Different audiences, same rules?

I’ve been remiss over the past week, missing my regular slot for posting. In my defence, I was so caught in preparing for a hearing in front of MPs that I only remembered by ALPSBlog duties when the diary reminder popped up as I was squashed into a busy commuter train, heading into London.


So, any elaborate excuse, maybe one step up from “the dog ate it”, but I shall attempt to make the most of it by considering a question that all of us face, namely whether the tools and techniques that we use in the classroom are transportable?

My hearing (which can be viewed here, for UK readers only) was something of a laboured experience. For an hour, I and my colleague got our ears bent by MPs who seemed keen for us to support their various agendas. I would say it felt like a viva, but my viva was a much more pleasant experience.

As I stumbled into the Westminster sunlight, and then started to head off to present a research paper at a London university, my mind turned very much to the question I’ve set out.

While friends (and my parents) tell me I did a good job in the hearing, I wasn’t very pleased, as I felt I’d gotten deflected from my core messages, sidetracked into talking about why I wasn’t patronising voters with my views, and why voters in the 1974 Scottish referendum should be ignored.

In this, I see a clear parallel with the classroom. There, we set out with learning objectives, but then get turned into other areas, especially if we run a more student-led environment. The difference is that in the classroom you usually have the next class to get back on track: I’m unlikely to be getting my facetime with Select Committee again in a hurry, and certainly not on the subject we discussed.

But this ends up underlining the importance of knowing what you want to get out of such encounters: time is always limited, so if you have something you need to share, then you have to make sure you share it.

This, in turn, leads to a second universality, namely adaptability. This was my first time in a hearing, but next time (ha!) I’ll be going in with a much clearer sense of what might happen and how I might work around that. More specifically, I’m not taken enough account of the format, which gives the MPs freedom to talk, but limits you to responses to their questions, which may (or may not) fit your intention. While there was some prior discussion with the Committee’s Specialist, that could only be indicative.

And thus we come to the final thought, on framing. The institutionalist in me is very comfortable with the notion of the logic of appropriateness, the way in which we try to fit into situations. But appropriateness works at many levels. I put on a suit, I spoke proper and I tried not to smirk or roll my eyes. However, where I might need more work is in my rhetoric, speaking the kinds of logic that work for this audience.

You do this with your classes, but you also do it with all the other people you encounter. Barriers to communication are barriers to all communication, so whatever setting you find yourself in, remember that – as always – it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.

So, a bit of a bruising, but ultimately a learning moment. Which is how it should be for us all. So channel your inner Nietzsche and get stronger from what hasn’t killed you.