Why Audience Matters

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.