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Something Wiki This Way Comes

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Something wiki this way comes.

If you spend any time browsing the YouTube, you've probably seen the Media Ecological videos produced by Kansas State University Professor of Cultural Anthropology Michael Wesch. In his videos, Dr. Wesch focuses his camera on text written and re-written on pads of paper, computer screens or student flash cards. Reminiscent of the "Show Us Your Lark Pack" commercials of the 1960's, Dr. Wesch's camera leaps from pillar to post-it, constructing his critique out of a series of billboard announcements, classified ad notices and graffiti scrawls. Through a carefully scripted video bricolage Dr. Wesch constructs a narrative criticizing the current limitations of classroom pedagogy and exposing the true media environments that govern the Millennial Generation.

The persisting paradigm of most current classroom education is a remnant of the medieval academies where the curriculum consisted of a monk at a lectern reading from a sacred text while everyone in the class copied word for word at their desks. Education then consisted of making a copy of all "great" books for your own library. The model has survived into the industrial age because, if you add a series of bells and a rotation schedule, you prepare students to "graduate" from the classroom to the factory.

In the Information Age the Monkish/Assembly line mode of teaching is revealed as an arbitrary and perhaps counterproductive way to impart knowledge. As the mass media usurped the educational prerogative from the old school system, a student’s true learning occurred outside the classroom. This transformation was predicted over 50 years ago by Marshall McLuhan who noted that advertising was providing the epistemological foundations of our culture, moving pedagogical control from the classroom to the boardroom. As computer-based new media supplant the mass media, the paradigm is shifting once again.

The techniques of print, billboard and mass media advertising are not adequate to create the new curriculum of the internet community, although many are trying to fit this square peg in that round hole. Searching for new "business models" to rationalize the internet, corporate advertisers think they can bend the aesthetics of the internet to the requirements of consumerism. The problem here is that advertising itself is a dead end epistemology where the transcendental characteristics of consumer products have determined the logic of our cultural narrative. As "one to many" product factories give way to "many to many" production communities, the product becomes subservient to the process, and narrative control shifts from the producer to the consumer.

As represented in his videos, Dr. Wesch is clearly a product of the advertising paradigm. Creating the content for the New Media out of the aesthetics of the old media, Dr. Wesch's videos owe more to print, billboard and mass advertising than to the wiki inspired internet. In twenty years his student subjects will create their own critiques that draw from the paradigms of instant messaging, wikis and media multi-tasking. We mass media suckled, advertising educated old-timers may very possibly find these millennial narratives incomprehensible.

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About Bob

  • I am posting this comment on behalf of Dr. Wesch:

    I like the way this critique is headed, as I am deeply committed to exploring how to create a classroom built on a participation or wiki paradigm. You can see my current efforts at netvibes.com/wesch or go straight to the wiki at ksuanth.wetpaint.com. As you will see, what I do in the classroom is a bit different than what can be seen in my videos.

    Your comments have forced me to think very deeply about how my videos could be more participatory, and it seems like there is actually a limit to the medium itself. For example, A Vision of Students today used a collaboratively created document for scripting (Google Docs), was collaboratively produced on the day of filming, but ultimately was edited by me working alone. We might have used something collaborative like Kaltura to edit, but it didn’t exist yet. We then released it in a free and open way, allowing for remixes, etc. so that we could participate in a global conversation about what concerned us.

    The limits of our video that you raise seem to be a limit of video itself. A video is by definition an object, a singular entitity, a single statement, and will never in itself be a conversation. It is a product, not a process, and therefore *any* video could be discounted by your “process over product” argument – even a video such as this one that actually shows the entire *process* of how it was created.

    Given that, I think what you might be suggesting is that the next generation’s narratives may not even be in video format. It will be too linear and pre-formulated for their tastes. “Narrative” itself will be questioned as too linear and a paradigm of “conversation” and “participation” will emerge. Could be. But I think there are social structural limitations to this type of idea. Everybody cannot participate with everybody. Some people will have more people watching them than they can ever possibly respond to, creating the need for them to step out of a flat conversation to make “statements,” and create “narratives” that may take old-media forms such as blog posts and videos.

  • duane

    I generally try to avoid articles containing the words “narrative,” “linear,” “paradigm,” and so forth, since I think the usage of this form of vocabulary represents an ominous trend among academics, who seem to feel compelled to jump on the post-deconstruction bandwagon of obfuscation and mushy thinking.

    Having said that, I admit that I don’t know what either you or Wesch are trying to say. No doubt, that reflects some deficiency on my part. I gather that it involves a critique, if not criticism, of Gen X and their obsession with the internet as a substitute for face-to-face interaction.

    And one minor quibble:

    As the mass media usurped the educational prerogative from the old school system, a student’s true learning occurred outside the classroom.

    I don’t see the problem with this. I was in college/university for 12 years, and all of my true learning, paltry though it may be, occurred outside the classroom. School administrators and faculty merely helped to define the goals and schedule. It doesn’t immediately follow that learning outside the classroom is controlled by “the boardroom.”

  • Thanks for your comment.

    I admit to the jargon, and perhaps assume that my meaning of a “codeword” will be understood. When I use the term “paradigm” I take my cue from Thomas Kuhn(see his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.) A paradigm is a world view or set of assumptions which allow you to make sense of your current understanding of reality, but limit your ability to think outside that particular box. The most famous example is the paradigm shift that had to occur for physicists to move from a Newtonian view of celestial mechanics to an Einsteinian view.

    In this particular context I mean that our understanding of the proper environment for educating our young depends on the assumptions we make about learning, cognition and retention. Neil Postman used to address this concept by inquiring into the metaphor we use as teachers. Is the student’s mind a garden to cultivate? An empty bucket into which we pour knowledge? A blank slate which we write upon? Etc., etc.

    When I use the term “linear” I mean one thing at a time, move from point a to point b rather than multifaceted, multiple points, simultaneity.

    “Narrative” is my word for storyline. I believe that we communicate by telling each other stories. Scientific theories, religious parables, societal critiques are all stories, and as any literary major can tell you, the storyteller influences our beliefs by the way he tells his tales.

    You wrote:

    “I gather that it involves a critique, if not criticism, of Gen X and their obsession with the internet as a substitute for face-to-face interaction.”

    I don’t intend to criticize Gen X. I don’t know if their paradigm is better or worse than mine, I only know that it is different. All paradigms, depending on how they reflect reality, have strengths and weaknesses. Some work better in some situations and not in others. My critique here is the assumption that the old ways of sharing knowledge are necessarily the proper ways with regard to Gen X. I might also argue that there are many ways a non-linear, non-authoritarian approach to education is superior.

    However, when I say that since the adoption of the “advertising paradigm” most learning has taken place outside the classroom, my main concern is that the lessons are learned unconsciously. The term “Boardroom” just refers to the fact that the intention of advertisers is not to help us be the best that we can be, but rather to sell a product. They don’t control the narrative because they don’t take into account the unintended consequences of their collective ad campaigns. What they teach are not “subjects” in the traditional use of the term, but rather how to exist within a mass media environment. That they do this unconsciously is the danger.

    I am in favor of bringing some of the benefits of “outside” learning inside, that is, learn by doing, group problem solving, searching for the proper questions, not just answers.

    I think the questions Dr. Wesch raises about Gen X media environments can help us find the best paradigm for Gen X education.

  • duane

    Robert, sorry about the crack concerning jargon. I grok the words. I just don’t like to see them replace straight talk. You know, this kind of puffed up drivel:

    “… Bove’s `settings’ draw on the style, and substance, of certain time-specific materials to resuscitate their referential possibilities, to pull them out of historical stasis and return them to active symbolic duty, where new adjacencies might reactivate latent meanings.”

    … in reference to an artist.

    But I digress.

    I might also argue that there are many ways a non-linear, non-authoritarian approach to education is superior.

    That’s a very intriguing comment. Can you give a hypothetical example? Let’s say Skippy is pursuing a career in microbiology. How would you change his experience?

    Not to waste your time yakking away about myself, but my own experience began with an authoritarian approach, but gave way towards the end to an ‘anything goes’ approach. I think I was able to appreciate the frontier more by having waded through the work of past authorities. That seems to have fixed in my mind that particular paradigm of acquiring, and eventually contributing to, knowledge.

    However, when I say that since the adoption of the “advertising paradigm”….

    Understood. Thanks for the clarification.