Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology and U.S. National Professor of the year Michael Wesch continues to impress educators and lay-people alike worldwide. On Jan. 7 his article “From Knowledgable to Knowledge-able: Learning in New Media Environments” was published in the Academic Commons Magazine, and on Jan. 12 an article about his background and teaching methods was published in the Christian Science Monitor.
After first making a name for himself on the international stage with his hit YouTube videos, Wesch is pushing forward by sharing his teaching methods with the masses. In “From Knowledgable to Knowledge-able,” he argues that new media environments force us to rethink the classroom because information acquisition can no longer be the prime motive in our lecture halls. Instead, he suggests that students need to be able to “find, sort, analyze, share, discuss, critique, and create information.” In essence, as the title implies, the shift is from becoming “knowledgable” to becoming “knowledge-able”.
Similar to the issues brought up in his YouTube video “A Vision of Students Today“, and contrary to becoming “knowledge-able”, our classrooms are structured in an information dissemination model, with fixed chairs all facing the front of the room where the professor is. And yet, in the new media environment, information is all around us and not located in one place at the front of the room. Wesch goes on to suggest that we have been focusing all of our attention on “what” is to be learned and very little to none on “how” it is to be learned or “why” it is being learned in the first place.
We have had our why’s, how’s, and what’s upside-down, focusing too much on what should be learned, then how, and often forgetting the why altogether. In a world of nearly infinite information, we must first address why, facilitate how, and let the what generate naturally from there. As infinite information shifts us away from a narrow focus on information, we begin to recognize the importance of the form of learning over the content of learning
Nonetheless, “what” we teach still is important, and Wesch thinks we should focus on teaching subjectivities instead of subjects. By teaching “ways of approaching, understanding, and interacting with the world,” we are preparing students to be capable and concerned citizens as they approach their future careers that may not even exist yet. He goes on to say that if this is to be a sustainable model, we need new ways of assessing students and teachers to properly evaluate education. Multiple-choice exams simply will not suffice.
While many of these ideas are not new, there is a certain urgency to this dilemma of education that has been brought on by the new media environment. Wesch’s answer for the moment can be found in his classrooms. The Christian Science Monitor went into his Introduction to Cultural Anthropology class and discovered the World Simulation. The World Simulation is a semester-long project that has his students split up into 20 groups, which then create 20 distinct cultures based on a fictional map of the world. The cultures develop after being placed in a unique ecosystem and students learn about subsistence patterns, family structures, religious beliefs, and political systems as they create unique characteristics for each in their cultures. All the while, students are learning about world history and world systems, which they bring to a climax at the end of the semester when they act out some 600 years of world history.
During the simulation, students videotape what happens to their culture and then edit their footage into five-minute cultural histories. Wesch then takes the 20 five-minute histories and creates a world history that is shown in class. Not a game, the simulation is a direct manifestation of the way Wesch thinks about education in the new media environment.