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Sending The Wrong Message

I just watched Michael Wesch’s talk from the TEDxNYED conference last month again.

Wesch is a cultural anthropologist who is now studying how our society is being changed by social media, especially in how we educate our children and ourselves.

His whole presentation is excellent but I was really struck by the section in which he talks about his teaching space and how it influences his students.

So what we need is for people, our students, everybody to be more open, caring, daring, creative, collaborative, self-motivated, and voracious as learners.

And yet, this is where we’re training them [Wesch’s lecture hall at Kansas State].

And regardless of what I say in this room, the room itself, the walls are sending a different message. The walls are sending the message, first off, that to learn is to acquire information. This is a low, base level of how we should think about learning.

They also say that you should listen to the authority for good information. That authorized information is beyond discussion, which is why the chairs don’t turn to one another so people can discuss the matter.

Ultimately these walls say that you should obey the authority and just follow along.

Compare that classroom to those in most high schools. The desks may not be permanently fixed in rows but they may as well be.

Anyway, Wesch goes on to suggest that if you want to understand the kinds of learners our education system is producing, just listen to the kinds of questions they are asking in this space.

Questions like “How many points is this worth?”, “How long does this paper have to be?”, and “What do we need to know for this test?”

Instead, he says we need students who challenge the “authorized” knowledge and who can adapt and craft their own learning.

in the end, Wesch admits that the big projects he and his students get out of that space to create often fall flat, failing to accurately simulate the societies studied in class or even to do a good job of recreating history.

However, they succeed in that students leave the class with many questions. Good, relevant questions about the world around them rather than what will be on the next test.

Wesch’s talk is only 15 minutes but it’s worth your time.

Better yet, also show it to a colleague, principal, parent, student, superintendent, school board member, elected representative or anyone else who might be concerned that our traditional school structure (physical and intellectual) is sending the wrong message.


  1. Melissa

    I just read this article in The Post http://tinyurl.com/37j3lfs and was a little irritated by it. A few minutes later I ran into your post and watched the video. Amazing talk! If only more professors/teachers would change the way they teach, then there would be no reason for them to “shut down laptops and other digital distractions.” Thanks for sharing!

  2. Tim

    Thanks for the link, Melissa. It seems like every six months or so someone publishes a similar article about educators who can’t get their students to pay attention to their lectures and blame it on laptops and other devices. They never seem to consider that their method of delivering information is not effective and might be the problem.

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