Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Metaphysics of Media (Continued...)

Long-time readers of IN THE DARK (there are some, yeah) might remember that four years ago this week I posted something about Kansas State University's Mike Wesch (Associate Professor of Anthropology) and his video, A Vision of Students Today. I said that in the process of researching and writing my book The Metaphysics of Media, I came across a lot of information that called into question the unspoken assumptions of A Vision of Students and others of Mike Wesch's videos. Wesch is -- or has certainly appeared to be -- one of the "true believers" in technology in the classroom, even though there is as much (or more) evidence to support the contention that the digital classroom is a harmful learning environment as there is to think it is a helpful one. I advised readers to watch some of Wesch's videos and consider his ideas, because they are -- or are becoming -- the mainstream view about the new technologies we call "Web 2.0" and I mentioned -- as subtly as possible -- that I couldn't seem to find the same level of enthusiasm and support for that view as the rest of our culture has.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports this week (A Tech-Happy Professor Reboots After Hearing His Teaching Advice Isn't Working) that Prof. Wesch may be re-thinking his pedagogy.

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...
...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.

Prof. Wesch has perhaps had something of an epiphany, although to what extent I am not yet sure. On his website he mentions that his new approach is "not so much a reboot of my thinking, or even my message, it is simply a reboot in how I deliver my message."
At any rate, four years ago I produced a response to Wesch's "Vision" based (loosely and very generally) on a couple of themes in The Metaphysics of Media (University of Scranton Press, 2010). I offer them both once again in the hopes of keeping this conversation alive.