Wrong Audience, Good Advice

There’s nothing more valuable than constructive criticism, wouldn’t you say? And somehow, the under 16yr crowd often gives it to you straight.

I returned to CICO alternative school this week to seek out the opinions of the (fifteen or so) students and (three) teachers regarding some of the media I have for my installation. What did I experience from the process? A class that was profoundly bored. Wow. Soooo not my intention. I’m trying to comment on class boredom, not create it!! The situation may have been a unique one but it spoke volumes.

The scene:

I got there early to determine how I was going to place the media in the classroom. All the media consisted of interviews with teachers and students.

I was equipped with three iPhones and three iTouches, each with a short audio or video track of a teacher or student(s) speaking about their high school experiences. I also had two iPads set up side-by-side with interview footage focused on a specific theme. Lastly, I had two computers set up with a video, one on a table with earphones and the other projected onto a screen in the middle of the room with sound emanating from the computer speakers.

I decided to document this process by way of audio recording, photographs (which two of my classmates helped with) and a consumer video camera.

When the students arrived for the day I gave them very little information about what they would experience from this installation. I hoped that holding back this info would simulate how most gallery-goers would walk into such an experience. I also hoped it would produce the best feedback from this advisory group. I said something like: “I’m working on an installation about high school education. I’m here to ask you for advice about what I’ve created, and about the experience you’re going to encounter… I’ll ask you to leave the room now so that I can set up and then I’ll invite you back in about five minutes.” Once they left, I flew around the room placing the media “gadgets” on random desks in “play” mode and got the video projection rolling with the volume on low so as not to interfere with other media to be listened to.

Everything was ready.

I invited the students and teachers back in and stood to the side of the room and observed.

The  reaction? Students b-lined it back to their own desks. If there happened to be a “gadget” on their desk, they looked/listened to the content… or so I thought (I’ll reveal more about this in a moment.) Teachers engaged with the media that was not resting on a students desk.

I gave the process about twenty minutes and then collected all the iPhones and iTouches.

Problems during the mock installation:

  1. A few students did not return from the five minute break until moments before I ended the experience.
  2. If media was not placed on a students desk, they did not make an effort to approach a media station. They remained in their seat and waited.
  3. There was very little if any sharing of the iPhones/Touches among the students.
  4. No student approached the iPads (unless they were encouraged to by a teacher) or listened to the projected video, and only one listened to the second computer station with the earphones.

Bottom line: there was very little student engagement with the media.

What happened? It might seem obvious if you think about it but lets lay it out here. This was the wrong environment for a mock installation. Conducting it in the participants’ comfort zone created confusion. In this space students are typically “programmed” to:

  1. take their seats when they walk into their classroom.
  2. wait for information to be handed to them.
  3. tune-out talking heads speaking at them.

OK. So, the “gadgets” that I thought would be cool and enticing to play with, bombed even though some students expressed excitement at seeing the iPads. This circumstance is leading me to reconsider how and why I chose the mediums I have to disseminate the media for this project. I anticipated a greater desire to engage with these formats due to the splash of novelty and fun that they are often associated with but this might not be the case. These mediums are also symbols to me of formats that classrooms should embrace (my point of view). I’ll have to think further about this and the practicality of using them to disseminate the media in my planned context.

Now, what did the students have to say about the experience? Well, the few who braved engaging in the conversation shared the following:

Listening to talking heads is boring. Nikki (who is great at airing her opinions and can be heard in a previous post), remarked that she’d prefer having a conversation, like the one we were in the midst of having, rather than listening to someone else talk and not be able to talk back. This comment reignited the question of how I will harness the public’s responses to the media during the final installation–an answer that she, nor others, could comment on.

When I asked why no one paid attention to the projected video, one student immediately stated that he could barely hear it, and others agreed. Moving physically closer to the speakers did not seem to occur, or be of interest, to anyone.

“What do you think would have captured your attention?” I asked them. The same young guy who could barely hear the video suggested more big screen content–as it’s a far more captivating format.

The teachers had a great deal more to share but held back initially to give the stage to the students.

In sum, who’s the audience for this media? Teachers first and foremost.  While my efforts with this project is to bridge communication with learners and educators, the media content nor my method of dissemination is of equal interest to both parties. If I’m truly going to simulate a Challenge for Change approach (a National Film Board initiative that inspires me) I would have to intentionally, as my foremost goal, share the media of the interviewees in the project with each one of them. While this will ideally occur, I am initially and purposefully sharing this media with a larger audience for larger, diversified feedback.

The process at CICO may not have been an ideal scenario for an advisory group but a learning experience it definitely was.


(photography by Christopher Manson)

About cayoup

Colleen Ayoup was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec. She has been engaged in media creation for nearly twenty years. After attending the Dawson Institute of Photography (Montreal), she worked as a commercial photographer for several years until the craving for different creative pursuits gave way. This desire led to two subsequent degrees in Psychology/Film Studies and Film Production (B.A., B.F.A) at Concordia University in Montreal. Her short fiction films and documentary, Kings (2001), about drag-king culture in Montreal toured festivals internationally. In 2004, she joined the National Film Board of Canada where she coordinated Doc Shop, a program designed to give emerging filmmakers an opportunity to learn trade skills from industry professionals and produce a short documentary for broadcast on CBC. She also contributed to the development and creation of CitizenShift (citizenshift.org), the NFB’s first social-media website that she subsequently coordinated for five years. She is a recent graduate of the Master of Fine Arts program in Documentary Media at Ryerson University (Toronto, ON)