Education’s job in a networked world

I can’t presume to know education’s main job in today’s very different media environment, but I think Prof. Michael Wesch at Kansas State University is on to something. It goes beyond teaching media literacy in information-saturated lives, which itself is well past the 19th-century model of filling students’ heads with information and having them “learn” it. It even goes beyond teaching the behavioral or social literacy needed in a social-media environment. In fact, it goes beyond teaching to inspiring (which includes modeling for and collaborating with students too, as Wesch does). The KSU anthropology professor suggests that the job of education now is to inspire curiosity and imagination, The Journal reports.

“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,” he told people attending a conference last July. “If you’re a curious person, you’ll learn and grow; if you’re not, you could just drift along while others race ahead,” The Journal quotes Wesch as saying in his talk. So school can’t just stop at helping students get to the signal amid all the noise but also want to figure out what to do with the signal once they’ve found it – help them be curious and excited about where the signal can take them. [That seems incredibly important in a world where school can’t prepare students for jobs because jobs as we know them are going away (see this about the “forever recession and … coming revolution”).] But school can’t do any of the above without the means – the media – in which they’re to do their filtering and seeking (the media in which they’re already doing all this outside of school).

Schools need to be clear that “today’s media” doesn’t just mean new devices such as laptops or iPads, or even Web sites, online games, or virtual worlds. Wesch, who teaches digital culture, explains that media are much more than communications tools or services. They “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,” he told his listeners. That’s not just new media, but books and old media such as television and film as well. So we need to be focused less on technology and more on curiosity and literacies (social, media, and digital) and allowing and inspiring students to develop them in today’s full range of media. Otherwise, we’ll continue to have the stultifying kind of education that many of Wesch’s students describe (and clearly want to be freed from) in the video VisionsofStudents.org.

Related links

* In Professor Wesch’s own blog post on VisionofStudents.org, a “’video collage’ about student life created by students themselves,” he writes that “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.” The video you click on at the center of the Visions of Students home page is Wesch’s own video about his experience of viewing his students’ videos.
* My last post on Wesch: “Watch this video, parents” in August 2008 (I meant it – I think it explains a lot – and I showed an edited version of it to my colleagues in the Online Safety & Technology Working Group in 2009; here’s my post on our 2010 report to Congress).


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