Pleasing the Audience

Reading about some common pitfalls of online teaching got me thinking about a bad habit I’ve fallen into in my own face-to-face classrooms: Despite my best intentions, I regularly weigh down my students with text-based content and assignments designed more to meet course outcome requirements than to create a rich and welcoming learning experience.

In my Tech Writing class, I happily nag my students to keep their audience in mind when they write for the workplace. I ask them: What do your readers expect, need, and want from your document? What resistance or bias will your audience bring to the reading experience? And what do you—the writer—want your audience to think, feel, and do after they’ve read your work? I insist: The key to creating truly successful workplace documents is using well-considered answers to those questions to drive every content, design, and delivery decision you make.

And then I proceed to post two pages of clear, detailed (and totally boring) assignment instructions on Blackboard. Or I deliver a presentation about IEEE citations supported by a dozen deadly bulleted slides.

This is a clear case of “do as I say, not as I do.”

In the classroom, my students are my audience, and I need to keep them in mind. They expect to read, write, listen, and learn. They need new knowledge and skills. But they also want—desperately—to be engaged and to care about their learning experience. (As for resistance and bias, most of my students would rather dig a ditch than listen to a lecture on genre or cite a source.)

So, going forward, I want to do more of what I say—and that means keeping my audience in mind as I create lessons and assignments. I already give students a lot of what they need to learn; as I develop curriculum for my new hybrid course, I hope to give them more of what they want: the opportunity to be engaged and to care. I hope to take Elizabeth St. Germain’s advice and act as a curator of inspiring learning resources so that my students can design and enjoy their own learning experiences.

I recently took my first step: banishing bulleted presentations from my curriculum and replacing them with visually rich Assertion-Evidence (AE) slides.
(For new ideas on visual presentations, watch Melissa Marshall’s talk on AE Design.)

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2 Responses to Pleasing the Audience

  1. I appreciate the link to Melissa Marshall’s talk and have watched the first ten minutes. I too am interested in this topic and would like to learn more. In my field of ESOL/bilingual education, we try to find ways of making the content accessible to language learners. Visuals is one way of doing this. Please let me know if you have any favorite places you go to find your pictures for presentations. I have a few, but nothing I’m completely satisfied with.

  2. hyrapies says:

    I finally got a chance to watch the Assertion Evidence video. I agree that bulleted points can be distracting. Every time I modify my lectures, I do away with more and more bulleted points. I replace them with artfully crafted, visually appealing maps as I want students to begin thinking spatially in Geography. Too often I have used bulleted points to explain a historical event or explain a spatial distribution, but with the use of maps and images, I can see how the visuals can drive home a point much better. I am curious if there are any statistics which show that Assertion -Evidence presentations provide a better conceptual understanding.

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