The DEN at BLC Boston 2010

Thursday’s Keynote speaker at 2010 Building Learning Communities
speaker was Dr. Michael Wesch – Asst professor of cultural anthropology and digital ethnography, Kansas State University, Manhatten, KS. Those sitting with me and I thought we didn’t know Wesch. As soon as he appeared we realized he is the creator of the viral video, A Vision of Students Today.

Dr. Wesch says that students seek meaning and the question we need to ask ourselves is, “Are we helping or hindering them in their endeavor?” A sign of hindrance is when students ask questions such as, “Will this be on the test?”and “How many points is this worth?” Over one half of American students claim to dislike school. Yet, all students agree that they enjoy learning. What does THAT say about schools and learning? Why aren’t our students as engaged with school as they are with the American Idol competition or the latest episode of the bachelor?

We need to move our students from knowledgeable to knowledge ABLE. With new media comes changes. Some of these changes are unintended, but there is no going back. Today we see the triangle of communication, thoughtfulness, and empathy. The interconnectedness means that with more knowledge comes more thoughtfulness (creativity.) And with more knowledge and creativity, we are more empathetic. Media becomes not just a tool, but a means of communication, a means to mediate our relationships.
As Dr. Wesch said, “For me, the ultimate promise of digital technology is that it might enable us to truly see one another once again and all the ways we are interconnected. It might help us create a truly global view that can spark the kind of empathy we need to create a better world for all of humankind. I’m not being overly Utopian and naively saying that the Web will make this happen. In fact, if we don’t understand our digital technology and its effects, it can actually make humans and human needs even more invisible than ever before.

All of us search for identity and recognition amidst the overwhelming media saturation in our culture. We need critical thinking more now, there perhaps ever before, if for no other reasons than to limit onslaught of media blitz. Dr. Wesch illustrated his point of media onslaught with the Dove video . This video shows a sweet little girl being pelted with media images of how she “should” look.

Because the media connects us all and leads (hopefully) to the empathy and creativity, people can talk back to media like never before. In response to Dove’s ad, Greenpeace created a video titled Dove: Onslaught(er). It is no longer a one-way conversation. If you don’t like it, change it!

Previously, knowledge meant to acquire information and trust the authority, the giver of the information. The new paradigm requires creating knowledge with critical questioning. No authority is beyond further examination.

An example of someone using the communication to build thoughtfulness and empathy is Shawn Ahmed. He was a graduate student at Notre Dame University whose life took a turn after he met Dr. Jeffrey Sachs (author of the book “The End of Poverty”) when he came to give a speech at Notre Dame. That speech inspired him to withdraw from grad school, liquidate his savings, and begin his journey to try and make the world a better place – one meaningful difference at a time. As Dr. Wesch said, ” There is no them, there are only facets of us.”
The new media has made it ridiculously easy to connect, organize, share, collect, collaborate, and publish. Read more about Shawn and his ideas at The Uncultured Project.

Read more about Dr. Michael Wesch’s
course or check out his youtube channel

Are YOU ready for the test?


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One Comment;

  1. Tim Childers said:

    This is a fantastic summary of the keynote address. Absolutely one of the best, most inspiring keynotes I’ve ever attended.

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