McKibben, J. & Murphy, T. (2021). The effect of authenticity on project-based learning: A quasi-experimental study of STEM integration in agriculture. Journal of Agricultural Education, 62(1), 144-155. http://doi.org/10.5032/jae.2021.01144
Researchers have reported that participation in agricultural education reinforces STEM concepts,
often through project-based learning. The use of projects is common in agricultural education.
However, the instructional importance of certain elements of these projects is not well understood. We
conducted a quasi-experimental study to examine the effect of project authenticity on learning.
Agriculture students in Texas were sampled and assigned as a cohort to one of four treatment groups
(N = 219). Fourteen cohort groups (class periods) were identified across five sites. Each cohort was
randomly assigned to one of four project types to learn about electricity. The four project types varied
in their degree of project authenticity. Analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was used to test the effects of
project authenticity on change scores in a pretest-posttest quasi-experimental design. Learning varied
on authenticity. A test of project type groups yielded statistically significant results (p < .025) with
small effect size (ω2 = .04). Pairwise comparisons revealed no differences between the most and least
authentic projects but did reveal statistically significant differences between the two projects with
medium levels of authenticity, and the other two (i.e., least authentic and most authentic). The
relationship between learning and authenticity was not linear. We recommend that teachers and
curriculum designers deliberately consider the importance of authenticity when designing projectbased
learning opportunities for students.