Reactions to Michael Wesch’s Keynote
The following blog post was written by Geoff Gevalt, Executive Director and Founder, Young Writers Project, Inc. We thought his reflection was so amazing, that we have gotten permission to share it with you. Enjoy.
At various times in Michael Wesch’s presentation on Thursday, I felt alternately inspired, wowed, encouraged, thrilled and out-of-date, inadequate, woefully behind and, frankly, not as smart as I thought I was. Way not smart. I found myself wanting to create a video that would go viral, to redoing all our software so it could be half as cool or to help students create a project that would change the world.
Michael Wesch should never drink coffee and I wondered how in the world he survived his summers in New Guinea. Then I realized that is what ALL of us need — a visit to New Guinea, a time when we can just stop and listen and learn. That we — not just the girl in the Dove commercial — are getting bombarded, much as the presentation did, with thousands of ideas, and images, and entreaties. Do this, use that, get your kids over here. And that is, in fact, what makes us feel hopelessly inadequate and behind and ignorant. In today’s classrooms there is such pressure to improve test scores, meet mandates, teach to curriculum AND jump into technology. There is also an intense pressure to make a difference, and, on a global scale, to gain a following, to change things. And to do it, we must have 45,367,578 views on our YouTube video which we create with students in one of our classes with the help of several kids in Ghana, Australia and Beijing.
Which was not Michael’s point. I know that. But we are emotional beings, I am an emotional being, and he DID make me want to leap up and change the world. But where? And how? And where do I start?
Which brought me back to what I do, what Young Writers Project does, and what teachers do, and how we only need to go viral in our classroom, in our world. We don’t have to connect with the world. Not yet. There is a first step and while Michael, as he noted, is dealing with a different level of students — college — he is also dealing with a different level of knowledge and capability and a very different culture.
K-12 is restrictive — it is restricted by lack of equipment, lack of trained digital teachers and a culture that emphasizes fear and blocks useful Internet sites galore that, in fact, the kids gravitate to as soon as they leave school. K-12 is restricted by a culture that is used to doing things the old way, that does not have a sense of technology or new media and that is governed by fears — that an angry parent will come in to rant about how their student saw something inappropriate in school, that federal Internet safety guidelines will not be followed, that a kid will post something inappropriate and mean, that a teacher will not know how to do something — so won’t try or, at least, enlist his/her students to give it a try.
In reality K-12 schools are not as far along as colleges or Kansas State University or, particularly, Michael Wesch’s classroom. That’s OK. I’ll say it again. That’s OK.
K-12 schools can — and must — build the foundation by helping students — and teachers — take the first steps and learn basic skills in digital awareness, creativity and media. K-12 schools can teach students how to communicate, how to research, how to function on the Web with each other.
And K-12 schools can teach students how to write.
Because, and this is where I felt good about what Michael Wesch was saying, good writing is absolutely criticical to function in the new media world. Everything, including the videos, that Michael showed involved writing — individual writing, collaborative writing, creative writing. It involved revision and editing and vetting. It was the foundation for all the work he does, and you do and the global digital world does.
And that made me feel better, less inadequate, more with it. So I found myself embracing the exhiliration I — and everyone — felt form Michael’s presentation. I was thrilled by the talk, the sheer volume of activity and achievement and knowledge. I was exchilarated by by the connectiveness of it all and by the sense that if Shawn Ahmed can make a difference, we all can make a difference. Just by doing it.
So we, as K-12 educators, can get the kids started. We can create digital spaces for the students to write, collaborate, create, use media and build community. We can break down walls, we can learn new things with the kids. We can teach them how to be civil with each other online, informed about what they are engaged in and connected to what’s happening outside the classroom. We can teach them to do podcasts and slideshows and videos. Or, at least, we can get them to teach us how to do podcasts and slideshows and videos, in school.
And then we can send them to Kansas State University.
Geoffrey Gevalt runs a nonprofit in Vermont that works with students and teachers to help students engage in writing, get better at it and publish their best work and we do it all in digital spaces. For more: Go to youngwritersproject.org, ywpschools.net or digitalteachers.net.