What is it?
Established forms of assessment such as exams and essays can focus students’ energies on producing work for the approval of one or two assessors. Although essay writing and oral presentations in particular assess criticality, argument construction and all kinds of crucial writing skills, writing for assessors can interfere with the understanding that writing and presentations in the real world are almost always conducted with an audience in mind. The ‘student essay’ is a genre in itself, and not a widely applicable or authentic one (Hyland, 2003), but this can often be the only writing many students come into contact with. This can be a missed opportunity for developing skills and sensitivities with wider relevance. Supplementing (or even replacing in some disciplines) essays for inquiry which leads to outputs for an audience beyond the university helps foster these skills and sensitivities and can stimulate engagement with academic work which students feel is more connected to a real-world context. The audience can be real or imagined, and needs to be carefully conceptualised.
Why would I use it?
- When students adopt a different point of view to rework concepts for their audience, they engage deeply with those concepts beyond simply reproducing them.
- Having a wider audience facilitates the different purposes of academic communication (funding, lobbying, awareness raising, etc) and different ways of communicating common to disciplines. This ‘research-enhanced learning’ a crucial aspect of King’s Education Strategy and Curriculum 2029.
- It can increase motivation and genuine engagement with an assignment (Ward, 2009), especially amongst students who struggle with the genre of traditional academic essays. Research on younger students has shown the quality of work is also higher when there is an external audience in mind (Block, 2013).
- It mirrors skills that employers in all sectors look for, especially in regards to social media and online communication. Having experience of different types of writing or communication allows students to discuss examples in interviews.
- Students, particularly first years or those from different educational cultures, who are more familiar with exams or traditional essays, may be initially challenged by different types of writing, or it may confront their expectations of what they consider ‘academic’.
- Students whose first language is not English may struggle with these assignments as they require a knowledge and flexibility with the language, including colloquialisms, which they may not be familiar with. Opportunities for practice and exemplars should be provided. Group work can help to alleviate this.
- Making students’ work public online with blogs and social media needs to be carefully considered in the age of GDPR.
How has it been used?
The range of audiences and genres of communication is almost limitless; the focus is led by the discipline and learning outcomes of the programme and module. Some common examples include:
A. Projects, business reports or case studies for a company, organisation or health partner (written or spoken);
B. Policy papers and legal briefs
C. Critical reviews of journal articles or conference papers;
D. Writing a review of an event or performance for a magazine, website, or social media;
F. Twitter conferences;
G. Writing a research report or a journalistic piece for such as The Conversation;
H. Creating an edited book or journal (or a series of abstracts)
I. Creating a student-led exhibition or conference;
J. Pitching an idea, invention or project for ‘funding’ in a Dragon’s Den type scenario;
K. Performances of dance, music, art shows, etc.
Fung (2017) describes a number of assignment frameworks for writing an external audience can take:
- Students are given a task and an imagined audience;
- Students are given a real audience (written, spoken or online) as part of a larger project;
- Students choose their own task and audience (either real or imagined).
The structure of the module/programme and other more pragmatic constraints will dictate the best approach.
Here are two case studies taken from Chapter 7 of Fung (2017).
See the case study from Comparative Literature at King’s on writing a review for a magazine audience.