“A Vision of Students Today”: Digital Ethnography Video Strikes Again!

digitalethnog.jpgClearly professor Michael Wesch of Kansas State University is no ‘one hit wonder’ in the web celeb arena of impactful student media and YouTube hits.

The Wired Magazine Rave Awards already honored him once as “the explainer” for his fabulous Web 2.0 video which many teens used to enlighten parents everywhere. (I wrote about his 3 million hit sensation, “The Machine is Us/ing Us,” here)

Now, his media literate crew is at it again, opening worthy visual conversations that make you want to ‘forward to a friend’ in a flash. Granted, I still like the Web 2.0 one better, but this is one thought-provoking gent.

They’ve launched an entire YouTube Ethnographic Project and he’s become quite a renowned media ecologist (academic wonk translation: the study of media environs). From impressive world simulations, to quirky vlogger observations and behavioral footnotes, there’s no question his tracking of the youth media landscape is a vital snapshot of the digital era. In “A Vision of Students Today,” his talented team of student ethnographers have created another 4 minute viral video hit.

They turn the camera on the classroom to capture today’s (ir)relevance with irreverence, reflecting students experiences of institutional education in a media-based world. A digital anthropologist sharing life through the lens of youth, his projects (found at mediated cultures.net) are profound and duly noted.

Educators should really pay attention to what’s being said here, and adapt and evolve or end up like the faceless disembodied teacher’s voice on a Charlie Brown holiday special. (you remember that one right? Peppermint Patty and the ol’ “wah-wah-wah-wah-wah”)

I’m not saying adults need to turn into techno-media savvy integration pros, but like all respectful human interaction, we need to listen and hear…not just react and control.

Teachers that open up a youth dialogue of ‘what ifs’ are always the ones kids will scramble to connect with, firing up their synapses to take learning to a new level.

If you’re lucky, there’s a teacher like this in every childhood.

My daughter’s been fortunate enough to have a few of them. In fact, right now, her 7th grade social studies teacher (who has 5 kids of his own!) has become the Pied Piper of popularity among the tweens that normally roll their eyes at memorizing land masses.

He’s the hands-down ‘fave’ not because he’s über-geek chic, but because he SEES the power of entertainment and the pay-offs of making learning fun.

He’s added pop culture media into the mix with critical thinking skills and a dash of mnemonics, like singing “Istanbul, (Not Constantinople)” to his class. (she showed me the riff on YouTube, but he played it on guitar)

He also uses that catchy Disney Mulan tune, Let’s get down to business to fight the Huns” and peppers in all kinds of battles and crusades into historic context with geographic ditties…Product placement? No, smart use of a media moment for outreach and recall.

Again, not implying teachers should add ‘stand up performer’ to their day job credentials, but since it’s harder to compete for mindshare among media saturated youth, educators are being challenged to be creative and morph into the mix with relevance. (e.g. YALSA’s President Paula Brehm-Heeger expressed this in our Teen Read Week interview and readergirlz kicks it up a notch into an interactive author-chat community)

If we use innovation for education, the power of the media is at OUR service, instead of feeling impotent and drowning in mass overwhelm.

Manage the media, so it doesn’t manage you…a simple concept, in a complicated world.

Congratulations, Professor Wesch, for supporting your students in making the statements that need to be heard.

tsl-collegefair.jpgWhen college reps from Penn State, Vassar, Univ. of Kentucky and Oxford in England are holding their college fair “in-world” via Teen Second Life’s virtual grid this weekend, I can only say it’s time institutions wise up to new forms and formats and excite kids about their contribution to the planet.

Meanwhile, try not to have your avatar bump into the rep when you ask for your virtual financial aid package, eh?

What’s YOUR vision of students today?

Do you think educators need to make learning ‘fun?’

Have you had a teacher or project that has made school particularly relevant and rewarding?

Related Articles

Lance Strate’s Blog Time Passing (This Fordham University Professor‘s excellent media blog has a piece on Michael Wesch titled, “In the footsteps of Ted Carpenter” about Wesch’s “virtual snow” (resource site on Edmund Carpenter).

Shaping Youth: Web 2.0 Fun Forward, The Machine Is Us/ing Us!

The Center for Internet & Society/Stanford Law School

Michael Wesch, Assoc. Prof. of Cultural Anthropology, Kansas State Univ. (main page, with tons of links)

mediatedcultures.net in the news …



  1. My step daughter is a teacher teaching in high school. She feels teachers need more help..And there are serious issues regarding the lack of respect students have for teachers. Where you begin, when parents never consider that their kids may be wrong and always defer to the teacher as the problem..

    She spends a great deal of time, making sure she doesn’t break any rules while attempting to discipline kids who, are late, sleep in class, don’t care to complete homework? Doesn’t sound like an easy challenge to me..

    Dorothy from grammology
    call your grandma

  2. Nope, it’s not…the chaos in the classroom is hard to rein in once that respect line has been crossed; I see it when we do our counter-marketing sessions in various regions/pockets and grades…Seems like some of these kids are being ‘warehoused’ rather than taught, primarily because the teacher is having to struggle with behavioral issues as you’ve mentioned…lots of ’cause and effect’ with media’s depiction of same as well…

    When was the last time you saw a teen/tween sitcom that showed a functional classroom? A tidy bedroom? Respect shown to a teacher OR parent w/out a roll of the eyes and a backstab thereafter? The cues are embedded very, very deep into the ‘everyone’s world is like this’ psyche.

    (imho, that’s where content providers in the industry could helps w/some shifts in character-based depictions to flip the coolness cache into a more positive realm…without impacting the realism, if they did it right) won’t shift overnight tho…

  3. danah boyd at apophenia has a great paper called “Choose Your Own Ethnography…In Search For an (Un)mediated Life” here:

    The always erudite scholar has pithy insights as usual…

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