Professor Michael Wesch groks* Web 2.0

You might remember one of his videos last week, “The Machine is Us/ing Us.” Professor Petrik introduced me to that video in Cleo II, and it’s an understatement to call it a game-changer in my own professional life. I built a lecture introducing Web 2.0 tools to instructional designers around that video, and I have delivered it so far at two professional conferences and four webinars. With it, I challenged educators to embrace Web 2.0 and reexamine their design, their format, their pedagogy, their assumptions about how we learn. I have seen countless light bulbs go on as I watched people watching this video.

“A Vision of Students Today” is another winner from Professor Wesch’s website. In this digital story, Professor Wesch describes the characteristics of students in the 21st century. The video starts in an empty lecture hall with a 1967 quote from Marshall McLuhan: “Today’s child is bewildered when he enters the 19th century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented, classified patterns, subjects, and schedules.” Scary to think that 43 years later that is still a valid description of the academy.

Professor Wesch then frames the point of the video with graffiti questions written on the walls and backs of the lecture hall seats: “If students learn what they do, what are they learning sitting here?” He then shows how he collaborated with 200 students to get an understanding of what it means to be a student today. What follows is a staging of bullet points describing students today in the written words of his own students. Things like “18% of my teachers know my name,” and “I will read 8 books this year, and 2300 web pages and 1281 Facebook Profiles.” The culmination of the statistics is the message “When I graduate I will probably have a job that does not exist today,” followed by “Filling this out won’t help me get there” written on the back of a Scantron form.

The capstone of the video is another quote, this time from 1841, praising the chalkboard as one of the best contributions to learning and science. We’re. Still. Using. Chalkboards. The message is that the educational system is letting kids down today because the reality of their life is so different than the world for which the system was made.

He takes what is essentially a PowerPoint presentation’s worth of facts and delivers it in a meaningful and memorable way. This demonstrates both the genius of Professor Wesch and the power of digital storytelling. By connecting what was essentially a static (and potentially boring) set of statistics to actual faces of those directly affected by the idea with a Web 2.0 framework, Professor Wesch creates an instructional, persuasive, reflective and ultimately memorable message. Which is, after all, the whole point of digital storytelling, right?

* Grok: (v.) to understand profoundly and intuitively. Coined by Robert Heinlein in Stranger In A Strange Land (1961).

Category: W2: Digital Story
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2 Responses
  1. mplumb says:

    I wholeheartedly agree. Digital stories like this one are entertaining and innovative, but they also educate in a way that a lecture or powerpoint presentation never could. I loved being confronted with the chalkboard quote after seeing students personally describe what their educational experience was like. I thought that was a very effective way of brining the story to its conclusion.

  2. rsibaja says:

    You would be amazed at how many school district administrators involved with curriculum use videos like this in training and workshops. I worked for a few years in the Instructional Services dept. of a 72-school system in NC, and this video is new to me, but similar to others.

    The problem is that those people who try to reform curriculum at the local level are essentially powerless. My former boss, the Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, had less real power than the other 7 Asst. Superintendents (one of whom dealt with school buses and building security). Sure, she was heard, but when the important decisions were to be made, the Asst. Superintendent for Finance really dictated the Superintendent’s policies. Then it went to the School Board, made up of people who mostly had careers that never included education.

    The problem gets worse at the state level (where I occasionally did some work). For public universities, the issue is very similar.

    So back to the video, it was great, and its Rip Van Winkle-message was clear…but those with the power to affect real change in education simply applaud and thank the nice folks in instruction for “reminding us of how students are being ‘let-down’”, but then they head back to their office an hour later and completely forget the message.

    So does that make this an effective DST production? or does the continual failure to create real change make productions like these a form of digital etchings on a classroom wall?