Michael Wesch, YouTube, and a Vision of Students Today

Less than a year ago, most of us would have asked “Michael who?” if someone mentioned Michael Wesch. That was before the Kansas State University Anthropology professor posted a short video, “The Machine Is Us/ing Us,” on YouTube in January 2007 and became one of 22 winners of the 2007 Wired magazine Rave Award a few months later for his exploration of how Web 2.0 is changing the way we see the world of information and ourselves.

The number of people who have watched the video has increased exponentially. It has now been viewed 3,610,519 times, so Wesch’s posting of two new pieces within the last week—including one on how students view the learning process, “A Vision of Students Today”—has already attracted over 140,000 viewers. More importantly, Wesch and his students in his Digital Ethnography project, are making us sit up and pay attention not only to what is happening in contemporary classrooms, but how students are discussing it: with an enchanting and poignant burst of creativity.

His work is a great example of everything that is right about Web 2.0: the use of shareware to quickly produce thought-provoking pieces which challenge us to reconsider much of what we know; the open sharing of what he and his students are producing; and an invitation to join them as they build a new community through the Digital Ethnography Working Group and its blog.

An interview with blogger John Battelle offers insight into how Wesch works and reveals that, for “The Machine is Us/ing Us,” it took “about 3 days to put the video together, but of course it took months of thinking and research.” The Digital Ethnography site at Kansas State University includes items such as his posting on October 18, 2007—a discussion of the immediate reaction to “A Vision of Students Today” and an accompanying piece on how we obtain and process information, “Information R/evolution.”

Then there is the work itself. It’s edgy. Emotional. Controversial. Captivating. And it inspires reactions, as evidenced by the more than 200 responses on the YouTube site and the growing number of posts on Digital Ethnography. Wesch, on that site, claims it “is currently the most blogged about video in the blogosphere,” and it’s not hard to see why. The students featured in the video tell us what—and how much—they read (books vs. websites), write (term papers vs. emails), and listen to; how much time they study every day; and how many hours they need per day to accomplish all they set out to do.

“Vision” is about far more than one group’s experiences in school: it makes all of us who are involved in training think about what we accomplish, how we accomplish it, and what we might be doing differently in a world where the time it takes for lessons learned to become obsolete diminishes year by year. (One student suggests that by the time she graduates, she will be accepting a job which doesn’t even exist at the time she is earning her degree.)

The good news for trainers and other educators is that there isn’t going to be a lack of work for us anytime soon. The even better news for those of who like to learn is that there’s no end in sight for that part of the process, either—particularly when we have people like Michael Wesch and his students around to teach us.

This item was originally posted on October 22, 2007 on Infoblog at http://infoblog.infopeople.org.

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