One of my favorite education quotes is from Lisa Nielsen:
“21st Century educators don’t say ‘hand it in’; they say ‘publish it’.”
Based on university library borrowings in the UK, the average readership of a PhD thesis is 1.8 (according to Stephen Heppell). That’s got to be a deflating statistic for anyone who has poured years of blood sweat and tears into a thesis! But most secondary science students produce their work for an audience of just 1.
Over the last few years I have had my students publish their work online in a number of different ways. I’ve had students publish podcasts on Podomatic, iPadio and iTunes. I’ve had them publish blogs to WordPress, Edublogs and Class Blogmeister, post research findings on Wikipedia and had them publish videos and screencasts to YouTube. All these things are great and give students a more authentic audience than writing their work on paper and handing it in to their teacher. But this semester I had students who made screencasts publish them on their facebook wall.
When students publish their work on facebook, the audience is significantly different to what comprises their audience when they post it on these other sites.
When students publish their work on a class blog, screencast.com, podomatic.com or even iTunes, it can be seen by others in the class and by me, and although theoretically anyone in the world can see it, realistically, very few will. So while this is more authentic than doing their work on paper, it’s still a very small audience of classmates – and not significantly different to making a poster and pinning it up in the classroom.
In stark contrast, when students publish their work to YouTube or Wikipedia, their audience is larger and in some ways more authentic as anyone viewing the work is doing so as a result of an Internet search. But on these sites, my students are anonymous (I require them to create usernames that won’t identify them and thereby compromise their privacy). So while they have an audience of hundreds, it is an anonymous crowd.
But when a student publishes his or her work to their facebook wall, the audience is large and comprised entirely of people who are significant to the student. There is no hiding behind a mask of anonymity. The authenticity of this audience, I think was illustrated to me by the trepidation with which my students approached this task. Students who have become accustomed to publishing work online in various ways, were visibly nervous and had to dig deep to find the courage to put their work in a place which was so authentic for them.