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Advice for Teachers: A word about audience

November 15, 2010

In case I haven’t stated it clearly enough, I am not a regular blogger. I am also, by no means, a blog expert. Yet here I am teaching blogging to a class of English 101 students. Hence Susan and I’s blog name: teaching without a net (which implies that if you fail, then you fall, and you have to deal with all of the consequences of that SPLAT!). Then, why, you might ask, am I doing this?

UNM’s Core Writing Program focuses heavily on writing genres. Their logic is simple: most of the students who enroll in English 101 and 102 (composition courses) are not English majors. They want to study anthropology or criminology, engineering, communication, art, more or less anything BUT literature. By teaching genres rather than traditional English essays, the hope is for students to learn something transferable. Mainly, the good ole-fashioned RHETORICAL SITUATION.

The Rhetorical Situation is simple. It states, that for every act of “writing” (whether it’s a letter to your mother, a newspaper article, an academic essay, a billboard, or a blog post), you must consider five things: your subject (what you are writing about), your angle (your take on the matter), your purpose (why you are writing), your readers (who is reading it), and your context (in what form does this take place, when is it being written, and how will people encounter it).

I usually give students scenarios with their papers: You are a reporter for the Daily Lobo. Write a profile on an incoming freshman to introduce the class of 2014. Imagine your profile will be a part of a series of ongoing profiles. You must do this in only 250 words.

While this works (for the most part), my students aren’t stupid. I can pretend the audience is the entire university, but they know better. It is really just me. They aren’t actually reporters. They’re students. And this is a required course. (And my teacher is making me pretend to be a reporter? I don’t think so.) By blogging, I have forced them to become—reluctant or willing—actual bloggers. Who have to consider everything—the subject, the angle, the purpose, the context, and, most importantly, their audiences. That means you. And many of them don’t quite understand yet what that means.

In class, I provided many cautionary tales about being aware of audience. From teacherly advise—don’t write anything you don’t want your mother or a future boss to read—to actual evidence—I had them read Heather Armstrong’s blog. For those who don’t know, Heather was fired from her job after blogging about work. (Her story even caused the creation of a new verb: dooced.)

On the day of my student’s first blog posts, I offered these cautions then told them to choose a number between 1 and 10. Choosing 1 meant you would be extra cautious with your content. 10 meant the equivalent of “Who cares?” Most people chose the middle ground. I told them to remember this each time they put their thoughts out there into the wide wide world of cyberspace.

What I didn’t think about was where I fell along this scale as their teacher. Because, by creating this web of blogs, I have created something linked to ME, and I don’t want to be fired! Yikes! And if I put myself along that scale, I would score a 2.

So what do I do now that my students are doing exactly what I asked them to do: they are letting their personalities SHINE through their blogs, and as a result, their writing is some of the best writing I’ve seen from them all semester. They are using their own facebook-induced language (including quippy quotes back and forth and, yes, profanity), but they are also telling me EXACTLY how they really feel.  One particular blog discussed one class a student found particularly boring. (This, by the way, sent me into a minor state of devastation where I questioned whether or not I would ever teach again (I wish I was kidding).) It seems that somehow, by removing myself from V.I.P status, I may have also erased myself (and erased the filter that a teacher/grader provides).

And, if that wasn’t bad enough (or good enough?), my students were also blogging about guest lecturers or blogs written by people I knew. Many of these people were friends who’d volunteered to help me. And where I can get over my own melodrama, I do NOT want to cause hurt to people who were simply doing me a favor. And even though the overall class response to these events were positive, I didn’t want negative things spread about these people over the internet (for the world and their mothers to see!). In other words, blogging = can of worms. And boy do they squiggle!

I’m not a quizzer, but I made a quiz. The questions were as follows (as well as the answers):

  1. • How does blogging differ from facebook in terms of audience? [In facebook you can regulate who reads your messages and with blogs you can’t. In facebook, people who read your postings most likely know you and your personality. People reading your blogs? Maybe, maybe not.]
  2. • What has Heather Armstrong taught us about audience? [In short, that opinions can have some serious repercussions. Blog carefully.]
  3. • Give an example of how this could relate to your academic or professional lives now (In other words, what are some possible positive OR negative repercussion that may happen to one of your blog posts). [I might blog about how much I hated a class my teacher taught and she may never teach another class again. (ahem, melodrama)]
  4. • If you blog about the Cherry Orchard or another play campus performance, who may read it?
  • i. Sam, Suan, and your classmates
  • ii. the director of the play (who may one day decide to cast or not cast you in a role)
  • iii. The actors in the play (who you may one day perform beside)
  • iv. potential theater goers (who may see the play)
  • v. All of the above [←the answer.]

The idea, of course, is that this quiz is more a discussion launcher than an actual quiz. I hope that by having reality knock on their doors that it will get them remembering that their audience is much more than each other. We shall see if it works.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2010 11:24 pm

    so.. the quiz wasn’t actually a quiz?!? Sam, I think words on the internet can be interpreted many ways because you cannot literally see the person’s expressions which really do help quite a lot. Although we try to write the way we talk, it doesn’t always flow the same even if we were to add emoticons. What I am trying to say is that just because one student thought one class was boring doesn’t mean all your other classes are boring!

    • November 16, 2010 2:03 am

      hahaha! Ah thanks! (And yes and no about the quiz! First half of the quiz was a quiz (on commentaries), but I was hoping the second half would be easy points! I have yet to grade them so we shall see! and yes, I agree with you. Without the facial expressions, how do we know subtext? And what will happen when the texting/email/blogging world take over? Praise be emoticons. 🙂

  2. November 17, 2010 12:17 am

    Should we try to get you fired? I could start talking about UNM in a very bad way. Make up lies about the Dean and stuff like that.

    • November 17, 2010 2:36 am

      Considering the fact that my TAship is up this semester, it would probably be all for naught. I like to be a bit melodramatic!

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