Tuesday, July 20, 2010

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

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...
At this point, she said, “That's not what I do and I’m not interested in going down this road.” 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

1.  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.

2.  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.

3.  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.

4.  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.

5.  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.


  1. Though I agree with most of what you say, I think the way your approached the teacher was unfortunate and to copy your title, you need to "know your audience".

    This was not the time nor the place to ambush this teacher. A convert was not made. It appears, that instead another brick was added to her wall of "nope".

    I believe you cannot backup into an online presences. I believe it is important to search out and be aware of what you are wandering into.

    This teacher had not worked into her lesson plan for the service announcements to go any farther than the immediate school. That was her teaching objective, she achieved her objective, she was recognized and congratulated on that objective.

    There is where you should have started the conversation, with an appreciation for what she had encouraged her students to do and an offer of help to help her expand her possibilities the next time.

  2. @Anonymous, I want to clarify, that I did follow your recommendation to begin the conversation with an appreciation for what she had encouraged her students to do and an offer of help to expand her possibilities was provided.

    Additionally, much of what I shared was my internal dialogue, which perhaps I should go back and clarify in the piece. The reality on my end was very few words were shared with the teacher. I was dismissed, cut off, and pushed away before there was an opportunity for dialogue to occur. Her “wall of nope” was so high, I couldn't even reach it to place upon it another brick.

    Regarding what you say about the teacher not working audience into "her" teaching objective. In general we are doing students an injustice if we don’t incorporate that into publishing. Equally important is that we need to stop focusing on the "teacher's objective" and the "teacher achieving her goal” and start focusing on moving teachers into student objectives that help them achieve goals that will prepare them for the world in which they live rather than the one in which the teacher is comfortable.

  3. Lisa, as always, you provide excellent outlets for progressive-minded teachers. I love your ideas and am more than willilng to jump on board and have in some cases. My students blog, use message boards and even post slide shows to their private wiki pages at my classroom site, www.barnesclass.com.

    The problem continues to be district administrators who are reluctant to do what you suggest. Yes, they are afraid. They fear negative parent feedback and any possibility that something can go wrong. They fear teachers who don't go the extra mile to coach their kids on on Internet safety and properly supervise their online activities. They look for things to fear.

    Very few districts in Ohio have technology specialists like you. I wish they did; in fact, I have volunteered for the position in my own district but was quickly brushed aside.

    Will Richardson is right, though. It is a teacher's job to solve the problems. The proverbial squeaky wheel gets the grease. Last year, I pleaded, begged and cajoled my district's administrators for six months to get them to unblock Delicious.com, so I could share my bookmarks with my students. Finally, it worked.

    This year, I'm going after Twitter.

    Thanks for another excellent blog post.

  4. @Mark Barnes, thanks for the smart insights. You just triggered an idea. What if we made parents, teachers, and students- in partnership responsible for their digital footprint and created a partnership contract written in kid, teacher, and parent-friendly language. The gist of it being that in a joint effort to prepare connected, creative students for success in the global environment we together agree to begin supporting our children in doing so.

    Now if a district did that...well, that might just be a game changer.

  5. I just got reprimanded for sending teachers at school the penpal spreadsheet from @techmunoz instead of sending it to the admin.

    Sometimes I feel like the game only gets changed in our heads, in the twitterverse, or on Pepsi Refresh commercials. Not in my game.

  6. @Sra Cottrell, I know it's a hard fight to do what's right for students, but I hope you keep on keeping on. If you need a little inspiration or evidence of the game changing in the real world, check out my post about a first grade teacher who convinced her principal, parents, and superintendent to let her use Facebook with her first graders http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2010/07/8-real-ways-facebook-enriched-ms.html.

    Now Facebook has contacted her and wants to interview her for their blog. It might not happen everywhere or overnight, but it can happen if we keep the conversation going and share with others...even if that means printing it out and handing it over to them.

  7. Hi Lisa,

    Wow, I totally relate to what you so articulately posted. Hopefully more and more educators will become aware of sites like SchoolTube and even museum hosted digital/online events as sharing sites for student work. As an arts educator I know there are more and more of these online collaborative community project conducted through museums. Students should not miss out on being part of a larger community. Authentic audiences beyond the classroom are absolutely key to today's student learning and growth as global citizens.

    I spent a whole academic year getting MonkeyJam onto the computers at one of the schools I teach at, so I relate to Marks comments about getting Delicious.com onto school computers. I now know I need to sell and pitch the freeware access I need right now if I am to have any hope of getting access on school computers by spring. Having a project website and establishing contacts at County level helps, I have found.

  8. What you say is very true. Unfortunately, many of these sites like facebook are blocked by our district so students can't get on. It's even difficult to have a blog, since this all falls under personal pages and gets blocked. My district wants us to be innovative and think outside the box to increase student acheivement, but they throw up these roadblocks. It makes me think that they can certainly talk the talk, but don't want to walk the walk.

  9. @Corinne Takara, thank you for your thoughtful insights. I need to add museums to this list. I even know a school, the iSchool, that partnered with the September 11th Museum to authentically contribute to the museum's work. I think I need to go back and add that!

    Your point about educators being aware of SchoolTube brought to mind something I learned during my visit to the Science Leadership Academy (http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2008/05/science-leadership-academy-lessons.html). I asked a teacher why he has his students publish to YouTube rather than a site like TeacherTube. He stated simply, because I want the students to publish in worlds relevant to them, not me. Kids watch YouTube. They don't watch TeacherTube.

  10. @Christine Dort, can you use articles like this to help move your school or district? If not, can you allow students the option to use these sites as part of their homework if they want to? This could help build a case for using them during the school day.

  11. Such great advice, Lisa! In my writings and workshops with homeschooling parents, I constantly counsel that if they want to help their kids get excited about writing, they need to help them find authentic audiences. Your five suggestions give parents and kids practical advice on how to do that.

    When my 10-year-old made a graph about Avengers characters and how their "interestingness" changes throughout the cartoon series, I tweeted about it, and how similar it was to the work of a professional visualization designer whose work I'd discovered on Twitter. I struck up an online conversation with that designer, and he retweeted my son's work. That tweet got picked up by the Data Artist in Residence at the New York Times, who eventually designed his own Avengers graphs inspired by my kid! http://blog.blprnt.com/blog/blprnt/avengers-assembled-and-visualized-part-1 My son's work was later linked by Brainpicker on Twitter as well. As you can imagine it was all very exciting for my kiddo.

    You can read a bit about how everything evolved here: http://patriciazaballos.com/2012/05/04/these-are-all-things-that-i-just-do-for-fun/

    And all it took was a single tweet...