Does audience matter?

The role of the internet to connect students to a global audience has been a long-standing benefit and draw of the internet for learning.  The premise being that if children had an authentic audience to present/share their work to, the work would be more relevant, and the learning more meaningful.  However, Chris Lehman’s recent tweet has created quite an interesting dialogue.  Lehman posted, “When having an audience is no longer novel, simply having one is no longer motivating.  We still must help kids have something powerful to say.”

Katie Ash author of the Digital Education blog wrote about this topic and pointed to some very interesting comments/responses to Lehman’s tweet that are thought-provoking.  I’ve summarized it here…

  • Dean Shareski’s comment decomposes the core of the statement by defining the different types of audiences.  1)  Audience as eyeballs – this all about numbers.  Think YouTube.  This tells you how many people watched (which is important) but tells very little about the quality of the product and lasting value.  2)  Audience as teachers – this involves interaction via feedback, responses through blogs, emails, etc.  As Shareski puts it, “You have the opportunity to grow and get better.”  There is growth and learning in critiquing a product/thought as well as receiving a peer review.  3)  Audience as co-learners – this is the ultimate, an authentic exchange between learners.  While Shareski says this can be achieved within the walls of a classroom, he reinforces the power of the internet, “A little anonymity and distance seems to be a good thing in some cases. It’s less about personalities and more about learning.”   His final statement is quite powerful, “Audience for the sake of audience is fleeting. Audience for the sake of learning is lasting.”
  • Clarence Fisher author of the Remote Access blog acknowledges that the motivating factor of audience may indeed be declining for some students but regardless, there are several reasons to continue to challenge students to share via the internet.  First, it is good practice in being experienced multimedia creators and communicators and second it is essential for students to be exposed to global ideas and perspectives to push thinking. 
  • Jeff Utecht adds the notion of “audience as community”, referring to the fact that a community forms around one’s posts and an “obligation” to continue to produce begins to surround one’s work.  Utecht refers to Facebook as a powerful “community” force.
  • David Warlick chimes into the discussion, emphasizing the connectiveness of the internet and the power behind creating a “network of ideas”. 

The discussion could go on and on and take many twists and turns.  For instance, what about the skill of learning how to effectively communicate to a specific audience?  Could “novelty” be injected into the practice of sharing with an audience if students were challenged to tailor their message to appeal (or even persuade) to a certain audience? 

In sum, the responses to Lehman’s post acknowledge that audience (as “eyeballs”) may be a novelty and eventually fade as a motivational strategy for students.  However, the benefits of audience (true audience) are too great to dismiss; rather, we must encourage students to experience the richness of “audience as co-learners” and “audience as community” and help them recognize their value.