The Ambiguous 'Broader Public Audience'
“I want my research to be accessible to a broader public audience--one that extends beyond the Ivory Tower,” I stated passionately as I presented my work-in-progress at an Emory roundtable discussion for scholars and service providers interested in human rights, digital scholarship, and pedagogy. Those who attended represented various disciplines, including Religion, Anthropology, and Law as well as human rights activists, and Carter Center affiliates. I can sum up some of their initial reactions as I interpreted them as, “That’s very noble of you. But what does that actually mean?” This cued my internal monologue as I tried to quickly process their feedback: “Isn’t a ‘broader public audience’ a rather universal term? Where did the breakdown of this message--the importance of connecting with a community invested in human rights, social justice, migration, and law outside of academia--occur?”
I later reflected on their questions about how my digital project relates to my dissertation on Angolan refugees in Brazil in the postcolonial period. I thought about their inquiries about why I had chosen a Scholar Blog as the platform to reach a ‘broader audience’, and whether or not I could manage this initiative while working toward my dissertation. I realized that the lack of clarity about the ambiguous term 'broader public audience' originated with my own vision. Before I continued to post syllabi for courses about refugee concerns and sustainability in Latin America, reading lists about post-WWII migration, online photo galleries that capture the ‘lens of migration’ in refugee camps, and podcasts featuring interviews with law students working on behalf of refugees, I realized that I had to more clearly define my ‘broader audience’ before trying to target them.
Backward Design and the Target Audience
The roundtable discussion forced me to pause and to implement some of the skills those seeking careers in education learn as they work toward certification. Backward Design appeared front-and-center in my reflections. When educators use Backward Design in curriculum development, they first establish the ultimate goals that they want students to achieve; determine the evidence students must demonstrate to show that they have met certain goals; and select methods and activities that will help students realize the intended objectives. Educators start at the end and work backwards. I decided to implement Backward Design to define my target audience and to re-calibrate my digital project. To do so, I considered a series of conceptual questions:
1. Why did I want to share syllabi for educators interested in human rights, social justice, and migration?
2. What motivated me to write ‘migrant stories’ based on interviews that I conducted in Brazil in a more journalistic style, centered around quotes from interviewees instead of including tables and charts that detailed statistical information about their experiences?
3. Who did I think would find reading lists about migration particularly useful?
4. Why did I find it important to depict the challenges of migration through podcasts--a medium that differs significantly from text-heavy analyses?
5. Who would find blog posts about the experiences of refugees living in Clarkston, Georgia particularly interesting?
6. How did my academic training in education and professional experiences as a secondary education teacher shape my desire to create a project like this one?
These questions helped me determine that I was seeking to connect to a community of educators--likely at the secondary or higher education level in the greater Atlanta area. As a former high school teacher, I often found it difficult to access educational resources on these issues. Backward Design revealed that my digital project sought to remedy these challenges for other educators. I also wanted to make these materials accessible to those with various learning styles, including auditory learners who prefer to learn about migration issues through podcasts instead of reading articles.
Creating a Targeted 'Broader Public Audience'
The roundtable participants confirmed that the creators of digital projects have to actively find ways to connect with their target audience. In my case, I have to determine how I will seek out and create a collaborative community to make scholarly research about human rights, social justice, and migration issues more accessible and useful for educators in a digital platform. The next steps involve figuring out effective ways to make this happen.
Some of the participants' suggestions included:
1. Reaching out to local schools to gauge community interest
2. Connecting with other Emory students and faculty who may be interested in collaborating
3. Inviting scholars and practitioners to be guest bloggers or to oversee digital project for a designated period of time
4. Reaching out to educators on Twitter
5. Asking coordinators who work with refugee populations at NGOs in Clarkston if they would like to contribute
6. Connecting with other HASTAC scholars who would like to participate
Any additional suggestions are certainly welcome!
But ultimately, the roundtable discussion provided a friendly reminder that digital projects are often labor-intensive and time-consuming. Therefore, those embarking on one should consider the ultimate objectives and target audience for the project; determine how to connect with a community of people who value the project's mission; and be open-minded about the potential that one initial idea may have to reach a broader audience through collaboration.