Is the future of education also the future of technical communication?

I stumbled across another great video of Michael Wesch talking about the issues facing educationalists.  Many of the problems they face are the same as those faced by people involved in producing user assistance.

The video is here

Dubbed “the explainer” by popular geek publication Wired because of his viral YouTube video that summarizes Web 2.0 in under five minutes, cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch brought his Web 2.0 wisdom to the University of Manitoba on June 17 (see video above).

During his presentation, the Kansas State University professor breaks down his attempts to integrate Facebook, Netvibes, Diigo, Google Apps, Jott, Twitter, and other emerging technologies to create an education portal of the future.

I particularly liked these slides:

He argued these beliefs were no longer correct,(apart from the first statement).

It’s possible the solutions for the future of education will also be relevant for the future of user assistance. Whether it answers all the questions remains to be seen.


Paul Sholar

I just viewed Wesch’s video presentation. I found myself looking critically at Wesch’s ideas because I found his premises so superficial and in some cases incorrect.

Wesch begins by indicating his concern for the disconnect his student’s interest in “learning” with their participation in the university setting where Wesch works. Wesch didn’t present any thesis about why his students are attending his classes (such as to fulfill their degree requirements, or to gain a degree that will help the student get job after graduation), so I don’t see how he could diagnose this disconnect in a well-grounded way. Instead, he reacts to his discovery of the disconnect by presenting what he sees as the students’ assumptions about the university’s learning environment.

What I found most disconcerting what his emphasis on *acquiring information* as the key activity of “education.” I would say this notion is quite inadequate; it would be more accurate to say that “knowledge” is the goal of education and to define “knowledge” as having an understanding of *key* information including the key relationships among key information items.

On the contrary, Wesch emphasizes that the quantity of information that is popping up all around us is somehow the key reality that relates to the process of education today. He displays the (unsourced) statistic that ‘N’ exabytes of information will be produced by the world (this year?), but he doesn’t offer any assessment of the sources or nature of this information–for instance, how much of that information is *commercial* in source and subject matter and to what extent should university students be interested in it?

Wesch then quickly makes another statement that raises my doubts about his project. While surveying the history of the ‘net’s Web 2.0 applications, he states that “hyperlinking showed us that information can be in more than place at the same time.” It’s as if he’s not aware of the fact that important books, many of which have been mass-produced, have been sitting in libraries for hundreds of years.

To introduce the Web 2.0 tools that he has rolled out for use in a couple of his recently offered courses at Kansas St. University, he next makes a couple of points about how education should be helping to shape the “identity” of students and about the role of “trust” in the educational process. Again, I would say that these aspect of his presentation are not obviously relevant to this project because he never established the basis for his “diagnosis” of his students’ issues with learning in his employer’s (KSU) university setting.

The Web 2.0 tools that he used in his Intro to Cultural Anthropology course seem to have been effective in having students produce commentary and notes digests of the subject matter of the course. He also showed a summary of video that was shot during a simulation of an international colonial power struggle put on by his students. His cleverness at finding ways to make the Web 2.0 tools is a great example of finding ways to reduce the “friction” involved in putting on a university class, especially for one with several dozens of students.

I would be more receptive to this presentation if he would have demonstrated how the tools reinforced the process of having students engage with the *key* information that his course was intended to present, which in turn should have transferred the intended set of *knowledge* to his students. His presentation’s summary emphasized the importance of *knowledge*, but the presentation as a whole did not make the case that knowledge transfer was achieved rather than a large set of student-generated “content” was uploaded of unassessed quality or significance. Wesch stated that the lecture notes uploaded during the semester by his students were “the best notes I’ve ever seen,” but in the presentation he didn’t justify that opinion by appealing to any criteria.

Paul K. Sholar
Twitter: @bkwdgreencomet

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