The Campus Technology 2011 confererence opening keynote from Michael Wesch was as good as I hoped it would be.
For those who might not be familiar with Mr. Wesch, below you will find his video, “Web 2.0 … The Machine Is Us/ing Us”, which went viral soon after he uploaded it in early 2007.
In his speech, Wesch explained how he and his wife quickly became enthralled with the rapid rise in viewership that was happening so shortly after he published the video, and sat in the basement of their house in Kansas and hit ‘refresh' repeatedly to watch the number climb! Within days, the video made it to the position of the 4th most watched video on the Internet, and their desire on Superbowl Sunday was to see it hit No. 1 before the Superbowl Ads knocked it off. It did.
This video has now been viewed over 11 million times. The experience of publishing this video and watching as viewers across the world embraced it and made it a phenomenon was the first of several entertaining and insightful anecdotes Wesch shared. Throughout his narrative he wove a tale of Web 2.0 and it's tremendous potential to change us as a society and as individuals, while also revealing a contrasting dark side that we must strive to avoid.
There was a lot of dichotomy revealed in Wesch's discussion – the Web can open us up to tremendous learning opportunities and offer the possibility of achieving a global consciousness, but at the same time it often seems like it is facilitating a move towards an encapsulated, eyes-down society. Are we losing our capacity for vulnerability because of our increasingly over-exposed, media saturated lives?
Wesch expressed his concern about how today's students often feel uninspired in the classroom. He has found that if he asks his students, “How many of you do not like school?”, about half raise their hands, but when the question is changed to, “How many of you do not like learning?”, no one raises their hands. Clearly these students are not simply uninterested. Rather, they are disengaged by the “be quiet and sit there and listen and learn” model upon which much of today's classroom learning is based. Fortunately, today's Internet technologies offer so many ways in which that model can be tweaked, evolved, and made to be more fun, more engaging.
During the presentation, the Kansas State University professor offered many inspiring examples of how people across the globe have leveraged digital media to make a difference in the world around them. One of the stories that blew me away was about a spoof video based on a Dove commercial that messaged, “talk to your daughters before the beauty industry does”. Dove's video suggested that we strive to help young girls understand that there is much more to who they are than their outward appearance. This seemed more than a bit hypocritical, given that Dove is a major player in the beauty industry. In this spoof video, we learn that Dove had been the cause of major environmental problems in Indonesia due to their Palm Oil production and harvesting. Within a short time after the viral spread of that video, Dove met with the video's makers (Greenpeace) and agreed to set a moratorium on Indonesian palm oil harvesting. Greenpeace explained that it was the single most impactful thing they had ever done.
Wesch shared many more stories about how digital media has been used to make a tremendous impact. Many of these were cases in which it cost the developer of the media next to nothing. We're not talking about Hollywood productions here. I can do this – you can do this – today, with a computer, a webcam, and a wealth of tools available to us on the Internet for little or no cost.
One of Wesch's key messages is that when we help students become information media literate, we give them tools that can help them shape their lives and their world in a meaningful way. We need to keep striving to evolve education to keep students engaged and help them achieve the digital literacy that is essential to enabling them to make a real difference in their increasingly web-enabled world.
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