Don’t Forget Your Audience! 5 Ideas To Connect with Real Audiences by Lisa Nielsen

10/21/2011 1:18:16 PM

 As I shared in my popular post 21st Century Educators Don’t Say, “Hand It In.” They say, “Publish It!, publishing to an authentic audience is much more powerful than publishing to an audience of one (the teacher) or some (classmates, parents). It also enables students to produce real work that has real world meaning and empowers them with a valuable skill necessary for success in life. Knowing how to develop and share a message that can make a difference.

Sadly, not enough educators are doing this. They are teaching as though students live in the same world as they did when they went to school. A world where students didn’t think, converse, create, and publish in real ways to real people who cared beyond those in their physical environment. This injustice is no longer okay. Teachers need to prepare students to be global citizens today and tomorrow and let go of the past.

Far too often I experience teachers at schools like the one I attended last month who dig their heals in the past. This school was celebrating the innovative work of students who had put much effort into creating public service announcements (for a non audience???) about issues they selected and about which they deeply cared. When I asked the teacher where the student work was being published she looked at me blankly. She thought her work was done. But it wasn't. She left off the most important part of the work: Helping kids connect with and find a purposeful authentic audience. “Oh,” she said, “You mean like have them publish on YouTube or something?” “Well not really.” I said. “That’s only half the work.” It’s kinda like an author who prints copies of her book and leaves them in a pile somewhere. Sure, someone may come across the pile of books and even read a copy, but just placing your book among the masses is not finding your audience. She explained that next year (when she likely won’t have these students) “she” (not the students) were going to “look into” placing the videos on the school's website in a safe place where others outside of school can't visit. While that’s a tip toe in the right direction, it’s not what I’m talking about. What that accomplishes is replicating what takes place in the classroom. It digitally enables teachers to pass student work out to an audience of some classmates/parents. There is no active audience involved that shares in the passion and interest conveyed in the student’s work.

At this point, the teacher really just wanted me to go away. She was proud with what her and her students did and she was done. She wanted no part of this audience thing. Kids produce work for her and maybe some others. End of story.

“But wait,” I pleaded. Just listen for a minute. Your students are creating videos about teen labor, animal rights, anti abortion. Their voices are powerful and there are people, groups and organizations who would value their work if you supported your students in reaching out to these outlets and showed them how...which is so much easier in our connected Web 2.0 world.

Before I could go on, she cut me off with a litany of "yeah, buts".

  • Teacher: Yeah, but it doesn't matter. We can’t do it.
    • Me: Why???
    • Teacher: We’d need permission slips.
      • Me: We have them!
    • Teacher: Yeah but, it doesn’t matter because...
      • Our parents don’t want kids publishing their work online.
      • Our principal has a no publishing rule.
      • Our whole school system doesn’t let students publish their work.
    • Me: Why?
      • Teacher: Because it’s dangerous.
    • Me: No, it’s not. Youth are at far greater risk of abuse in their own homes and in the homes of their friends than they ever are in digital or physical publics. I have a nice blog post you can read about this issue. Banning students from being authentic creators is robbing them of meaningful and important learning. And, furthermore...
At this point, she cut me off clearly convinced I was a crazy lady from whom she must protect her class. “I’m not interested in going down this road.” And, with that she escorted me to the hallway outside her classroom.

Harump! Sadly, this isn’t that unusual in schools today. But what if it were? What are some ways this teacher could have helped students meaningfully publish their work and quite possibly made a difference in the lives of others around a cause they were passionate about? Here are some ideas.

5 Ways You Can Share Your Work and Make A Difference

Share your work on a blog.
People who care about issues are often mobilized via blogs about the issue. Search for your topic using Technorati, Technorati was founded to help bloggers succeed by collecting, highlighting, and distributing the global online conversation. Encourage students to read these blogs and join the conversation in comments and via connecting with the blog author and asking her if she’d like to feature your student-created work. Wa-lah! An instant interested audience.

Share your work with people passionate about your topic on Twitter.
Use Twitter to connect with authentic audiences. You can mine Twitter for information or go to some good sites to find information on topics of interest. Once you see who is Tweeting about these topics follow them, then write to them and share your work. You’ll have a network of people you follow who are interested in a topic you are interested in, and these folks will likely view your work, retweet it, share with others, and help you find places to share it more widely.

Share your work on discussion boards.
People are talking about all sorts of things via online discussion boards. Do a search for your topic “and” discussion boards or do a ning search to find communities of interest. Once on those boards students can see what people are talking about. Various points of view and perspectives. Join the conversation, and share their work.

Share your work on Facebook pages.
Facebook is becoming more and more popular in education and teaching with Facebook provides students with meaningful teaching. From primary school teachers to high school principals, educators are successfully harnessing the power of this medium. Help your students connect to real audiences using this medium by searching for pages on their topic of interest, commenting and publishing their work there.

Share your work with organizations.
In the classroom I share in this post, students were really passionate about their topics but had no idea anyone outside their teacher cared about their work. Well, they do. Students should be lead to search for organizations who support their cause. When they find them, they can contact them, share their work, and ask if they’d like to feature it on their site. The contact may even provide authentic suggestions for improving their work or perhaps also an interview and invitation to do more or share with other audiences.

Yeah, but...
If you’ve read this and like the teacher mentioned in this story, have endless, “yeah buts,” then take a lesson from Will Richardson who advises Yeah, You’ve Got Problems. So Solve Them. Think outside the box, or if necessary, think outside the ban. Take on the responsibility to enlighten parents, other teachers, administrators. If your school blocks all or some of the aforementioned sites, see if you can apply to unblock them which is possible in many school districts. Even here in New York City. Additionally, much of this is the work that should be done away from school anyhow. In the real world students have access to 21st century tools and it is our moral imperative to support students in using them. If you have students who don’t have internet, help them connect with someone/some place that does. A library, a business, a mentor, a friend. Figure out a way these students can borrow laptops over night and connect to one of the thousands of free internet spots or just go to a friends and connect to their network. Schools need to support every student in bridging the digital divide, providing equitable access, preparing students for the real world in which they live, and knowing how to connect, converse, and create with others in the global environment.

Cross posted at The Innovative Educator, International Edublogger, International EduTwitter, and Google Certified Teacher. Lisa Nielsen is perhaps best known as creator of The Innovative Educator blog. An outspoken and passionate advocate of innovative education, Ms. Nielsen is covered by local and national media for her views on "Thinking Outside the Ban" and determining ways to harness the power of technology for instruction and providing a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities helping schools and districts to educate in innovative ways that will prepare students for 21st century success.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.

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