Authentic Audiences for Student Learning

Meg Mobley

About the author: Meg Mobley, Ph.D., is a Senior Instructor in Crop and Soil Science. She develops and teaches blended and Ecampus soil science courses from introductory to graduate level and is active in inclusive curriculum development and faculty instructional support. Her approach to teaching, mentoring, and collaborating is to start with curiosity and empathy and follow up with scientific questioning and observation and creative problem-solving.

As fall term approaches, I’m reflecting on conversations from the summer term Resilient Teaching FLC hosted by CTL and Academic Technologies, in which a small group of faculty studied and shared techniques for designing courses to be resilient to individual- or institution-level disruptions. Our conversations launched from Inara Scott’s piece on Resilient Teaching from a year ago, touched on numerous passages from Derek Bruff’s Intentional Technology, and surveyed formal and informal media and literature on topics related to resilience-guided instructional techniques and course design.

A topic that is holding my reflective attention this week is that of Authentic Audience. Providing an authentic audience (at its simplest, an audience besides the instructor or instructional team) can add a sense of purpose to an assignment, provide incentive for students to revise and produce a high-quality product, and can even be an opportunity for students to provide service to others via their course work. Below I describe some examples of how I and my co-instructors provide authentic audiences to our students, and one example from Bruff:

  1. Assign readings in Perusall and invite the author to join the conversation!

Last term, a colleague asked me to review an article they were writing, which happened to fit well with topics of a course I was actively teaching. So, with permission, I loaded that manuscript into Perusall, assigned students to read, comment, and discuss as usual, and also invited the author to join in the discussion to answer students’ questions and to see

Screenshot of Perusall author-student conversation
Screenshot of student-and-author conversation in Perusall

their feedback. My colleague loved the opportunity to get so many eyes looking at the manuscript and was pleased at the quality of the feedback. Students had the opportunity to get quick clarification directly from the author and knew that their feedback was going to be used in revisions of the manuscript.

  1. If a course has a final paper or presentation, consider one of the following:

Build in draft stages to the assignment and a round of peer review before the final product is due. Then consider steering the best final papers towards a course/department/disciplinary blog or publication, or the best presentations to a YouTube collection. The draft phase will improve the final product’s quality and provide a low stakes opportunity for students to receive feedback and improve before their work is summatively evaluated and posted more publicly. Both the peer review and the final public viewing are examples of authentic audiences. I have gone as far as the peer review draft and final presentation step in my courses and am now considering appropriate outlets for the public engagement step.

Organic Growers Club poster
Service-Learning Project Poster

Put on an end-of-term showcase! I teach a large course with a service-learning component. During the term, students work in groups on a community service-learning project, and then make a poster that documents the project and discusses how course concepts manifested in it. One of the last class sessions is a Service-Learning Symposium in which the students present their project posters and interact with the other project groups and an invited audience of faculty, students, community partners, deans, and others. It’s a fun day and validating for students, instructors, and admins alike to see the community engagement and the disciplinary learning come together!

  1. Bruff’s Chapter 7 Authentic Audiences describes a course exchange in which students in one course produced documentaries and those in another course critiqued them, all via a shared blog. It strikes me that such a cross course collaboration would provide a) a refreshing changeup to routine for faculty and students alike, b) an authentic audience to motivate student learning and quality of product, and c) an opportunity for students to recognize the relevance of their topic and its connection to other topics and areas of study (which is often a learning outcome!).

How does providing an authentic audience improve resilience of teaching and learning? When conditions are stressful and time is short, it can be easy to do a minimal job of assignments that seem like busywork – a paper or presentation that no one besides the instructor will ever see, for example. Providing an authentic audience for the work is a way to bring purpose and incentive to the work of learning by engaging students in dialogue with peers or professionals and/or providing a tangible artifact of their learning and effort. Many of the ideas for engaging authentic audiences are amenable to online, asynchronous formats that can be incorporated into blended, remote, or online learning environments as needed.

If you are interested in learning more about creating flexible solutions to teaching challenges, applying blended learning techniques to integrate in-class and online learning activities, and developing strategies to build resilience in your teaching, I encourage you to check out the resources below and to apply by Sep. 20 for the Fall ’22 Resilient Teaching Faculty Learning Community!

References and Links:

Bruff, Derek. Intentional tech: Principles to guide the use of educational technology in college teaching. West Virginia University Press, 2019.

Kahn, Cub. “Exploring Resilient Teaching”. OSU Center for Teaching and Learning Blog. Oregon State University. July 19, 2022.

Oregon State University Foundation. “Service Learning: Support Hands-On, Community-Based Experiences with SOIL!!!”. Beavs Give. 2022.

Pearson, Angelique. “Social Annotation as a Learning Tool”. Ecampus Course Development and Training Blog. Oregon State University. November 22, 2021.

Scott, Inara. “Increasing Resilience Through Modular Teaching”. OSU Center for Teaching and Learning Blog. Oregon State University. September 28, 2021.

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