaching moment and push towards authenticity can and should come well before assignment submission. Tools should facilitate feedback between instructors and students, and educators must extend their reach and have more meaningful interactions with students. The final assessment then becomes an opportunity to forge relationships and celebrate original thinking.

It’s in these dialogues that students hone 21st-century skills, such as critical thinking and media literacy, and that lead to the essential discovery of their authentic voices. As class sizes increase and additional courses move online, technologies that support genuine human connection and cultivate authenticity will continue to play the most significant role in the modern classroom. The skills and values that we instill in today’s students will inevitably shape our politics, business and technology of tomorrow.

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