Everyone's a critic (again)

I recently blogged about the hidden audience effect, and cited Westfields Junior School's S'cool Internet Radio and David Mitchell's Quadblogging projects as examples of how students can become better engaged with learning when they perform their work for an audience. Social media and the internet have largely been responsible for this change. Before social media, the school play or the end of term concert was a good way to allow children to perform to an audience, as was the art display and the school sports day. But not every child excels at art, or is good at music or sport. What about those who are good mathematicians, or the scientists or linguists? Prior to social media, how did they perform their skills for an audience? Social media now provides a way. A recent blogpost by Katherine McKnight listed 12 ways technology has changed learning, and includes 'expanding audiences' near the top of the list:

Students' sense of audience is completely different. When I was in high school in the 1980's, the audience was the teacher. When I started teaching high school in 1988, the audience was the teacher and peers.  In the 21st century, it's the WORLD. Blogging, Twitter, Facebook, and other online platforms changed our notion of audience.

I think the statement requires some unpacking. Yes, social media is changing our concept of audience, because the tools we use are naturally participatory. Students blog their ideas and in doing so, they perform to a potential worldwide audience. They receive feedback from their peers in the form of comments, and gain a sense of pride in their work. When they record themselves on camera, they can release it as a YouTube video and gain feedback from their peers. It can be very motivational: watching a growing number of views, comments, shares and favourites can be a huge incentive for students. But there are also risks. The danger of playing to this gallery is the exposure to a potentially harsh and unforgiving environment. YouTube is particularly notorious for trolling (individuals who patrol social media sites to make mischief) and can be a breeding ground for unneccesarily harsh, or deliberately hurtful comments. Receiving such responses, no matter how ill informed or illiterate they often may be, can seriously damage the delicate self esteem of vulnerable young learners.

Teachers should therefore promote the use of YouTube as a performance channel with due consideration to such a risks. The same safeguards should apply to blogging, where teachers are advised to act as moderators of the comments that are received, filtering each one before allowing it to be posted on the blog for students to read. There is also the danger of cyberbullying from within the peer group, and such malicious activities also need to be obviated by the appropriate management of social media tools in formal learning settings. A fine line needs to be drawn between deliberately destructive behaviour, and critial review of a learner's work. Whilst the former knocks down, the latter can build up, challenging the student to refine their skills and learn more about their subject.

Arguably, the benefits outweigh the risks, and performing your learning online using social media is a game changer. Never before have students enjoyed the opportunity to shine on such a global stage. The audience has indeed expanded, and where once a student was writing their assignment to be read by an audience of one (the teacher or examiner), now there is potential to demonstrate new learning through a huge range of globally accessible media.

Assessment should no longer be confined to the written tests or essays that were so prevalent in the last century, but might be extended to podcasts, blogs, wikis, videos, image collections and combinations of these in other media. What teachers now need to avoid is replicating old practices within new media. The opportunities to create new ways of assessment are there to be exploited. The only real limitation is imagination.

Image source

Creative Commons License
Everyone's a critic by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at steve-wheeler.blogspot.com.


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