Having an authentic audience can be extremely beneficial to students’ learning although it does require giving up some level of privacy. Rather than writing assignments solely for an instructor or, at most for a limited number of peers, the internet makes it easier than ever before for students to share their work with a wide audience of people who can be the actual intended audience of a work.
Instructors are most often an inauthentic audience, especially for undergraduate work. Undergraduate students are rarely able to produce work that is at the same level as the instructor would be seeking out themselves, meaning the instructor is not really the actual audience. Students are aware of this situation and thus make assumptions about what an instructor would already know, aiming their work at the knowledgeable instructor rather than an audience that would be more appropriate. Instead, they may, at most, write work for a pretend audience. Moreover, having an audience of one is rarely authentic.
An authentic audience can help motivate students to work harder on their projects.
“Why is “busywork” a problem? Because when students see their learning experiences as just a series of hoops to jump through on their way to a career, most of their motivation for engaging in those learning experiences is external. They suffer through all their colleges classes because they know they’ll need a transcript (with a healthy amount of A’s, of course) to land that grad school spot or high-paying job. Unfortunately, external motivations don’t lead to deep learning, just surface learning or strategic learning. (Students who are more risk-averse tend to be surface learners, while more competitive students tend to be strategic learners, just doing enough to get that A.) Deep learning is hard work, and external motivations just aren’t strong enough for students facing that difficulty. If we want our students to engage in deep learning, we need find ways to connect that learning with their internal motivations. Conventional wisdom says we should try to convince students of the value or beauty or merit of our field, so that they develop an intrinsic interest in the subject. That’s a valuable approach, but the idea of an authentic audience opens up a different set of approaches to foster intrinsic motivation in the learning process.” (Bruff, 2011a)
Students are more likely to produce better work when they know their peers can read it, according to Bruff (2011b), working harder because what they are producing are “authentic expressions of learning, open to the world as part of their ‘digital footprints.'” Bruff discusses the excitement of a student who realized that others could cite them and one who had received a comment from an author who was cited in the paper.
Bass and Elmendorf refer to these teaching strategies as “social pedagogies” in which the “representation of knowledge for others” helps build student understanding and creates intellectual community as well as connecting students to communities outside the classroom. This social aspect to learning helps to make the learning meaningful and applicable beyond the boundaries of the course. Social pedagogies are not tied to the internet but the increasingly social structure of online interaction is opening new avenues for the use of such teaching strategies.
In providing students with opportunities to access authentic audiences, to create for others, and contribute to something greater than their grade, we are providing them with opportunities to make their learning matter. They are able to participate in something real, whether it be a community of practice, solving a real-world problem, or an artefact that others will see. Their contributions can continue after the end of a course as demonstrations of their learning.
The prevalence of social media and texting used for informal communication suggest that there is value and appeal to social writing. While traditional publishing can be difficult and time consuming, the digital age has made it easier to reach an audience. Responses can be immediate, meaning that assignments are no longer private or solitary; responses help students feel that their work is meaningful and that their ideas matter (Teng, 2012, pg. 35).
In writing for an authentic audience, however, one must give up some level of remaining private. That does not necessarily mean an infringement on privacy, dependant upon one’s definition of privacy. It is a conscious choice to share something publicly and, through that choice, create something worthy of being shared. By sharing publicly, students are entering into the realm of disciplinary discourse, so it is important to discuss the implications of sharing work online so students fully comprehend what it means to be part of that discourse (Ross, 2011, pg. 124).
Although UR Courses does allow for sharing, through tools like the wiki, database, workshop and forum, the audience will remain limited. Moreover, whatever is produced will only exist for the duration of the course, after which time students will no longer be able to access their work. Thus, the audience is authentic only for a brief period of time and the contributions that can be made remain limited. It is not possible to share that work with anyone outside the course unless the work is copied and saved elsewhere. This is the trade-off of the privacy offered by using UR Courses.
Ross, J. (2011). Traces of self: Online reflective practices and performances in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 16(1), 113-126.
Teng, A. (2012). Writing teachers should comment on facebook walls. Voices from the Middle, 19(4), 34-38.