Thursday, February 5, 2009

5.*: It's an anthropological thing

Michael Welsch (University of Kansas) created the "The Machine is Us/ing Us", at one stage the number one video on YouTube. In this presentation to the US Library of Congress ("An anthropological introduction to YouTube") introduces the clip and its success - and discusses various anthropological aspects of Web 2.0. Most clips in YouTube are viewed less than 100 times; every now and again, though, as Welsch explains, a phenomenon occurs!

It is wonderful seeing the creativity and connectedness that Web 2.0 facilitates. But the link between education and entertainment is a tenuous one. Of course, Welsch himself provides a classic example of how the two can be linked in "The Machine is Us/ing Us". Educationally there are some great possibilities in the format Welsch used... imagine bring Plato's metaphor of the cave to life, drawing from The Matrix, intermixed with moments in history where the metaphor is illustrated and how it might challenge us today (looking at third world hunger; the plight of the poor in our own back yards; perhaps weaving together various political examples of groupthink to show just how contemporary Plato's illustration is). The challenge to educators is, how can we bring foundational concepts and metaphors to life?

Let me try to tease out my own impression of how Web 2.0 can benefit education. Firstly, Web 2.0 is primarily a wonderful anthropological phenomenon. It connects people. Education however is more purposeful; it aims to connect people with those ideas, concepts, transformational points of view, and perspectives that have changed the course of history and which undergird society (and critique it). Connecting people with people, as Web 2.0 does, naturally leads to the connection of ideas. But the flow of ideas through well-prepared tertiary education aims to draw people out of the cave. It aims to provide a meta-view of ideas. Connection with others is only as educational as it facilitates this. Education is about more than providing information; it is about stimulating reflection, which in turn leads to personal transformation. Good education leads you out of the cave. Anthropologically Web 2.0 is fascinating; educationally, it has potential. Secondly, Michael Welsch's clips in YouTube are excellent and useful educationally because he is an expert. He has worked hard to develop an out-of-cave perspective. The opportunity of Web 2.0 for education rests less on the general availability of participative user-generated content and connectedness, and more with its potential for course design within formal frameworks. Web 2.0 does not signal the end of formal education; rather, it provides the latter with further potential.

I am assuming a liberal arts perspective of tertiary education in this point of view. I wonder if a vocational perspective of education would come to different conclusions?

In any consideration of Web 2.0 in education we need to consider both the connectivity and the content it results in. Social connection in Web 2.0 is a truly fantastic anthropological phenomenon. It's educational benefit relies on the sort of thing Michael Welsch has illustrated; deep, informed, creative and thought-provoking presentations that help lead people out of the cave.

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