The Social Audience

In his book “What Makes Us Tick“, Hugh Mackay makes the following observation about our desire to belong to a group.

“We need companionship, human presence, a social context.  Here’s a weird sign of it.  The producers of American sitcoms long ago realised that when people are watching television, it’s not like being in a cinema, with an audience around us.  We are likely to be alone or with just one or two other people – hence the ‘laugh track’, designed to create the illusion of an audience being present, and us being members of it.  You might hate laugh tracks, but you have to admire the ingenuity of the people who dreamed them up: they know we are social creatures, and that our response to any form of entertainment – movies, plays, sports events, sitcoms – is likely to be heightened when we’re in the midst of others who are reacting.”1

Perhaps that’s one reason why we shouldn’t completely do away with well-crafted, live, classroom lectures.

Don’t mistake me – I am not doubting the value of “flipping the classroom“.  I am convinced that when we record our explanations in podcasts, vodcasts or screencasts, those explanations are generally more effective than a live lecture.  A recorded explanation can be paused, “re-wound”, watched over and over, or revisited later in the year.  A student who is away sick doesn’t miss out.  A student whose mind wanders to her new dreamy boyfriend, can stop and take the lesson back to the point where her mind left the path.  A student with a short attention span, can break a podcast into 15-minute chunks.  All of these are advantages over ‘stand and deliver’ lecturing in the classroom.  Not to mention, more importantly, that it frees up class time for students to work collaboratively and creatively – producing their own content – when they are together.

I can only think of one really compelling reason for a teacher to continue to sometimes give live orations on important topics in class time.  It is that when students hear a great, inspiring and purposefully-designed presentation2, their enjoyment of it is heightened by being amongst friends who are sharing in the experience.

Surely that is why we educators still enjoy going to conferences, too.

1Mackay, H, 2010. What Makes Us Tick. 1st ed. Sydney, NSW: Hachette Australia
2That is of course assuming that the teacher puts the effort into purposefully designing an inspiring talk.

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