Why Audience Matters

Nov 20

Cross posted at The Tech Learning Blog

This facebook/twitter posting by Chris Lehmann got my attention.

It's hard to argue with that statement and it raises some interesting questions and implications. It reminded me this cartoon by Hugh MacLeod (warning, Hugh as an affection for the f-bomb)

It's powerful statement warning about our ability to connect and yet wallow in shallowness and fluff. While I concur with Chris's concern I also think it's important to explore the nature and purpose of audience.

Placing a clustr map on your blog or receiving a comment from someone on the other side of the world is pretty amazing. Often in very contrived ways, teachers find these connections for their students and generally get the "ooohs" and "awwwws" for while. As Chris suggests this novelty fades. But I would argue the word "audience" has a number of connotations and uses. Understanding and leveraging them thoughtfully is the key.

Audience as Eyeballs

This is about pure numbers. Views on a youtube video, reads on a blog, traffic on a website. These tell students that others are watching.  That's important. Just as it's important when fans show up at a basketball game. It says what you do matters. What it doesn't say necessarily, is that what you are doing is any good.  You can put a video on youtube of yourself clipping your toenails and get 5,000 views. It says very little about quality and lasting value. In the end, the views are nice but won't lead to much more than a little recognition.

Audience as Teachers

This is when the audience suddenly participates rather than just views. Comments on a blog, emails, video responses are prime interactions. You have the opportunity to grow and get better. Fostering this type of relationship with your audience might be contrived as two classrooms decide to spend a little time on each other's space but even if it is, we know the power of peer review and assessment for learning. When students have to thoughtfully provide feedback and critique, both parties benefit. Even random, one off comments are useful and offer students new perspectives not otherwise available from their teachers and or classmates. Students will indeed have powerful things to say and share as they craft their messages and products under the tutelage of many teachers.

Audience as Co-Learners

When students now see themselves as teachers to others we have truly harnessed the power of the audience. This isn't about novelty anymore but authentic exchange between interested learners. It doesn't matter if it's only one person but the idea that your work or ideas not only matter but are important in the development of others learning.  A little anonymity and distance seems to be a good thing in some cases. It's less about personalities and more about learning.

The question that we need to ask is can this occur in our classrooms without seeking an audience from the outside? I suggest it's possible but not as likely. Great teachers may be able to make this happen under certain conditions but the reason we love the internet is it's ability to personalize, customize and connect our learning to world. To suggest that room itself has all it needs to learn and grow is simply false. Limiting learning to the walls of classroom ignores a possibility that's too great to pass up. Good work needs to be shared.

Our students deserve not only an audience who would watch what they do but one that would actively participate in their learning.

One final point. Given that I would estimate fewer than 25% of our students even have a chance to find an audience via their schools, I hesitate to be too critical of teachers who only offer an audience of eyeballs. I would hate for that to be the ultimate goal, however, as Chris states, this novelty will wear off. Audience for the sake of audience is fleeting. Audience for the sake of learning is lasting.

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  • http://twitter.com/butwait Shelley

    Dean, thank you… this is so thought-provoking! I recently got my evaluations back from a presentation I co-moderated in front of a large audience this fall. And even though the feedback was very positive, reflecting on the experience and reading your post has really got me wondering if I'm likely to sign up for the equivalent of standing in front of a large lecture hall again any time soon.
    It was hard to get beyond the "audience as eyeballs" stage with the constraints that were built into that setup. And, having been a fortunate participant in some conversations that were WAY more over towards the "let's learn together" end of the spectrum, I am strongly motivated to try to be involved in lots more of THAT.
    Nervous/excited for EduCon2.2, and hoping to meet you there…

  • http://www.123-read.com Craig

    Thanks for the article, this will prove like useful information for my class! Thanks

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  • http://www.mrsoro.com Ann Oro

    I only see my students once or twice per week. I don't think they really think too much about the eyeball count. My son's seventh grade class was born the year the Internet really started getting on people's radar. While finding a class to work cooperatively is a bit contrived, it gives the students a more concrete sense of audience. Through Skype, they can see and talk with the students who will view their work. My fifth graders met recently with another fifth grade class who will be critiquing their podcasts. The work will live on a wiki and maybe someday someone will use it to learn about time zones. By that time, the fifth grade might be in high school or beyond. What matters to me is that they are building foundational blocks for their future. As time passes, we learn more and more about controlling your content on the web adn making choices in the license they select. It's interesing to see the difference and thinking behind when a student chooses full copyright versus creative commons or public domain. If I don't teach these concepts, I'm not sure anyone will.
    I was online when Chris made that statement and it's been sitting on my mental back burner. I don't think the novelty is there, but I do know that literacy surrounding the placement of media on the Internet is very important.

  • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com/ David Warlick

    Dean, a great post.  But I'm not sure I agree with Chris' original Twitter post.  He may be right, and he's certainly in a better position than me to see it first hand.  But I've had numerous teacher-users of Class Blogmeister say that having classmates read and respond to each other's blogs is just about as motivating as having people around the world read and respond.  I suspect that the world-reach thrill of blogging might be novel and might wear off.  
    But it occurs to me that the power of working within an audience, as opposed to performing in front of an audience (writing to the teacher, what you thing the teacher wants to read), is the power of conversation.  It's knowing that somebody (even the guy in the next row) is reading what you are writing (not measuring it), and may respond to what you are writing, pushing you to rethink and respond back.
    It's the potential of adding something valuable to somebody else's thinking — the potential of becoming valuable.

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  • http://www.bloggingonthebay.org Bill Gaskins

    Thanks for pushing my thinking about audience as co-learners.
    Bill

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    I agree to this audience always matters. As they are our real appreciatives.

  • http://thinklab.typepad.com/ Christian Long

    Digging your last line:  "Audience for the sake of audience is fleeting. Audience for the sake of learning is lasting."
    Pondering here…
    It has to be as Chris Lehmann (and others) say about technology. The ultimate goal is that tech is ubiquitous so that we don't have to discuss it (or fret/frenzy over it). 
    Suppose that is to be true of audience in time, too.  Right now you may be right that any eyeballs are already a magnification of what occurs in traditional classrooms; hard to spite the teacher who worries about the dots on a ClusterMap. 
    But in time, I truly hope that we will no longer be amazed that someone from 'far away' visited a 'blog' (after all, location matters not a bit when its all *one* Internet).  Instead, we need to shift to 'quality' being the point of both the content our student-learners create and the way our audiences respond (and mash-up) what we create.
    Anything else is just playground-level semantic tetherball.

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  • http://www.vallenatomusic.com craig

    Hi, Thanks for this wonderful post, I will certainly be watching for more.
    Cheers

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  • http://yerevanlife.ru/ Ереван

    было очень интересно!

  • http://www.indian-citizen-forum.com/forum_topics.asp?FID=29&title=nursery-admissions-admissions-delhi-schools Nursery Admissions in Delhi Schools 2009 2010 2011

    Wow, thanks for this. You seem to be quite the expert in this category. I’ll stop by more often.