Thursday, May 14, 2009

Michael Wesch's model for open learning, a crisis of significance, and the meaning of life

Fiona Grant's post caught my eye when she writes about Michael Wesch at Kansas State University, USA recently. Like many, I'm also inspired by Michael and his student's work, but it was Fiona's highlight of his words, "There are no natives here" that caught my eye this time. 3 hours later I'm only just coming back into my own space, my own blog, to log the route I have followed, and note a few things I've come back with.

A benchmark for open education

Firstly, I just have to say Wow! Micheal Wesch really does a good job at inspiring others with his work, and documenting it for us to consider and try for ourselves. In this sense, one of the first things I come back with is some more solid questioning of what it means to be an open educational practitioner.

Far from needing things like Wikieducator to centralise, add meaning to or credibility around, Michael and his students work across platforms wherever there is a tool that is fit for purpose, as though the Net was their one platform, without neurotic paralysis over political or technical issues, and just coping with it and getting on with it. The result is an evidently richly open and accessible course that is best illustrated in Michael's video, and that I have only dipped my toes into over the past 3 hours or so. Far from being a dry and standardised format, I didn't feel a single pang of wanting motivation to get through any of it, probably because of the video. One thing led to another and another, and I'm only pulling out for the need to breath and write something in response before I get lost in it forever!

Michael is modeling the use of the Internet for teaching and learning in ways I only imagined it could be back when I drew attention on myself for proclaiming the LMS dead in 2005, and then teaching as dead in 2006. Here Michael is doing more than uttering words, he's showing it for real.

Literacy, a crisis of significance, and anti teaching

It starts with his hour long presentation to lecturers at Manitoba University in Canada back in June 2008, including his signatory critique on literacy, media and education, then leading into an overview of his recently developed teaching techniques. This is the same video that Fiona pointed to for the quote, "there are no natives here", to which I was drawn originally, for its implicit rejection of Prensky's rather polarising generationalism, "digital natives and immigrants". The most significant idea running through the presentation was the idea that we (in the media age) are suffering from a crisis of significance, and that media literacy will help us.

As usual Michael's video lecture is quietly energetic, with emotive cues inspiring many of us who are motivated by the potential applications of social media in learning. He spends the hour talking us through how he teaches his class, his objectives of inspiring life long learners beyond the "what do I need to know to pass the test", what tools he uses and why, and finishes with an account of a large scale game called World Sim that he designed for looking into cultural history issues, in a method he describes as anti teaching.

A game to save our world?

If Michael's techniques (and outcomes) using media weren't impressive enough, his accounts of World Sim are both chilling and interesting. The use of a simulation game to explore world events in cultural history makes me think of the work of Anna Hughes at the Polytechnic, who uses a simple game about fishing to bring about discussion on sustainability issues. I think Anna would be interested in Michael's use of a simulation game for teaching, and perhaps an adaptation on World Sim would have people in Anna's classes more deeply exploring a wider range of issues impacting on sustainability. Although World Sim is designed for cultural history, in many regards it touches on the ultimate questions of sustainability, with sometimes chilling results - as Michael points out in his lecture.

Other work of note by Michael Wesch:

An Anthropological History to Youtube
Web 2.0: The Machine is Using Us
And a mighty fine blog

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