Creating Significance to Foster Learning

September 17, 2009 — Leave a comment

Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University is best known for his poignant YouTube videos Web 2.0 The Machine Us/ing Us and more recently A Vision of Students Today. His EDUCAUSE keynote presentation, Human Futures for Technology and Education provides a deeper explanation of the videos and also identifies the key to his message. In this presentation Wesch explains how he and his students came to create the video of A Vision of Students Today and how he views significance as one of the major problems we face in Education today. Wesch makes the argument that what is significant for students not what is significant in the average college classroom.

The way to judge what is significant in a classroom is to look to the questions that students are asking. For example, if the following type of questions are being asked:

Will this be on the exam?
How many pages do I need to write?
Should we write this down?

then it should be clear that assessment and not learning is what is significant.

In the Vision video Wesch’s students ask the question: If these walls could talk would they say? In response to this question Wesch argues that the message the walls (educators) are sending is:

To learn is to ACQUIRE information

  • Information is scarce and hard to find
  • Trust authority for good information
  • Authorized information is beyond discussion
  • Obey Authority
  • Follow along

What these wall DO NOT say, but should is:

To learn is to Discuss, Challenge, Critique, and Create information

Wesch argues that to learn is to create significance–one creates significance through meaningful connections. The fundamental question that Wesch challenges us to answer is:

How can we create students who can create meaningful connections?

He points to anthropological truisms: There is no connection without meaning and there is no meaning without connection to support his position.

Rather than just offer a critique of our current system Wesch offers the following suggestions for creating significance:

  1. Find a grand narrative to provide relevance and context for learning (addresses semantic meaning)
  2. Create a learning environment that values and leverages the learners themselves (addresses personal meaning)
  3. Do both in a way that realizes and leverages the existing media environment (and therefore allows students to realize and leverage the existing media environment).

View the Human Futures for Technology and Education presentation.

Dwayne Harapnuik

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