“Smile Because it Happened” is the latest project to come from our Digital Ethnography class (ANTH 677: Digital Ethnography Field Methods). We have become known for finding “community” where many people thought community would not exist. Until now, the communities we have studied were online. This project represents our first foray into the “real world.”
We chose the Meadowlark Hills retirement community because it is such a clear attempt to reclaim a sense of community at a time in which we are more disconnected than ever. The central hallway presents itself as the welcoming, walkable and lively small town downtown that only exists in the outside world as a shell of what it once was in the hollowed out ghosts towns of the Midwest. Based on progressive “elder-centered” living philosophies, Meadowlark represents one of the most impressive intentional community-building efforts we have yet to find in our studies – one that is all the more impressive by their own recognition that their own intentions to build community might get in the way of community itself. As we discovered during the making of this documentary, community is more like a happening to be lived, rather than a structure to be built.
For most students, this is their first exposure to video creation as well as their first exposure to real ethnographic research. But there is an unexpected freshness to the eye of the novice. Instead of doing traditional “documentary” video, we try to convey the blooming, buzzing complexity of a culture in whatever ways we can imagine. We seek to inspire empathy and a sense of connection between the audience and the subject, and all of our productions strive to achieve what we call “profound authenticity” – giving the viewer and the subject a sense of wonder about those things that otherwise seem mundane and trivial.
As readers of this blog will know, I do not like to simply “cover” the material as a teacher. I believe that much of what needs to be learned in our courses can only truly be learned through real-life practice, so I work with students each year to find an inspiring project that allows them to put their whole selves into it. In this regard, this was probably the most successful project we have ever done. Students had to face their own fears of death, they had to grieve for those they lost, and they had to overcome their insecurities to reach across a generational divide that was both wider and narrower than they had imagined.
This was also the most challenging project we have ever done. Some of those challenges are featured in the final cut, but there were others that are not so neatly processed into a video story – or into any story at all. Working with the biggest themes of the human condition often leaves us with such irresolvable issues. Those are the ones that will stay with us long after the project is over, slowly working us over and continuing to challenge us.
How do you even begin to express thanks to a group of students who gave of themselves so fully, or to the residents who gave up their time and stories, or to the staff who so graciously hosted and guided us throughout the semester? I hope the video itself might be seen as an expression of our collective gratitude for one another. When we premiered this video to over 100 residents and staff at Meadowlark last month, I told them that I felt as if I were hugging the whole room as I clicked “play.” It was such a very special experience for all of us.
By Joe Robertson – Kansas City Star
Are we ready to quit letter grades?
Dump standardized tests?
Turn inside-out the role of schools as the authorities of knowledge?
While educators try to imagine it, students who’ve already freed themselves are galloping through the digital world.
At their best they are collaborating, creating, seeking justice, making art, defining their significance.
“Don’t we want to create students who can do that?” says Michael Wesch, a gone-viral phenomenon on the Internet who essentially launched himself digitally five years ago from the basement of his small farmhouse outside Manhattan, Kan.
He’s a 36-year-old cultural anthropologist at Kansas State University who has become the prophet of an education revolution.
They’re already out there, he says. Students and young adults who have made their mark persisting at new ideas, starting companies, connecting the world to social justice issues, fueling citizen rebellion in Egypt, distributing humanitarian aid to Haiti.
Nathalie Boucher and Martin Lamotte
An anthropological introduction to YouTube is a 40-minute YouTube video of a presentation by Michael Wesch of Kansas State University. The presentation, given at the Library of Congress in 2008, provides an overview of two years of research on the famous platform. On his Digital Ethnography website, he writes, “Our work explores how humans use media, how media uses us, and how we can use new media to reveal our insights in new ways.”
This is where Wesch’s work got our interest. We took an interest in the great work done by Michael Wesch and his team in terms of exploring how people use, discuss, interact with, and present themselves to the world through their small webcams. But we followed the “how we can use new media” thread more closely.
In his Library of Congress presentation, Wesch (at 12:16 and at 19:15) explains how his team started participant observation by broadcasting themselves. First, the research team and objectives were introduced to the vloggers (video-bloggers) in a dynamic and friendly video. Second, the students working for Wesch started their own online journals, exploring self-presentation, discussion with an imaginary audience through the webcam, and sharing ideas and personal stories in a communicative manner. Wesch and his team look very comfortable, hip, friendly, and fun. They present themselves as the guys that will be doing exactly the same thing that other vloggers do on YouTube: talking, sharing, discussing, arguing, laughing, feeling shy or angry, but above all, being a member of this online and borderless community.
We were amazed. Should anthropologists remain in their role as ethnographers observing from a dark background, or take advantage of the multimedia technology for self-presentation? This question opened many avenues of reflection, and we found some inspiration in Holaday’s Self-presentation to Majority Others – Toward Media Anthropology. This rare text was written circa 1991 and offers a reflection around self-presentation and reflexivity influenced by postmodern critics.
First of all, Wesch’s team introduction reflects his idea of what YouTube is: “new forms of expression and new forms of community and new forms of identity emerging.” The work team’s introduction is inviting and participative, and the team itself is young and communicative. The way the presentation is done bears its share of assumptions, if not preconceptions, about who is observed and what the research subject is. Don’t we introduce ourselves and project an image of our project that corresponds to the subject? This certainly shows the bias coming from the way we see our research topics, the way we are trained to practice anthropology.
It might not only be an issue of self-presentation/subject-assumption. As Holaday wrote, “The impulse to use the medium … originates from a frustration with the constraints imposed by existing channels of communication” (c. 1991: 13). The need to communicate as anthropologists implies an exchange with the “natives” during the research, and afterwards when the results are in hand. YouTube and other multimedia platforms lift the veil on the linear relationship with the audience. By audience, we mean the people that listen to and/or look at our work. More often, the audience is composed of our scientific peers. The question of the return to the participants is always difficult. How do we give back to the community we studied? Is our 500-page book, filled with theoretical concepts and complex language, going to be welcomed, read, and discussed?
Now with YouTube, at least the way Wesch and his team have used it, the audience is the people studied and the relationship is developed and maintained as the study progresses. Furthermore, their reaction to the team’s experience and involvement in YouTube is expected and followed, and may open to a back-and-forth dialogue with the researchers as the research unfolds. The audience is no longer the person in front of you and your notebook. The audience actually participates in the research. If the people we study use Internet more and more, and send videos on YouTube, we see this platform as a place to confront ideas, return research results, and established a dialogue. Wesch’s Youtube video was viewed 1,763,227 times. Is ivory tower isolation starting to be overridden?
Without any doubt, the exposure YouTube can give to ideas and recent discoveries in anthropology is tremendous. It is a way to reach out to a larger audience. Furthermore, it is a tool for communicating effectively with the people we study. It can certainly push back the limits of the participative process. It can be used as a research strategy developed to have a different exchange with the participants.
Very few other videos on anthropology, if any, aim to reach out to the “natives.” A first glance shows that many YouTube videos on anthropology aim to answer the questions, “What is anthropology?” and “What to do with a degree in anthropology?”! By using YouTube for self-presentation, Wesch presents his project as much as he participates in the definition of anthropology… that is, in a very effective and modern way (although 2008 is quite old in the Internet age). One of the comments following Wesch Anthropological introduction to YouTube posted a month ago from Cookiies4Kieran sums up this new relationship with the audience:
“I love the fact that wether [sic] we like it or not, or better put ‘wether [sic] we know it or not’, we are a part of an international, interemotional and integrating system. But who is studying everyone [sic]? That’s the beauty. We are not being studied by anyone, but we are studying ourselves. It is an amazing system of theories and use.”
Are we ready for such a turnaround?
This past week at the Educause Learning Initiatives conference I had the pleasure of reconnecting with my good friend Gardner Campbell. Every time I meet up with Gardner I am faced with a rush of epiphanies. It is as if he really were a gardener, churning up the soil of my mind, feeding it with nutrients, and sprinkling in a few nitrates which sometimes prepare a fertile ground on which new ideas grow, and other times simply explode the ground I once walked upon. This is just a bit of an excerpt from a conversation we had. (I wish I had the capacity to remember everything we discussed. Fortunately Antonio Vantaggiato recorded one of our conversations, and it should be available online soon.)
This post will not be a simple recount of the conversation, but instead a venture into my own imagination. I want to let you in on some of the explosive revelations that Gardner was creating as we talked, and give you some sense of the rich and powerful experience that this brief moment of conversation was for me.
Some years ago Gardner took a group of students to Bath in Somerset, England. For 5 weeks they faced the rush of experiencing new worlds, the kind of mix of wonder and awe that only seems possible when we are at once part of something and not quite part of it at all … More than anything, Gardner was inspired by the opportunity to see his students as complete human beings, full of their own specific insights, talents, questions, longings, worries, foibles, and all the other little things that make us all who we are that somehow seem hidden when we treat students as nothing but detached little heads processing our assignments in class. Among many highlights, they saw a piano where Elton John had once played. One of the students, a talented pianist, sat down and played Fiona Apple. Gardner started to tear up a little bit as he talked. My mind quickly filled in the blanks. I got it. This was not 5 weeks of pure bliss. It wasn’t as if everything went exactly “right”. This was 5 weeks of the rich, blooming, buzzing complexities of life … 5 weeks full of genuine meetings between these students and a new world they were only just beginning to understand and explore.
On the last night they went on top of Solsbury Hill. By this time, Gardner’s voice is cracking, and he struggles to complete the story. He says he told them the story of Solsbury Hill. Knowing Gardner, he probably could have recited the entire song of Peter Gabriel as part of that story, and that’s exactly what I imagine him doing on top of that hill. And of course I forgive him for not completing the story to me. The tears said more than words.
Just see if you can do it yourself. Put on your favorite Fiona Apple song in the background, imagine you just spent 5 of the best weeks of your life with students living in a total state of wonder as they open themselves up to the world, and then try to read the following without tearing up a bit.
Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
Had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
(I) just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom boom boom
“Son,” he said “Grab your things,
I’ve come to take you home.”
To keep in silence I resigned
My friends would think I was a nut
Turning water into wine
Open doors would soon be shut
So I went from day to day
‘Though my life was in a rut
‘Till I thought of what I’d say
Which connection I should cut
I was feeling part of the scenery
I walked right out of the machinery
My heart going boom boom boom
“Hey” he said “Grab your things
I’ve come to take you home.”
When illusion spins her net
I’m never where I want to be
And liberty she pirouette
When I think that I am free
Watched by empty silhouettes
Who close their eyes but still can see
No one taught them etiquette
I will show another me
Today I don’t need a replacement
I’ll tell them what the smile on my face meant
My heart going boom boom boom
“Hey” I said “You can keep my things,
they’ve come to take me home.”
I keep reading it over and over, pulling out more meaning every time.
Gardner regained his composure to conclude the story.
“So there we were on Solsbury Hill, looking down at the city where we had just spent the last five weeks. ‘That’s your life down there,’ I said. And the students just looked on with a silent, contemplative recognition. Eventually one of them spoke: ‘Normally we all just feel like we are on a conveyor belt.’”
I thought of the best 2 minutes on YouTube:
Gardner’s secret, what makes him such a great “gardener of the mind” is that he seems to be involved in an ongoing “genuine meeting” with the world and those around him. He never jumps to the final chord of the song. He invites you to play and sing along, because he is himself joyfully playing along, even when he doesn’t know where the song goes next. You can’t help but be inspired by that. You suddenly “feel part of the scenery,” and “walk right out of the machinery.” Your heart goes boom boom boom. Forget your things, you’re already home.
In short, Gardner is a great example of somebody who lives in wonder, and it is wonder that we need more than ever to inspire in our students. It starts with ourselves. If we don’t live with wonder, we will struggle to inspire it in our students. The stakes are high. Wonder allows us to see the world for what it is, and for what it might become, while also inviting us to recognize that we are its co-creators. The alternative is disengagement and alienation. Today’s world is full of seductive technologies that will magnify this difference. Those living in wonder can harness and leverage the bounty of information and tools to learn and create like never before. The rest will merely be distracted and seduced by its growing offerings of passive entertainment.
This is a quick little essay about why a teacher can employ all the “right methods” (pick your buzzword: student-centered, learning-centric, participatory, collaborative, problem-based, etc.) and embrace all the most rich, compelling, and engaging technologies, and still fail. This is an essay in the true sense of the word (which Gardner Campbell has recently reminded me is derived from the French infinitive essayer, “to try” or “to attempt”) … so this is just a try, an attempt, and in that sense also an invitation for you all to jump in and let me know your thoughts as well.
The problem of why good classes fail has become a bit of an obsession for me lately. I visit several colleges and universities every semester to talk to faculty about teaching and learning, and everywhere I go I try to sneak away for just a bit and slip into the back of an unsuspecting class just to see how things are going. This has allowed me to see a broad range of techniques and styles, and to see how students respond to them. What inspires this essay is that it is more often than not that I am disappointed by what I find. At worst, I see people feeling disengaged, disconnected, and alienated, and that’s just the professors. At best, I see rooms full of people dutifully playing the game of school, listening carefully, taking notes, etc. … which is okay as far as it goes, but I rarely see people getting lit up, inspired, excited, upset, or even a little uncomfortable (which would be a pretty good place to be for a breakthrough learning moment). The apparent levels of disinterest are astounding, especially in the face of rich content that has included everything from the capacity of ants to create eerily human-like civilizations to the promiscuous (though changing) sexual practices of teenage Trobriand Islanders. (“Really!?” I’m thinking as I sit in the back of the room, “You are not even a little bit interested in this?!” and I realize I could just as well be thinking this about the professor, who seems to be showing as little interest in the material as the students.)
To be clear, these are not all, or even mostly, straight “sage on the stage” lectures, and that’s what inspires this little essay. In fact, the few truly fantastic classes I have stumbled into were just as likely to be “sage on the stage” lectures as they were to be based on more participatory methods. And the disheartening reality has been that a really bad lecture doesn’t fail as badly as a really poorly executed participatory class. Many of these professors seem to do everything “right.” They ask their students questions, pause and let them discuss with their neighbors, show YouTube videos that relate to their own experience, and invite discussion. But disinterest and disengagement still reign. Why?
Part of the answer in some of the cases has already been implied; a disinterested professor has no chance of inspiring interest in their students. But that does not account for the more compelling failures, those that involve a clearly dedicated professor that is passionate about their material using participatory methods along with content that has been carefully crafted to be relevant and engaging for students.
So what’s wrong? In short, the common thread I see throughout all the failures is quite simply a lack of empathy. There is no authentic encounter with students, or what Martin Buber called “a genuine meeting.” When we use all the right methods, and we still fail, it is most likely because we are encountering our students as objects and not as the rich and complex individuals that they are. When we do not bring our authentic selves to the classroom and open up to an authentic encounter with our students and the topic at hand we fail, regardless of the methods we choose. “Methods” and “techniques” need to grow out of an authentic encounter with students and the material. Any focus on method and technique alone will be prone to failure. Our questions will fall flat, our lectures flatter, and break-out sections, group work and other participatory methods become just one more thing to do, seemingly without purpose or relevance.
I have become painfully aware that my own presentations are often taken as demonstrations of method and technique, and in this regard I find myself with a similar problem that psychologist Carl Rogers faced when he first started exploring the role of empathy in the therapeutic encounter. As a young therapist he discovered that simply listening to his clients and empathizing with them seemed to help them. He obtained some recording equipment and studied therapy interactions carefully. This process allowed him and his students to identify specific techniques that seemed to work. However, when these techniques were turned loose on the world and used by other therapists, these techniques became mere caricatures of what they were in the artful practice of Rogers himself. His complex empathic method became caricatured as a simple technique of “repeat the last words the client has said.” He was so dismayed by these results that he abandoned the study of empathy for some time before finally returning to it later.
So rather than focusing on emulating particular techniques and methods, we should be doing everything we can to embrace, inspire, and use our own empathy in order to better understand and relate to our students. It is only from this space that we can effectively generate and use the appropriate techniques and methods for any particular task. In this way, there is no “recipe,” “secret sauce,” or “silver bullet” for teaching effectively that can be used by anybody, anytime, anywhere. Instead, I’m proposing a “generative” method, one in which we “generate” the appropriate method that takes into consideration the broadest range of factors that we can manage to accommodate.
This is in no way a call to abandon method. Quite the contrary, it is a call to learn about as many methods and techniques as possible, and as many technologies as possible – not so you can load up your course with as many “good” ones as possible, but so that you can call forth those that might be good given the way your particular encounter with your students and work evolves.
I know there is nothing particularly new in this argument. The roots of nearly every buzzword-method I mentioned above have this “generative” idea at their heart, but too often we have forgotten that, and the method becomes a bit too methodical, the technique a bit too technical, and we lose that generative core that can continuously be re-generated through the richness of a true empathic encounter with our students.
A Tech-Happy Professor Reboots After Hearing His Teaching Advice Isn’t Working
by Jeffrey Young, The Chronicle for Higher Education
Michael Wesch has been on the lecture circuit for years touting new models of active teaching with technology. The associate professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University has given TED talks. Wired magazine gave him a Rave Award. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching once named him a national professor of the year. But now Mr. Wesch finds himself rethinking the fundamentals of teaching—and questioning his own advice.
The professor’s popular talks have detailed his experiments teaching with Twitter, YouTube videos, collaborative Google Docs—and they present a general critique of the chalk-and-talk lecture as outmoded. To get a sense of his teaching style, check out a video he made about one of his anthropology courses. In it, some 200 students designed their own imaginary cultures and ran a world-history simulation by sending updates via Twitter and a voice-to-text application called Jott.
To be fair, Mr. Wesch always pointed to the downsides of technology (it can be a classroom distraction, for instance). But he saw tech-infused methods as a way to upgrade teaching.
Then a frustrated colleague approached him after one of his talks: “I implemented your idea, and it just didn’t work,” Mr. Wesch was told. “The students thought it was chaos.”
It was not an isolated incident. As other professors he met described their plans to follow his example, he suspected their classes would also flop. “They would just be inspired to use blogs and Twitter and technology, but the No. 1 thing that was missing from it was a sense of purpose.”
Mr. Wesch is not swearing off technology—he still believes you can teach well with YouTube and Twitter. But at a time when using more interactive tools to replace the lecture appears to be gaining widespread acceptance, he has a new message. It doesn’t matter what method you use if you do not first focus on one intangible factor: the bond between professor and student.
Learning From an ‘Old Fogy’
Christopher Sorensen also teaches at Kansas State University, and he too has been named a national teacher of the year. But Mr. Sorensen, a physics professor, is decidedly old-school in his methods.
“You could say I’m an old fogy,” he tells me sheepishly. “I worry about that a little bit.”
He has avoided “clickers,” those remote-control-like gadgets that let students ring in answers, out of concern that they would take up too much class time and limit the amount of material he could cover. And Mr. Sorensen has a hunch that PowerPoint—which he finds valuable at professional conferences—would get in the way of his teaching. “PowerPoint takes away, I think, from a true engagement,” is how he put it.
Exactly how he connects with a roomful of students is unclear to him, but he senses that it happens. “I walk into the classroom, and I get into a fifth gear, you might say. My voice goes up and down. It’s almost like being an actor. But don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been an actor or anything.”
Even though he has been teaching for some 34 years, he still spends the morning before each class preparing—rehearsing the material in his mind. When I spoke with him one morning last week, he was reading over his notes before teaching a lesson on Copernicus for an astronomy course. “It’s sort of like running laps before you compete in a true race. You have to get warmed up,” he says.
Mr. Sorensen has heard increasing questions about whether the lecture—his preferred method—is an effective way to teach. One study he saw found that students in after-class interviews remember only 20 percent of the material. Yet he still champions the approach.
“The way I look at it is, I’ve plowed the ground,” he says. “Now they’re susceptible the next time they see the material. And you’ll give them an assignment, and that forces them to look at the material in a new way.”
As he sees it, his job is less about being an expert imparting facts and figures, and more about being a salesman convincing students that his material is worth their attention. “The messenger, ironically enough, is more important than the message,” he says. “If the messenger is excited and passionate about what they have to say, it leaves a good impression. It stimulates students to see what all this excitement is about.”
The things that make a good teacher are difficult—if not impossible—to teach, he thinks. Which is why technology may be so attractive to some teaching reformers. Blogging, Twitter, and other digital tools involve step-by-step processes that can be taught.
Meanwhile, when Mr. Sorensen recently met a job candidate who appeared warm and friendly, he felt immediately that he would be a good teacher. “I said, you seem like a good guy—you’ll make a great teacher,” he remembers saying. “Be a good guy with your students, and you’ll be a great professor.”
Searching for ‘Wonder’
As Mr. Wesch began to rethink his teaching, he visited Mr. Sorensen’s class and was impressed by how the low-tech professor connected with students: “He’s a lecturer. He’s not breaking them up into small groups or having them make videos. That’s my thing, right? But he’s totally in tune with where they are and the struggle it takes to understand physics concepts. He is right there by their side, walking them through the forest of physics.”
At its best, Mr. Wesch believes that interactive technology—and other methods to create more active experiences in the classroom—can be used to forge that kind of relationship between teachers and students where professors nurture rather than talk down to students.
In one of his courses, he teamed up with students to produce an ethnography of YouTube users. The project helped the students feel more like collaborators because the technology allowed them to immediately publish their work online.
But Mr. Wesch has also found that a high-tech method like asking students to write blogs can actually reinforce what he sees as an “authoritarian” tendency of lectures.
One example he has seen: a professor whose first comment on a student’s blog is, “Hey, great ideas here, but just so you know, there are a few typos there in your first line.” To Mr. Wesch, that sends the message that the blog is just another spot watched by the grammar police, rather than a new arena to explore. “Students can all sniff out an inauthentic place of learning,” the professor argues. “They think, If it’s a game, fine, I’ll play it for the grade, but I’m not going to learn anything.”
Technology rarely plays more than a passing role in the work of teacher-of-the-year winners, says Mary Huber, a consulting scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching who has overseen the judging process since 1991. “We see people making interesting use of technology without it being the star player,” she told me.
She said it is not too surprising that others have had trouble replicating what Mr. Wesch did. “None of this work is off-the-shelf,” she said, noting that the group promotes a “scholarly approach” to teaching. “That means you aren’t just picking something and plopping it in there, but you’re really thinking through what its value is and what you would have to do to change it.”
This semester Mr. Wesch is on sabbatical, working on a book about teaching that will sum up his latest thinking.
He is still giving talks, and the titles now all include the word “wonder.” Whatever tool professors can find to conjure that—curiosity and a sense of amazing possibilities—is what they should use, he says. Like any good lecture, his point may be more inspirational than instructive.
“Students and faculty have to have this sense that they can truly connect with each other,” he concludes. “Only through that sense of connection do you have this sense of community.”
College 2.0 covers how new technologies are changing colleges. Please send ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org or @jryoung on Twitter.
I picked up Reverend Jim Groom last night from the airport. He stopped by on his way to track down the notorious hacker @emre5807 and help us launch our new “Ed Parkour” initiative here on campus. As you may know, he now has a few Maker Bots, 3D printers for just over $1,000 that can print out just about any object you can imagine. If it’s made out of plastic (or chocolate) you can make it yourself. You don’t have to poke around very long to see why this kid loves his 3D printer:
People are already using them to print out Star Wars figurines (and mashups thereof), that will bring the old copyright conundrums of print, photo, and video to the physical object. And we’re really just at the early stages of this. There is already a $500 3D printer prototype on Kickstarter. I’m starting to realize that it is highly likely that my children will grow up in a world in which it is as common to make your toys as it is to buy them.
I *love* what I see here for the possibilities of creativity. And it has me thinking about what it will be like for my ids to grow up in such a world. It strikes me that for better or worse, a world of 3D printing may have some remarkable implications for “identity” in a society in which people define themselves by the stuff they own and display. In our society you don’t just wear skinny jeans, a v-neck, and an iPod playing Foster the People. You wear those things so that people know that you are the type of person who would wear those things. Our rooms, especially the rooms of youth, are filled with identity markers. So what happens when most of those things are made by you? What happens when we don’t leave the heavy lifting of identity craft up to the corporations and brands that currently serve as the Legos we use to build? What happens when we print our own Legos?
When I was growing up, we were all trying to “find ourselves.” It took some leap of wisdom to discover that we actually “make ourselves.” It took still a little more wisdom to get past that initial euphoria of “making ourselves” to realize that there are limits to just how much we really “make” – that the world of meanings that we draw upon is an ongoing collective creation, mostly out of the control of any one individual, and one that in our society is heavily influenced and populated by advertising, brands, and corporate agendas.
The Maker Bot seems to push the envelope a little bit here, and expand our creative potential – not just for the creation of objects, but for the creation of ourselves. And that will be both wonderful and terrifying. We already live in a world saturated with choices … the Age of Whateveran age in which whatever seems possible, where people can do, believe, and be whatever.
A world of infinite choice in which we identify with the choices we make, is a world that becomes even more fragmented as we each pursue our own interests in our own micro-cultures of meaning. Such fragmentation feeds social complexity, and a fragmented, complex world is one in which people feel increasingly overwhelmed, disengaged, and disconnected. They greet the bounty of whatever with an underwhelming “Whatever.” “Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy.”
The world of the Maker Bot will require a new orientation to whatever … a sophisticated wisdom about who we are and how we relate to the world. The attainment of this wisdom will be the work of my children. I can’t begin to predict what the world will look like in 15 years, or what kind of wisdom it will take to thrive in it. They will have to figure that out in the fires of identity creation, and I look forward to their insights.
But whatever, I’ll take a shot at what I think it might look like.
First off, I think a world in which we can create anything ourselves will require us to embrace creativity more deeply than we have ever embraced it before. By that I mean that it will not be enough to create whatever our heart’s desire. I think we may be left with the realization that we create our heart’s desires too (at least partially, or even mostly, or at least it will appear as mostly, even to the fatalist who will just deny such appearances as an illusion).
To the extent that your heart’s desires are self-focused, you will find yourself in a vicious cycle. You will create stuff to present yourself as cool, hip, and individual. Others will do the same, and since everybody will be trying to make sure they are doing their own thing you will end up with evermore fragmentation, complexity … loss of connection, meaning, empowerment, etc. Feeling such a loss you will redouble your efforts to create your own individual identity => more fragmentation, complexity, etc.
But if you make a slight switch and orient yourself to the world, rather than to the self, a virtuous cycle emerges. The world is suddenly not full of choices with which you identify, but possibilities for play … serious play oriented toward serving the world. Fragmentation looks more like a rich diversity. Complexity becomes a rich symphony in which we all play along.
/// kids are awake, wisdom brainstorming will have to wait … feel free to join in!
As an alternative to the idea that we teach “subjects,” I’ve been playing with the idea that what we really teach are “subjectivities”: ways of approaching, understanding, and interacting with the world. Subjectivities cannot be “taught” – only practiced. They involve an introspective intellectual throw-down in the minds of students. Learning a new subjectivity is often painful because it almost always involves what psychologist Thomas Szasz referred to as “an injury to one’s self-esteem.” You have to unlearn perspectives that may have become central to your sense of self. (I wrote more about this here.)
Some of these “subjectivities” are clearly named within different disciplines. For example, in anthropology we simply call it “The Anthropological Perspective.” Sociologists have “The Sociological Imagination.” When I first considered this distinction between “subjects” and “subjectivities,” I realized that for me the content is really just a means to an end – the ultimate end being “The Anthropological Perspective.” For a long time I did not even realize this, and I constantly struggled to pile on content to make sure that I “covered the ground” necessary. It was only later that I realized that if I could inspire the proper perspective, the students would be gathering “content” to serve this powerful perspective for the rest of their lives.
So here’s my question to everybody: Within your own particular field, is there a particular “subjectivity,” perspective, or way of seeing and interacting with the world that you are trying to inspire in your students? In your mind, is this perspective more important than the “content” or “subject-matter” of the course? I would really be interested in hearing more about how this resonates or conflicts with ideas from other disciplines. If you have time, let me know what you think, and how you approach your own class.
from THE Journal
By John K. Waters
Educators play a critical role in the development of the essential skills students need to navigate the blizzard of unfiltered information available to them via the Web. Michael Wesch, associate professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University, said he believes they should also be fostering something more basic: curiosity and imagination.
“The new media landscape is a ‘pull’ environment,” Wesch said. “Nothing is pushed to you from the Web, which makes it essential that we inspire students to seek out the knowledge that’s out there. The content isn’t fundamentally different, but the environment just demands more curiosity and imagination.”
Wesch, a cultural anthropologist and researcher in the modern discipline of digital ethnography, will expand on this idea during his keynote presentation at FETC 2012, the annual education technology conference, held this year at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL, Jan. 23 to 26. This will be Wesch’s first appearance at FETC.
Wesch is a well known thought leader who burst into the public consciousness in 2007 when a video he created to launch Kansas State’s Digital Ethnography Working Group became a YouTube sensation. “The Machine is Us/ing Us” was released to the video publishing site Jan. 31 of that year. Within a month, the little video created in Wesch’s basement in St. George, KS, had been seen by more than 1.7 million people, translated into five languages, and shown to large audiences at major conferences on six continents. To date, the video has been viewed more than 11 million times in its original form and translated into more than 10 languages.
Wesch is best known as a researcher, but he’s also an active developer of innovative teaching techniques, including the semester-long World Simulation project, which is the centerpiece of Kansas State’s Introduction to Cultural Anthropology course. On his Mediated Cultures Web site, Wesch described the project as “a radical experiment in learning, created in a fit of frustration with the large lecture hall format which seems inevitable in a classroom of 200 to 400 students.”
Before turning his attention to the effects of social media and digital technology on global culture, Wesch spent two years studying the implications of writing on a remote indigenous culture in the rain forest of Papua New Guinea. Wesch found himself for the first time in a culture that was not mediated. He has described how “new media” in the form of printed census books changed the village dramatically.
“We have to recognize in our society that the new media we see in our environment are not just new means of communication, not just tools,” he told attendees at the Campus Technology 2011 conference in July. “Media change what can be said, how it can be said, who can say it, who can hear it, and what messages will count as information and knowledge.”
Wesch compared the need to “re-inspire curiosity and imagination” in students with bridging the digital divide.
“We’ve talked for years about the digital divide and how, if you’re on the wrong side of that technology access gap, you get left behind,” he said. “I think there’s the potential now for a kind of curiosity gap. Consider how much further ahead a curious student will be, compared with a student who lacks curiosity, in an environment in which he or she can reach out and grab new knowledge anytime, anywhere on all kinds of devices. If you’re a curious person, you’ll learn and grow; if you’re not, you could just drift along while others race ahead.”
Wesch is also likely to talk with FETC attendees about teaching students to become “knowledge-able,” his term for the ability to find, sort, analyze, criticize, and ultimately create new information and knowledge.
“It’s just not enough anymore to know a bunch of stuff,” he said.
Being knowledge-able, he added, is also about recognizing that, while we’re using these tools, the tools might be changing us.
“I think of all this in terms of a shift in focus away from the idea that we need to stuff students’ heads with information,” he said. “Instead, we should be concentrating on making them truly knowledge-able. Imagination and curiosity are the heart of that idea; if we have those qualities, learning becomes joyous.”
“My notion of the threat is different today,” former Prime Minister Tony Blair explained at the Future of State Universities conference. When he entered the war, he saw the conflict as a simple process of knocking out old regimes and supporting democracy. He now recognizes that the ideologies behind terrorism run deeper and broader than he once thought. It isn’t just terrorists that hold these ideologies, and it isn’t just Muslims. He sees the real war as one of closed vs. open worldviews, and the long term victory will be won through education, not warfare. To this end he proposed an internationalization of education, presenting a refreshingly broad vision for the ultimate purpose of education that goes beyond the “help students find a job” mentality that seems so prominent today, and challenging us to create empathic global citizens with open minds.
Today I am at the Future of State Universities conference in Dallas. The event calls together university presidents, provosts, state governors and other key institutional players to rethink the future of higher education. No expense has been spared … everybody invited attends for free, the schwag is top-notch, our agenda is on an iPad handed to you as you enter, its at the Four Seasons where they have put me up in a fancy “Villa”. It feels a bit icky and elitist to my small-town Nebraska blood, but I guess this is how you get really busy and important people together for a couple of days. The organizers, Jeb Bush and Jim Hunt working along with Academic Partnerships, have framed the event as a chance to re-invent the university in the face of a long list of challenges and problems we are all too familiar with: budget cuts and diminishing state support (while demand is growing) … poor results (“The US is falling behind”) … high youth unemployment (“even as employers complain that they can’t find qualified workers”) … and decades of rising costs that leave many wondering whether or not college is still worth it. The goal is to brainstorm how to increase access to higher education by lowering costs while raising standards. The speaker list is phenomenal and a key reason why I just couldn’t say no to the opportunity. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair kicks things off followed by talks by innovators like Arizona State’s Michael Crow and Sal Khan (founder of the Khan academy). Interspersed with the innovators are key policy makers like Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and key institutional leaders like the president of the American Association of Community Colleges and the presidents of various accreditation boards. I don’t speak until late afternoon, so I’ll try to keep you all posted with summaries, since I don’t think this is live-streamed or available in any other format.
a post in honor of the 20th Anniversary of the public launch of the World Wide Web
Every year at this time I do a little soul-searching. I ponder the semester to come – the 400+ young minds I will encounter – and wonder, “What do they really need to learn?” I try to look beyond the textbooks and standard curriculum (i.e. “what I am supposed to teach”) and think deeply about what students really need to be significant, intelligent participants in today’s world. It does not take any miraculous feat of reflexive speculation to find that the question pertains to me as much as it does to them. And so I’m really sitting here wondering, what do *I* need to learn, and indeed, what do *any of us* need to learn in order to lead happier, healthier, richer, more ethical, and more meaningful lives.
The question is all the more pertinent today because our communication tools have dramatically altered how we learn, how we connect with one another, and even how we think. In the past 2 weeks the release of new research on the Internet’s effect on memory has re-invigorated the question asked by Carr, “Is Google making us stupid?” as well as Kevin Kelly’s clever response, “Will we let Google make us smarter?”
But such debates have only hinted at the core issues I tend to think deeply about as I prepare for the semester. The question of “what we really need to learn” has become almost all-consuming for me in the past 10 years since I started teaching, and virtually every research endeavor I have embarked upon during those years has had this question at its core.
In answering this question, I am not interested in what “information” or “skill sets” we need to learn (though that is, unfortunately, how most of us professors feel compelled to proceed due to various social, physical, and mental structures). Skills and information fade into obsolescence . They are the metaphorical fish handed to you by the guy who should have taught you how to fish. More importantly, skills and information alone do not help us lead happier, healthier, richer, more ethical and more meaningful lives.
We need a vision for who we and our students need to *be* – not just what we should know. I’m not sure what that is, but I do know that it would help to know who we are, and to know who we are it would help to know who we were . . . and that’s why I’m sitting in my office reading a bag full of books written in 1991.
Who we were: 1991
On August 6th, 1991, the Web debuted as a publicly accessible service on the Internet. Almost 20 years later to the day, I’m sitting here reading five books released in the year before that momentous occasion: Charles Taylor’s “The Ethics of Authenticity, Kenneth Gergen’s “The Saturated Self,” Harvey’s “Condition of Postmodernity,” Anthony Giddens’ “Modernity and Self-Identity” and Jameson’s “Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.” Each of them presents a brilliant perspective on who we were at that moment just before the web was born – and all are (despite their depth and perceptiveness) charmingly and innocently unaware of Tim’s little invention that would start to reshape how we live, work and play.
Even a cursory read quickly dispels certain myths about the effects of the Web. Here are three observations that immediately stand out:
1. We were already distracted.
In 1991 we worried that our kids were narcissistic, disengaged, and not easily impressed … that their attention spans were no more than 4 minutes, the average link of an MTV music video. Our kids (and all of us) were already distracted by what Gergen fancifully calls “invitations to incoherence”. If Gergen were to re-write today he would undoubtedly include in these “invitations” the persistent e-mailing, IM’ing, status-updating, texting, tweeting, etc. that invite us into other worlds and thereby make every moment a bit incoherent. But in 1991 he settled for the ability to receive a call or fax from anybody in the world and instantly be transported into another social universe. Gergen went so far as to suggest that such activities “engender a multiplicitous and polymorphic being who thrives on incoherence.” In 1991 he could temper such remarks by noting that few had taken the leap into this polymorphic state, but followed up such caveats by noting that “there is good reason to believe that what is taking place within these groups can be taken as a weathervane of future cultural life in general … in the longer run … the technologies giving rise to social saturation will be inescapable.”
Gergen prophetically notes that “We enter the age of techno-personal systems,” but he was not imagining the World Wide Web. By “technologies of saturation” he simply means roads, cities, cars, planes, cities, phones, computers, newspapers, radio, TV that collectively “saturate” us with information and connections that surpass our capacity to manage effectively.
2. Our education system was already “in crisis” and out of step with the times.
Drop out rates were high. Psychological drop out rates were even higher. As Harvey notes, the Fordist big business-big labor-big state alliance that had brought decades of prosperity to the West had given way to globalization and “flexible accumulation.” The US de-industrialized and by 1991 nearly half of all Americans were working in “information.” We were already a knowledge economy in a globalizing world, but our schools were not keeping up – still teaching in an industrial model.
And there was no shortage of reformers. Canons were falling. Interdisciplinary was all the buzz. New departments – especially Women’s Studies, African American Studies, Culture Studies – sprung up and took aim at the traditional, stodgy, power-laden, white-male-centered educational system. (i.e. Wikipedia did not invent challenges to traditional models of authority.)
3. We thought our kids were self-obsessed, overly-self-important narcissists.
There were already persistent complaints about our kids being disengaged and narcissistic. Students were feeding off of the revolutionary energy of the reformers, reading the postmodernist challenge to authority as an ally in elevating their own opinions to the status of experts. Alan Bloom voiced the concerns of those who were concerned about these developments in “The Closing of the American Mind,” ranting about the self-obsessed “anything goes” attitude of our youth. The book struck a chord and enjoyed a run atop the Times Bestsellers list. (Lasch’s excellent “Culture of Narcissism,” originally published in 1978, had also come back as a revised edition in 1991).
Twenty years later the same complaints abound. Jean Twenge has called our youth “Generation Me” and worries that we are facing a “Narcissism Epidemic.” Nicholas Carr has eloquently argued that multi-tasking is merely distracted thinking and that without adequate awareness of how the Internet effects our brains we are destined for the “Shallows.” And blogs, tweets, bookshelves, and conference programs abound with complaints and proposed solutions to our current education crisis.
If the themes seem familiar, perhaps it is simply because these 1991 authors were perceptive enough to identify fundamental persistent tensions in our culture rather than simply identifying the “trends.” They are not hung up on these three simple observations. They are seeking the roots, and what they dig up is as relevant today as it was in 1991.
Taylor calls it “an act of retrieval.” Most cultural commentators miss the mark by failing to recognize the underlying moral ideal at work that is producing the apparent problems. What appears as distraction, dissolution, fragmentation, and self-indulgent, self-important narcissism is, at a deeper level, an expression of our pursuit of the authentic self.
The ethic of authenticity was born in the late 18th century and persists to this day. Being “authentic” requires us to “find ourselves,” “get in touch with our inner lives,” and act from our “core.” It springs from what Taylor calls “the massive subjective turn of modern culture.” “Identity” is so important to us (and especially our students) because we live in a world in which identity and recognition are not givens. They must be achieved. It is our “core project” as Giddens says.
But there are tensions at work within this quest for identity and recognition. Authenticity demands an entirely original creation – which frequently involves opposition to society. Yet at the same time our creations cannot be meaningful without being open to the meaning systems created and sustained by society. We never quite feel like we have “found ourselves.” Just when we think we know who we are the doubts start to creep in: Is this really the real me? Or have I been duped by society? Or we find ourselves so on the margins that we feel a loss of meaning and purpose. Most of us sway between these poles, always struggling to find who we really are. The “technologies of saturation” only amplify these issues by providing us with countless options, so that each self we portray or become “cries out for an alternative, points to a missed potential, or mocks the chosen action for its triviality … the postmodern being is a restless nomad” (Gergen).
Two “slides” (as Taylor calls them) result from this process. First, like a chinese fingercuff the quest for identity squeezes in on us ever harder as we try to escape it. We start focusing more and more on ourselves and our own self-fulfillment, often to the detriment of deep and lasting relationships. (Note: this is not something the internet created. In fact, some would argue the internet was created as a correction to this (and it has worked and failed in dramatic fashion depending on the person and context).) As a result, we become increasingly disengaged from our communities and public life as we focus more and more on ourselves. (Giddens and Harvey would want to point out that this is amplified by the “disembedding mechanisms” of modernity that hide the many connections and relationships that allow us to survive.)
Secondly, there is what Taylor calls “a negation of all horizons of significance” which is a fancy way of saying that we no longer share the same beliefs and values across the whole society, and that there can be little or no ground on which to stand to claim that your beliefs and values are true while others are false. Society becomes increasingly fragmented.
The two slides feed back into the process itself. The first slide makes us feel more disengaged from society so we increasingly seek meaning, recognition, and identity. The second slide creates more and more options for us to try out on the journey, while taking away the possibility of ever finding the “right” identity or being universally positively recognized because there are too many diverse viewpoints and possibilities.
As a society, we continue trending toward individualism and superficiality even as we value connection, community, and authenticity. We disengage from community, social action, and politics. We amuse ourselves to death. And the most amazing collaboration and creativity machine ever created celebrates its 20th anniversary as a distraction device.
What to do?
Taylor is not shy about noting that what we have here is a “vicious circle.” But he also sees the potential for creating a “virtuous circle.” Successful common actions can breed a sense of empowerment and connection that can spread to other domains. That’s where we come in as teachers. We have an opportunity, not just to teach our students “something,” but to be part of their journey and help them find meaning and purpose in an over-saturated, fragmented, and distracting world full of self-indulgent temptations.
I won’t spend the rest of this blog harping on about how I try to do this, but diving into this work of 1991 has re-invigorated my passion for project-based learning in which students engage in real and relevant problems that excite them, work together to approach these problems as a learning community, and harness and leverage digital technologies while also critically reflecting on how those technologies mediate and change their lives.
I know this has been a long post, but how we understand society, and our capacity to imagine how society might change (or if it can change) can have a dramatic effect on how we teach. In 1968, Warren Bennis and Philip Slater made many of the same observations I have put forth here in “The Temporary Society.” Imagining a radically more flexible social world, they suggested that “we should help our students … (1) Learn how to develop intense and deep human relationships quickly – and learn how to “let go.” … (2) Learn how to enter groups and leave them. ”
While I agree with their observations, and the spirit of their suggestions, I take a slightly different approach. If community, social action, and empathy levels are down (as research shows them to be), then I think it is our responsibility to help create more socially conscious and empathic students/citizens.
I don’t want to help make students for the world.
I want to help make students who make the world over.
Today the Digital Ethnography Research Team of 2011 is proud to announce the release of the Visions of Students Today: a “video collage” about student life created by students themselves and presented using the wonders of HTML5, allowing us to “cite” books and videos that are being presented in the remix as they are being shown.
Since the call for submissions went out in January we have received hundreds of submissions. The remix in the middle of the screen is in many ways a video of my own experience viewing these videos, shot from my own point of view. You see me sifting through videos, putting them in piles, checking resources, reading and re-reading the lines that have informed and inspired me. It took me 3 months to sift through these materials; you get to race through them in 5 minutes.
But stick around. There is so much more than what can be seen in my little 5 minute remix. Each of my students (“the Diggies”) has been working for months to put together their own vision, and each one is remarkable in its own way.
In the upper left-hand corner, Caitlin Reynolds starts us off with a 5 minute remix of “found footage” demonstrating the industrial age mentality of efficiency and production from which our schools were born. Derek Schneweis then brilliantly demonstrates that this mentality is still with us today, built right into the structures (physical, social, and mental) of our school system.
And what about the students themselves? Lindsey Iman uses statistics from Twenge’s Generation Me to bring us her beautiful and stirring vision of today’s generation, showing us that most students are primarily concerned with “finding themselves” … searching for identity and recognition in a world in which identity and recognition are not givens. Nate Bozarth courageously lets us into the depths of his questioning mind, taking us through his own existential journey. Rebecca Norman follows with a story of her own transformation (sparked by her favorite professor warning her that she was going to end up “a toothless hooker in South America”). And then there is the story of Maria Snyder, a non-traditional student in the full sense of the word (a 30-something lesbian grandmother of “what ethnicity are you anyway?” descent) . Joseph Savage, our class philosopher, reflects on the broader implications of these stories, mining the works of Charles Taylor, Thomas de Zengotita, Brene Brown, and others, and coming to some stirring insights like:
The artificial environment steers us to learn to meet artificial requirements and bureaucratic regulations. It isn’t an option to read or do homework. But we always have options- that’s how we understand the world. So we “read” and “do homework.” We couldn’t get rid of the words so we put them in scare quotes, scaring away all the meaning with irony. Students, mediated and inauthentic and numb and invulnerable, put course requirements in scare quotes and laugh a hollow laugh of an impossibly pyrrhic victory- not as a joke, but as a lifestyle.
There is a wide gulf between the static stale world of traditional education and the visceral emotional worlds of our students, and there is no shortage of revolutionary ideas now being pursued to close this gulf. Haley Marceau explores a couple of the more radical visions, reporting on her own studies of North Star, Unschooling, Big Picture Learning including interviews with Kenny Rodriquez, Ken Dadford, and others. As she reports from her interview with Kenny Rodriguez, “Traditional education needs to die. It needs to go away.” But as Steven Kelly points out while calling forth Dewey, Friere, Illich, Postman, Weingartner, and others: “These revolutionary ideas, they’re not so new.”
Bringing this all together and providing the stirring conclusion is Blake Hallinan’s “Cracks and Fissures,” a slam poem set to video:
in the awkward silence following a teacher’s simple question
answered only by the blank stares of students too afraid to speak,
meet the boy who finds his voice through hiphop and poetry,
lyrical liberation, salvation
a success story not measured with an a, b, c, or d,
but rather with every continued heart beat
let’s go towards a world where we can meet citizens sisters & scholar brothers in the public paradigm
let’s construct libraries among sofas, turns homes into hand built-schools
lets speak a community into existence as we teach vocations with our hands
lets watch the pages of books flutter like birds wings scrawled with incantations of knowledge
let’s play games, exercises patterned entirely on principles & metaphors,
let’s stream podcasts crafted by us, for us, with tools stolen from hands of gods
let’s read blogs, words, written daily, by people like you, like me, that have no other choice but to share what they know with someone, anyone, everyone…
to complain of over-determination gives power to the walls that did not exist before we believed in them
why should we submit to an explanation that denies agency?
look around and see ways to make things work, to subvert imposed expectations.
The Birth of the Project
The Birth of the Project
Last October I started a talk at the Open Video Conference by pointing out that the very issues we were discussing, while of tremendous importance to people’s basic freedoms of expression, were virtually unknown among college-educated youth. A quick survey of my own class of 400 students at Kansas State revealed that fewer than 5% were familiar with terms such as “Fair Use,” “Open Video,” “Royalty-Free Codec,” “Device Freedom,” or even “Net Neutrality.” As we race toward an increasingly digital future, where “code is law”(*) many of the basic freedoms we have become accustomed to while speaking or writing may be stripped away without the public even noticing.
After the talk, Mark Surman of Mozilla approached me, wondering if I might have some ideas about how we might “move the needle” a bit on new media literacy. His challenge left me thinking for some time. I kept searching for the spark that could ignite change, the societal injection that could heal our malaise, the magic beans that would sprout a new media literacy revolution … but none were coming. I came to the conclusion that the only way to create new media literacy is to go the way that all learning goes … the hard way. New media literacy, like all learning, requires an intellectual throw-down in the mind, a challenge of taken-for-granted assumptions, and a transformation of the self from a passive recipient to an active creator of new information, knowledge, and of the world itself.
The best I can do … the best any of us can do … is try to inspire one another and share what we know from our own journey, hence the call for students everywhere to share their own visions, and the collection of those key texts and ideas that have inspired me.
How we did it
How we did it
HTML5 adds a “video” element, allowing video to be shown on a website without the use of Flash. Leveraging the new possibilities, an event framework called Popcorn.js has been developed, creating a simple API for synchronizing interactive content with video events.
Our lead developer, Garrett Pennington, used Popcorn.js to create the basic framework, and then provided me with two data files where I could enter the thumbnails to be used, their links, where they should be placed, and a timecode for when they should appear. If you are interested in doing something like this yourself, feel free to download any of the source code from our own project, and visit Popcorn.js for more code and ideas.
We are grateful for all of the submissions. Some professors also need to be thanked for encouraging their students to contribute. We received multiple submissions from courses taught by Stephanie Jo Kent at Umass Amherst, Antonio Vantaggiato at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in Puerto Rico, the Social Media Computing class at De La Salle University in the Philippines and from another class at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
As soon as the vision for the project came to my mind I knew I would want to team up with some of the talent at K-State’s very own Office of Mediated Education, (home of Axio, a Blackboard alternative). They did not disappoint. Under Scott Finkeldei’s leadership, Kate Erdozain provided a visionary design while Garrett Pennington took the lead on the project and delivered far beyond expectations, continuously brainstorming and implementing new features.
None of this would have been possible without the global collaboration that is bringing together the popcorn.js library that was essential to this project. Brett Gaylor is an inspiring leader of the project, and all video creators should be sure to check out the amazing potential of creating Open Video with some Popcorn and Butter.
And finally, a special thanks to the MacArthur Foundation and the Mozilla Foundation for financial support, and to National Geographic for providing the “collaboratory” space in which we work.
News release prepared by: Beth Bohn, 785-532-2535, email@example.com
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
AS 2011-2012 COFFMAN CHAIR, WESCH PLANS TO HELP FACULTY UNDERSTAND AND INCORPORATE NEW MEDIA IN TEACHING
MANHATTAN — Many of the careers that Kansas State University students are now preparing for are in a state of transformation because of new media like blogs, wikis and more, according to Michael Wesch, K-State associate professor of cultural anthropology and an internationally recognized expert on the effects of new media on culture and society.
But are faculty members keeping up with the changes new media are bringing?
That’s why Wesch will make improving new media literacy across campus his project as K-State’s 2011-2012 Coffman Chair for Distinguished Teaching Scholars. The chair highlights the university’s commitment to excellence in undergraduate teaching and learning.
“With his appointment as our next Coffman Chair, Michael Wesch brings to the forefront the importance of effective use of new media in learning at Kansas State University,” said April Mason, K-State provost and senior vice president. “Understanding how to effectively use the latest teaching tools is not only essential to providing our students with the best education possible, but it also shows the expertise required for K-State to become a top 50 public research university by 2025.”
New media can create new types of conversation, exchange and collaboration in teaching and learning, but understanding how they work is key to using them effectively, Wesch said.
“While new media bring new possibilities for openness, transparency, engagement and participation, they also bring new possibilities for surveillance, manipulation, distraction and control,” he said. “The negative side of this ledger seems especially eminent in the face of widespread ignorance about the uses, misuses, power and consequences — sometimes unintended — of new media.
“If we do not quickly raise our new media literacy rates we stand to lose much more than we gain from the promises of new media. Regardless of whether we imagine our primary goal as educators to be the creation of tomorrow’s work force or for creating well-informed and engaged citizens, new media literacy is essential,” he said.
Wesch will use two complementary approaches to improve new media literacy at K-State. He first wants to make it easier for faculty and students to incorporate new media and the associated skills needed into their learning.
“I hope to achieve this by helping the K-State Online team integrate wikis and blogs and design and build other new media tools and tutorials right into K-State Online, so they can be easily integrated into courses across the university,” he said. “These tutorials will include real examples from other courses around the world to demonstrate how such tools can be used as part of an effective learning environment.”
Second, Wesch said, is the creation of a campus culture that recognizes the importance of preparing students to navigate, harness and leverage new media effectively, and one that provides a supportive environment for faculty to rethink and retool their courses so students learn and practice new media literacy under the guidance of knowledgeable faculty. To this end, the core of his goal for this coming year is the creation of a New Media Literacy Faculty Fellows Program.
For the pilot program, six faculty members who have demonstrated excellence in teaching and who are already or would like to begin incorporating new media literacy in their courses will be selected from a broad range of disciplines.
“Much like the Peer Review of Teaching Program, for which I served as coordinator from 2007-2009, we will meet frequently and visit each others’ classrooms periodically as we reflect on the effectiveness of our teaching,” Wesch said.
“All fellows in the program will be encouraged to share their progress, successes and failures through an open blog and other new media methods — tweets, videos, wikis, etc. — in such a way as to invite other teaching scholars across the campus and around the world to help us achieve our goal of improving new media literacy in our respective disciplines,” he said.
Wesch uses new media in his teaching with award-winning results. He was named the 2008 CASE/Carnegie U.S. Professor of the Year for Doctoral and Research Universities; received a Rave Award from Wired magazine, which dubbed him “the explainer” for his expertise in new media; earned the John Culkin Award for Outstanding Praxis in Media Ecology; and was named an Emerging Explorer by National Geographic.
At K-State, Wesch created and leads the Digital Ethnography Working Group, a team of undergraduates exploring human uses of digital technology. He and 200 of his students created the widely acclaimed and viewed video “A Vision of Students Today,” which explores the state of higher education today. Wesch is currently working on a new video, “Visions of Students Today.” The collaborative project involves submissions of videos from students across the world about their educational experiences today.
Wesch is the 17th faculty member appointed to the Coffman Chair for Distinguished Teaching Scholars since it was created in 1995. He will retain the title of distinguished teaching scholar after his term ends.
Published in Campus Technology. 03/23/2011.
In January 2009, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post disparagingly labeled the call for new media literacy and 21st Century skills “the latest doomed pedagogical fad,” asking “How are millions of students still struggling to acquire 19th-century skills in reading, writing and math supposed to learn this stuff?” [“The Latest Doomed Pedagogical Fad: 21st-Century Skills” by Jay Mathews, The Washington Post, January 5, 2009]
Though I disagree with his conclusions, Mathews was right to point out the movement as the latest fad. As long ago as 1938, John Dewey was able to write about “Traditional vs. Progressive Education” [in Experience and Education, by John Dewey, 1938] and recount several decades of debate. “Traditional” education, even in Dewey’s time, could be summarized as content-centric, authoritarian, and “sharply marked off from other social institutions” (Dewey, 1938). Progressives countered with student-centric, communal schools that were integrated with the local community and its relevant issues.
Flash forward to 1957 after the Russians launched Sputnik, forcing the US to examine its educational system. The famous Woods Hole Conference  called together top scientists and educational theorists to help our schools. Traditionalists expected a bigger, deeper, richer, and more refined definition of the body of content students must learn to keep up with the Russians. Instead, the scientists overwhelmingly noted that it was not the content that mattered. What mattered was that students learn how to think. Jerome S. Bruner’s The Process of Education explicated the position (1960). Progressives largely agreed, but felt that Bruner and the Woods Hole team had not gone far enough, as they failed to address larger systemic and organizational issues that made the traditional classroom inadequate for the critical and creative thinking they were championing. By the late 1960s a slew of books emerged lambasting our school system. Jonathan Kozol’s Death at an Early Age (1967), Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), and Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1969) were just a few of the revolutionary titles.
As Postman would later note, these revolutionaries “ripped into the curriculum, the regimentation, the industrial mentality, the grading system, standardized tests, school bureaucracy, homogeneous grouping, and all the other assumptions and conventions which gave the classroom its peculiar character … and then suddenly,” he continues, “it was over” [Teaching as a Conserving Activity (1979)]. He gave several reasons for the revolution’s demise. First, the Vietnam War had inspired a spirit of revolution. That spirit faded along with the war itself. Second, the stagnating economy of the 1970s hindered any implementation of plans that were built during the utopian hype of the 1960s, which Postman named as the third factor. And fourth, a “back to basics” movement emerged against the revolution and won over school administrators.
We revolutionaries should be humbled by such events and our similar circumstances. Nearly a decade of war is now fading. Our economy is stagnating, making it difficult to implement broad-scale changes. And there is a solid and entrenched “back to basics” movement to counter our own, of which the article by Jay Mathews is just one example.
But there are reasons to believe that this revolution will not fail. The urgency of our movement is not grounded in a single political issue. It is grounded in broad cultural and technological shifts pervasive enough to be recognized by virtually everybody in our society. The tools that enable us to experiment with new modes of education are mostly free, and they can be implemented in many diverse bits and pieces without the need for large-scale top-down planning or intervention. And perhaps most importantly, [this revolution] is driven by what one might call a “rethinking the basics” movement, in which educators everywhere cannot help but see a disconnect between their traditional modes of teaching and the world in which we all now live.
As Dewey noted, the goal is not to counter traditional education and its strict organization with its perceived opposite (disorganization)—but instead to create what Web designers today might call an “architecture for participation.” The learning environments we need may be more fluid, adaptable, collaborative, and participatory, but they are not unstructured and unorganized. As Maurice Friedman noted while explaining Martin Buber’s educational philosophy, “The opposite of compulsion is not freedom but communion…” (1955). [Martin Buber: The Life of Dialogue, by Maurice S. Friedman, 1955]
n the pursuit of these new learning environments we find ourselves asking those wonderfully fundamental questions: What are “the basics” and “basic literacy skills” today? How might our students best learn them? How are schools/classrooms/desks/subjects/schedules/teachers necessary to this learning process, and how are they not? And these are the best kinds of questions, because their best answers are just more questions. And so we find ourselves exactly where any great learner would want to be, on a quest, asking question after question after question.
[Editor’s note: Michael Wesch, a cultural anthropologist, researcher in digital ethnography, and an associate professor at Kansas State University, will present the opening keynote, “From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able: New Learning Environments for New Media Environments” at Campus Technology 2011 in Boston, July 25-28, 2011.]
Here is the video call for submissions and some more tips and guidelines below:
Tag your video VOST2011 and it will automatically appear here and in this feed. It will also appear at our project basecamp, which will feature ongoing posts, comments and links from our core research team (my 2011 Digital Ethnography class)
- Think of this as “A Vision of Students Today” inverted. Watch that video to see how we created a commentary on the classroom and different media by using the classroom and those media as part of the commentary itself. (For example, if you want to comment on texting in class, make a video of yourself texting in class and type something in the text that makes a comment about texting in class.)
- If you find powerful and interesting statistics (like “45% of students don’t learn much in college”), you can then find clever ways to express them in video form. Make sure you cite your sources in the video description.
- Since this is about all learning, not just learning in the classroom, consider how, when, and what you are learning outside the classroom. Think about how you encounter, shape, and are shaped by various media forms (TV, Google, Facebook, texting, books, magazines, etc.). How are you learning with these devices? *What* are you learning with these devices? Don’t just think about the content you are learning. We learn what we do. What habits of the mind are you learning when using these media? How might they be changing the way you think about, and act within, your relationships with others? Another way to frame this project would be to call it “My Mediated Life.”
- If you use Twitter, include your Twitter ID in the video description or send it to me separately. We will be embedding the video on a page with additional resources, credits, etc. and this would allow people to find you (if you want to be found!). We will also be experimenting by embedding the video in an interactive website that uses some of the new capabilities of HTML5 that will allow other resources on the page to “interact” with the video, and may be able to use live Twitter feeds as part of this project.
- When you submit your video, add a Creative Commons License in the video or in the video description that clearly indicates to others that your footage is available for remix. (I use the CC by-nc-sa which allows people to remix my material as long as they give proper attribution, do not use it for commercial purposes, and share what they create with my material with the same license.)
We are all super-excited to see what you come up with. Please submit by February 15th and then join us in the remixing! Grab other people’s videos and make your own. We’ll continue to post tips here on this blog, including where to find good music that is free to use, and how to create a compelling and powerful video.
We’re working on a new video, tentatively titled “The Visions of Students Today.” We are hoping that a few students all over the world will be willing to show us how they see their world and how they learn. If you are a student, or even better: a professor or teacher trying to come up with a great way to start off the semester, we hope you will consider submitting a 2 minute video showing us scenes of what you see in your everyday life during your most critical learning moments. Importantly, these critical learning moments may not be in the classroom. They might be with friends, online, watching TV, playing videogames, or playing other games. They can be anywhere with anybody (or nowhere with nobody). For students, this is your chance to really show us how you learn. And of course, feel free to show us how you don’t learn as well. Critique us. Show us what doesn’t work. And most importantly, try to find clever ways to show it.
To submit, submit your video on YouTube with the tag: VOST2011. Submissions will be due by February 15th (a great way to kick off the semester, reflecting on learning and learning to edit video at the same time!) We’ll take all the submissions, remix them, and publish them all together in a final video along with a website showcasing all the submissions along with additional materials where teachers and students can find more information and resources.
As you may know, the working title is a play off of a video we produced almost 4 years ago: A Vision of Students Today (below). This project inverts the scene, putting the camera in the hands of the students. We hope that this vision from the students point of view will give us all a better vision of how to make better learning environments for all of us.
Toward the end of last semester, K-State Proud approached me about being their “Honorary Co-Chair.” Usually this is somebody who is well-known and respected throughout the K-State community. The former co-chair was our popular basketball coach Frank Martin, and before that it was (now retired) University President Jon Wefald, so obviously it was a great honor to be approached about this. But looking at my research and teaching schedule, I was hesitant to get involved. At the time, I thought K-State Proud was just a t-shirt selling campaign. It seems like everybody has one of those “K-State Proud” t-shirts. I think they are great shirts, but its just a shirt, and I’m thinking that I’m way too busy to be selling t-shirts.
It wasn’t until I sat down with students from the K-State Proud committee that I found out what Proud is really all about. Every dollar goes toward student scholarships, most of which helps students stay in school when all of their other resources are tapped out. Over the past 3 years, students have donated over $250,000 to keep their fellow students in school when they need it most, like when their house has been taken by a tornado, their belongings have been taken by a flood, or when a serious illness drains them of their last dollar and the will to go on. Most importantly, it even helps those students who are perpetually struggling financially to stay at K-State.
Meanwhile, the new semester was quickly approaching, and I needed to design my crash course in digital storytelling for my incoming Digital Ethnography students. Most students come in with little or no digital video background, so each year I design a 4 week program that allows them to complete their first mini-project before moving on to creating their major semester project. Like always, I want the mini-project to be more than just another assignment. It has to matter to them and to the world. The Proud campaign seemed like a perfect match. We contacted former Proud winners and matched each of my incoming students with one of them. Each student then created a short video vignette about the Proud winner. We arranged interviews with a cancer survivor, a Katrina survivor, and many others who have overcome more than their share of struggles and still remain here at K-State. I was personally surprised to find so many of my favorite students on the list of former Proud Award winners. And without Proud, they would have never been in my classes.
But we still needed to show the K-State Community that Proud is more than just a shirt – that it is students helping students. And that’s where the Flash Mob of Kindness comes in. What you see in the video is 100 students coming together, pooling their money, and then running all over campus using that money to perform random acts of kindness for other students. It is simply a way of acting out what K-State Proud really does. When a student gets a Proud Award, it is as if the entire student body has pitched in a little bit to help them out, just like you see in the video. In all, it made for a crazy fun day, and I’m sure if you talked to any of the students involved, they would tell you it was well worth the money they donated just for the experience alone. Three weeks later, the video is edited and ready to go, just in time for the Proud Rally to be held tonight in the Student Union.
One last pedagogical note: activities like this make for a great first day of any digital storytelling / media class by giving students some experience in online organizing and planning, handling a camera, and also allowing them to bond with each other through a fun experience. And in the three weeks since that first day, the students have been meeting with their Proud Award winning partner, recording interviews, and shaping video vignettes like this:
K-State Proud Award Winner Kala Raglin (by David Westfall)
K-State Proud Award Winner Hannah McSpadden (by Shane Oram)
K-State Hero Award Winner Rachel Day (by Kristin Russell)
More coming soon!
You can learn more about the Proud program at www.k-stateproud.org.