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Authentic Audience; A World of Difference

The most effective way to engage students in learning is to create an authentic audience, giving them a sense that someone else (besides teachers and parents) cares about their work. - Levy, S. (2008)

How many times have you heard students ask, "why do we have to learn this?Instead of preparing students for "the real world", stage their learning in "the real world". As Will Richardson reminds us, "standardized curriculum is merely a best guess of how to prepare students for their future". Providing students with genuine learning to be shared with authentic audiences prepares them to be contributors today, and in the future. An authentic audience has been shown to increase student empowerment while expanding the time and space parameters of the traditional classroom. Students become motivated to work harder and learn more deeply when they know their learning has purpose and meaning to other learners. 

Representation of knowledge for others” helps build student understanding and creates an intellectual community, as well as, connecting students to communities outside the classroom. - Hanson, K. (2011)

Authentic audiences can include students from other classes, community members, and experts in the field. The Internet has made it easy to engage in conversation, and social learning, with almost anyone in the world. Anyone with a network connection has a virtually unlimited capacity to learn, and to teach. Why are authentic audiences important? Here are three reasons shared by connected students who share their learning transparently.

  1. "Amplify my voice" - Joy Kirr, an extraordinary middle-school teacher, has her students blogging so they will self-assess their writing with greater scrutiny. As is the case with many students who share their learning transparently, the frequency of practice, in this case, writing, increases. One of her students, John Paul, writes and posts about sports almost every day. We have engaged in conversations about our favorite team, the Chicago Bears. What does John like most about blogging? "I like writing about sports, and I especially like getting comments."
  2. "Brings the BOOM" - "How has being digitally connected changed your learning?" This was my prompt during a recent meeting of Mr. Steiger's, my principal, student advisory board. Elena, a sophomore, is publishing her creative writing in a blog. "I double and triple check my work before I publish. Since it represents me, I want it to be my best work. Knowing people are reading my writing is much more important than a letter grade."
  3. "Natural high" - Christian Owens has become a bit of a cult hero at our school because of his creative storytelling on YouTube. I first met Christian while he was giving a presentation on "natural highs" in Ms. Drury's Health class. He said shooting, editing, and publishing videos is his natural high. After learning that his video editing skills were self-taught, I asked him why he engages in such a time-consuming hobby. "I like making videos people enjoy. It's fun! This is what I want to do for a career. I have already made contact with TV and movie producers."

How can we help learners engage with authentic audiences?

  • Create opportunities for students to showcase products of their learning. Exhibitions, fairs, and competitions are events where students can share what they have learned with their peers, parents, communities, and in some cases, the world!
  • Guide students in the use of social media tools to help them connect with other learners. Tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest can be used to solicit information, curate resources, and share learning insights and products.
  • Provide opportunities for students to publish their work to the web. Publishing tools like iBooks, Weebly, or Blogger help students engage in learning conversations, develop a positive digital footprint, and expand the learning potential of learning networks.

David P. Reed suggests the utility of social networks can scale exponentially with the size of the network. In schooling terms, this means the potential learning capacities of networked students grows with the number of learners contributing to the network. Research and experience tell us sharing our learning transparently is intrinsically motivating, and socially beneficial.

"When student work culminates in a genuine product for an authentic audience, it makes a world of difference." - Levy, S. (2008)

Resources and References

The Power of Audience - Educational Leadership, Steven Levy

Authentic Audience - Kirsten J. Hanson

photo credit: The World in Sculpture via photopin (license)


Joy Kirr said…
John Paul talks about his blog EVERY DAY in class. He tells me how many views it's gotten, when you comment on it, and how he's been keeping up with it for his 20-day challenge. I, too, talk about my blog comments when I get them - we are not so very different. I'm looking for a conversation to happen with those like-minded, and those who challenge the ideas in the post. Thanks for writing about authenticity, Bob - we need more of this during the school day.

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