Ridiculously Easy: Helping My Sister Find Meaning
December 15, 2010 by Amanda Tross
I have heard Michael Wesch speak before and I have seen his videos online, so I knew I would be inspired by his keynote speech at the 2010 Axio Conference.
What I didn’t expect was to walk away understanding how to relate to my 22-year-old sister.
I’m older than Jessica and moved out of my parent’s house while she was still in elementary school. We’ve struggled to connect ever since. Yes, the age difference is a huge factor, but mostly, her generation is just different than mine.
I always knew what was expected of me and what my path was supposed to be. I knew I always wanted to be in the communications and public relations field. I didn’t know exactly what I would be doing, but I knew I would end up in this field.
I was ok with learning by writing papers and simply consuming information. Was I enthusiastic and inspired by lecture-only courses? No, but I didn’t fully question or complain either.
Jessica, on the other hand, is part of the me” generation. She has been inundated with technology her whole life – she texted before me, she joined Facebook years before I did and owned a digital camera and was uploading photos online while I was still getting my film developed.
A failure of the “me” generation, and why Jessica and I have trouble connecting, is that she lacks direction in her life. She’s lost. But most importantly, she does not want to be told what to do.
She does not want a lecture.
She wants to learn from those around her. She wants to be inspired. She wants to learn. She just doesn’t know how.
Wesch said, “One thing I’ve learned about students over the years, and what is common among them, is that their primary project is seeking meaning, regardless of what we think the project or agenda is.”
Instead of just lecturing for information consumption and regurgitation, Wesch believes that teachers and students should be “co-owners” in seeking knowledge and that they should strive to learn together.
During an informal survey of his students, Wesch said he found that only 29 percent felt that the required readings for their college course were relevant to their life.
“They grow up in a society where they have to find their life path because it is not laid out for them. Their meaning and significance are not given to them and there is no direct road to anything so they have to figure it all out.”
As a teacher, you should be helping your students by playing into their primary project, said Wesch.
If you are succeeding, then your students will ask amazing and thoughtful questions in an effort to expand their world. If not, then their questions might be like:
- How many points is this worth?
- How long does this paper need to be?
- What do we need to know for this test?
“Technology doesn’t change everything and can sometimes be a detriment. Learning environments need to be practice environments where students can gather around a subject with teachers as co-owners.”
To do this, Wesch said he:
- Engages real problems. “This can’t be something you don’t know the answer to, but something you can’t totally envision.”
- Join your students. “Get lost along with them and struggle to learn. When you do this, everyone can get inspired.”
- Harness relevant tools. “When you become so engaged in a real project and real problem, you will naturally gravitate to the tools and technology you need, not what you think you need or want.”
According to Wesch, “What’s missing for our students is that they have this assumption they become knowledgeable through only consuming information.”
The new world we live in, Wesch believes, is a world of doing. We must help our students become knowledge-ABLE, which he defines as the ability to find, analyze, sort, create new information, and even create wisdom.
“This knowledge-ability is more than just critical thinking,” he said. “It requires communication using multi-media environments, thoughtfulness through information gathering and making connections, and empathy, which is missing from most university environments.”
Making use of the correct media and technology is incredibly important, according to Wesch.
Possible media choices include popular technology like Facebook, video chatting, wikis, blogs, RSS, social bookmarking and more. But, it also includes face-to-face, group projects, and peer review and sharing. For example, instead of the entire class reading and writing article reviews individually, Wesch has them divvy up the articles, write reviews for their assigned article and then re-group and share what they learned.
Jessica is now at her third college and is on the verge of dropping out. I question how many teachers she’s had like Wesch.
“I do get pushback from my freshman and sophomore classes,” said Wesch. “They think the key to doing well is scoring high on exam and they feel that they need a PowerPoint presentation to accomplish that. ‘Tell me what I need to know’ is their attitude.”
While Wesch points out that there is a place for lecturing and traditional teaching, or “modeling wisdom”, teachers could also humble themselves and say that they don’t know everything. Instead of always modeling wisdom, we should model how we learn.
To assess his students, because a grade is required, Wesch’s students complete multiple choice and essay exams worth 50 percent of their overall grade.
Since his class has more than 400 students, his students grade each other’s essays. First, Wesch writes three model essays – an A quality, a C quality, and an F quality essay. Every student essay is graded three times by other students. Additionally, the student must grade his or her own essay without knowing how their peers graded it. The final grade is based on whether the student graded his or her own essay accurately. If the student gave himself or herself an A but their peers scored the essay as an F, then the final grade will reflect this inaccuracy.
While I still don’t understand her desire to upload to Facebook all 200 photos from her vacation, I now understand that Jessica is seeking meaning in her life.
Instead of me telling her to just spend more time studying, I ask her to tell me what inspires her and what causes her to want to ask amazing questions.
For her birthday because she loves photography, I gave her a subscription to Popular Photography. I want her to be inspired and continue with her passion.
Even though I’m not her college professor, I will do my best to help play into her primary project, help her seek meaning in life, and hopefully help her to become knowledge-ABLE.
Watch Michael Wesch’s presentation, “From Knowledgable to Knowledge-able in a Digital World: What’s at stake” on the conference website: axioconference.org/followup