Teaching in the Information Age

I came across another video by Kansas State professor Michael Wesch and his digital anthropology students, this one, “A Vision of Students Today,” focusing on characteristics of students today, in particular how they use and encounter information and how our teaching strategies are often not only obsolete but in fact work against how contemporary students learn.  The video is especially enlightening when it comes to illustrating what and how students acquire information, the number of papers they write versus the number of emails, the kinds of reading they do, the degree to which they (we?) are multitaskers.

While I like much about the video, I do have some reservations about the degree to which it generalizes the practices of students.  I wonder, for example, if community college students or students at a public HBCU such as Fayetteville State, where I teach, fit so neatly into the categories depicted in the video.  For example, several of my students have told me that they don’t have computers at home.  Others don’t have internet access or still rely on dial-up modems, which makes me wonder whether that 3.5 hours spent online isn’t reflective of a limited slice of students.  To be fair, the video does address briefly issues of a digital divide, but I think that teasing out some of these differences and not universalizing the experiences of students at a major state university could be valuable.


  1. G Said,

    October 29, 2007 @ 7:58 pm

    I actually thought this was a poor video. Wesch just put forth a lot of statistics, and I don’t trust statistics in that they’re used and perceived to present ideologies as facts. But more importantly, statistics are only presented to scandalize the viewers and Wesch does not put forward any model for how education should run now. After all, classes cannot be taught through email or facebook. Classrooms already use power point presentations and other online tools like ArtStor and Professors often post syllabi, assignments, notices before class and the course readings on a great tool called Blackboard. But technology is not always an effective: sometimes the technology is so hard to operate that it actually distracts professors from teaching and students from learning. Also, power point presentations and such are merely newer forms of writing on blackboards and dry erase boards; in all three of these situations, written information is presented visually to the students. In light of that, how is technology really going to improve a classroom, tap into what students are lacking? Furthermore, email and facebook are but a few varieties of distractions from homework. However the homework is assigned, whether by technological means or not, students are going to find distractions from it, and those distractions are likely to be on the internet in this period. I don’t feel that Wesch is really presenting a problem or a solution. What are we supposed to do, email students assignments? Are they really going to learn better that way? As I said, I think Wesch is trying to shock people but is not putting forward anything instructive. While teaching could always been improved, I do not think Wesch is even presenting reasonable or well-articulated complaints with the current state of the classroom.

  2. Chuck Said,

    October 29, 2007 @ 8:49 pm

    On a second viewing, I had some more reservations as well. I do wonder how statistics are being used here, especially in the ways in which they generalize students and perhaps serve to reinforce ideologies about our digitized “future-present” (note my points about different kinds of universities and student populations), although I don’t know that I would dismiss statistics entirely. New technologies do contribute to new practices and, therefore, necessitate new modes of learning.

    I share your reservations about the incorporation of technology into the classroom just for the sake of doing so, and I think you’re basically right to point out that Power Point is little more than a glorified chalkboard (which is one of many reasons I’m so unenthusiastic about it), but I also wonder whether Wesch is necessarily being celebratory here about new technologies. In fact, I read the reference to chalkboards as illustrating that our paradigms for thinking about teaching have changed little (note that the name of a popular course management program is called “Blackboard”).

    But, in general, I think you’re right–and the video definitely left me wanting more substance.

  3. J Said,

    October 30, 2007 @ 10:45 pm

    I had reservations the first time I watched the film, but they were insignificant compared to the validation that I received for my own anecdotal experiences. G is quite right about professors being distracted by the technology, but I don’t agree that the technology is complicated. The problem is that the professors don’t have the time to become more acquainted with new ways of doing things and the IT departments that are there to play a supportive role are often understaffed with people either unwilling or unable to deliver the kind of training necessary for professors to develop an acceptable level of comfort with their new tools.

    One of my professors did away with paper syllabi because even if students can’t access computers at home or in residence, there are plenty of workstations available on campus. That, I think, is a step in the right direction, especially since so many students rarely look at their syllabus to begin with. He also put all of his readings up on Blackboard so students don’t have to purchase course readings or a textbook. I’d like to see more of that, but quite a few professors are attached to having things on paper, for whatever the reason. It’s true that some professors avoid e-mail at all costs and can barely use a web browser, but I’d like to think that they’re in the minority.

    As far as students go, I think they’d like to be able to engage with their classrooms the same way they engage with everything else. Too many profs are wedded to highly structured lecture formats that all but remove participation from the classroom. In first year courses, they often follow the textbook chapter by chapter, which makes many students wonder why they’re bothering to come to class. Upper level courses usually involve more participation and less coddling, but even then students feel alienated by their classes, constantly driven to ask the question “What’s the point?” Take for example readings that don’t receive any attention on tests. I read them anyway because I’m interested, but I can’t blame someone for skipping them, especially if they’re working 30 hours a week in addition to attending university.

  4. Chuck Said,

    October 31, 2007 @ 7:48 am

    I think you’re right about many of these critiques, especially about the ways in which professors sometimes present material, covering textbooks chapter by chapter (or not including material on exams), etc. But I wonder whether that’s a “technological” problem or something else (a misunderstanding of the classroom space on the part of the professor, the almost mandatory large class sizes at state universities). I’ve never taught a class with more than 35 students, so my classes are always interactive on some level.

    In terms of textbooks, I try to use course readers (i.e., online articles, photocopied/PDF’d chapters) where possible, but there are some books that I have to require because they are not available any other way. I try to use as little paper as possible, if only for environmental reasons (and because of my tiny photocopy budget), but there are occasions where paper as a “technology” is necessary (peer editing workshops in class and making readings more “portable,” for example), so I’m not ready to completely throw away paper just yet.

    But the “alienation” question you’re introducing is the truly important one, and it’s something instructors should strive to address every semester, both in terms of presentation style (making sure the readings are pertinent) and in terms of subject matter.

  5. G Said,

    November 1, 2007 @ 10:16 pm

    “Too many profs are wedded to highly structured lecture formats that all but remove participation from the classroom. ”

    I’ve actually had opposite experiences; most students I know prefer lecture classes so they can take notes without having to strain themselves enough to participate and this gives professors and students who want to participate more *huge* problems in advanced level classes.

  6. G Said,

    November 2, 2007 @ 7:49 pm

    There’s a great post at “Slaves of Academe” about how the technology of the blog both stimulates and hinders the class, go here:

  7. Chuck Said,

    November 3, 2007 @ 10:52 am

    Thanks for the reference. Here’s a direct link. I think the post is basically right, especially in the ways in which blogs can reinforce the differences between teacher and student, can place certain students at a disadvantage when it comes to entering class discussion. In fact, that’s why I’ve been cautious about requiring blogging here at FSU until I have a better grasp of how it can be incorporated into the local needs of the university.

  8. The Chutry Experiment » (Re)Visioning Students Said,

    January 21, 2008 @ 10:04 am

    […] few months ago, I mentioned Michael Wesch’s second video in a planned three-part series, “A Vision of Students […]

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