These are my notes from Michael Wesch‘s opening keynote at the 2013 Heartland eLearning Conference in Edmond, Oklahoma, on February 25, 2013. MY THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS ARE IN ALL CAPS. I recorded audio from this session and also recorded two video clips from Michael’s outstanding opening. Thanks to Mike for permission to share these! 🙂

Visualizing the Last 12,000 Years of Human Questions

Story of Seymour Papert and Questions About Sleeping Giraffes

Everyone agrees we are heading toward ubiquitous computing
– so it’s ridiculously easy now to connect, organize, collaborate, publish… with anyone around

We need to move people from ‘being knowledgeable” (knowing a lot of stuff) to being knowledge-able
– the more I talk about “knowledge-able” a lot of people come out of talks looking for techniques
– it’s more than that, however
– we have to give our students A SENSE OF WONDER]
– it is that sense of wonder that will turn on the knowledge machine
– the knowledge machine only works with questions
– if you don’t have questions burning in side of you… if you’re not a courageous learner, you end up with the world’s largest distraction device

computers in my large classes basically emerges as a distraction machine
– our studies show students complete only 46% of the assigned readings, and only find about 25% of those meaningful and useful in their livs
– that’s about a 74% failure rate

questions that burn in our soul: these are the key
– to becoming a deep learner rather than a surface learner

think about the importance of questions throughout history

Think agout your own experiences of DEEP learning
– you weren’t fascinated by having all the answers
– you were fascinated by the mystery, searching and grappling for answers on the edge of your experience

It’s great the word QUEST is right there inside questioning

Great scientists have this idea that getting “the answer” is just a piece of getting to the next stage in the process of learning and knowing

When you pose a question you are doing something amazing
– you are inviting connections
– you are inviting others
– one of the most amazing things we do as humans: Come to the edge of what we know, and ask someone else to join us

We argue a lot in anthropology about how we came down out from the trees
– it seems really dangerous
– it seems almost impossible we could do it
– if we could coordinate and cooperate we could do it

Questions are essential to becoming who we are today
– when we ask questions in ALL but about 60 of 6000 languages, we always raise our pitch when we ask questions
– this links to the ‘universal frequency code’
– raise pitch to express vulnerability

Look at the greetings of whales
– high pitched connection device, drawing others in

Alternative is the low pitched growl
– this is true for dogs
– low pitch says stay away
– high pitch is inviting, says come closer

Questions show we embrace our vulnerability
– inviting connections to others
– if questions do all these things, living with wonder is being ok with questions / living with questions
– that’s ultimately what we want to do to create really powerful learners

It is questions that drive us, that push us further than “we were before”
– finally kept taking smaller planes

In New Guinea the people have a collective way of laughing

“Participant Observation” is what I tried to do in New Guinea as an anthropologist
– anthropology
– it’s possible to really lose yourself
– for the first eight months I became deeply sad, my identity was something I thought was inside me that I reflected outward
– what I realized was that the people around us reflect back our identity and tell us who we are

I make a vow with my own students that I will NOT allow them to remain anonymous, I try to connect with each one, because their anonymity can become part of their own identities

Story of the capacity of empathy from locals
– we have to have connections with community ,to feel known
– this ties back into wonder
– empathy is the ability to imagine yourself intro someone else’s perspective

Empathy is on the decline, lots of college students reportedly have less em

Empathy thrives in New Guinea because they share everything: their lives, their deaths
– we share a sense of vulnerability, how we are all so fragile
– that shared sense leads to our connections

In our society, what we’ve done with tech is to take the easy way out, to create boxes around ourselves and disconnect
– since the early days, we’ve communicated faster
– shopped in bigger and bigger boxes, until we didn’t even know the people who we were shopping

Robert Putnam’s book: “Bowling Alone”
– statistical marker showing our society is on the decline

The number of people the average person can ask them to move has gone down steadily

“The Capsilar Revolution” (?)

Talking about growing up in the 1950s by Peter White, riding a bike, hitchhiking hundreds of miles
– importance to have that freedom to explore in the 1950s
– that’s gone now
– he was blind

Most parents don’t let their students wander around their neighborhood unsupervised at ALL

Peter White showed a level of public trust we just can’t imagine anymore

Now we explore about 11% of the area our parents explored
– now we have kids on leashes
– juxtaposed with a New Guenea friend’s child with a real knife

we spend a lot of time assessing risk
– fears are behind that
– leads to use closing down connections, numbing ourselves

“we are the most addicted, obese… society in history”
– “you cannot numb emotions selectively”

That brings us to THIS moment
– our media environment, which appeared in 2004 / 2005
– there was so much excitement
– people thought we could re-create the communities and community we’ve lost
– a lot of people started studying this

anthropologist at Columbia Univ, sent students into junior high schools
“In the midst of a fabulous array of historically unprecedented and utterly mind-boggling stimuli…whatever”
– Thomas de Zengotita

The Vicious Cycle of the Age of Whatever
– matter of fact we live in a world that offers infinite choice: what you will do and who will you do
– that imposes freedom but also responsibility

Now identity and recognition are NOT “given”
– most of our lives we spend our time searching for ourselves, our role in the world, who we are
– each time you make a choice it’s against a background of realizing you could make other choices
– leads a defense an celebration of the self
– fragmentation
– complexity
– loss of certainty, meaning and power
– leads to “whatever”

a big part of this is being overwhelmed
– that’s a big response: saying “whatever”

our teaching environments are very diverse
– are we doing anything to address these issues
– how are we setting students on a trajectory to address these issues, gain their sense of wonder

In my classes most students are just learning to comply / get along

VIDEO: A Vision of Students Today

In the past, to learn was to acquire information (now we know learning is more about having an intellectual throw-down with yourself
– information is scarce
– trust authority,
– etc.

We need to start changing those assumptions
– ultimately being courageous as a learner
– those are all

wonder will flourish where we feel safe and inspired to QUEST

Report “Academically Adrift”
– critical thinking is where it all starts in terms of deeper problem solving, creative thinking
– many of our students are not even getting to critical thinking

Most people just don’t know what they are doing yet

Video: Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling

Physics studies asking open ended questions
– without numbers, only 40% of students get answer right
– with numbers, 80% get the right answer
– students were learning how to take physics exams, NOT how to think about physics

We see this in the layouts of our schools

A lot of these deeper thinking activities require a great deal of PLAY

We don’t provide a space where we embrace our vulnerability
– we provide many high stakes exams that mean NOTHING in terms of long term value for students
– they all look like bubble sheets
– students see it as a game, so they “game it”
– lots of cramming
– might also cheat: we have these two knowledge machines colliding (the knowledge machine of the Internet, and the knowledge machine of the classroom)

Can find tens of thousands of how to cheat
reprinting coca cola bottle label with answers as ingredients

Carl Rodgers in 1960s: creating authentic learning environments where you can’t strategically get around the learning
– students have the freedom to engage very deeply
– that usually means engaging in their passions

story of passion-based learning, syllabi created by students
– assigning themselves books and readings

We produce documentaries in this class that do really well
– some get millions of views
– our goal was go to Sundance

teacherless collaborations post (great example of this kind of learning in my class)

We put a lot of good thoughts together today in class. It was one of the sweetest class periods I think I’ve ever been a part of. No teacher. Yet we were recording the time so that he could go over what we talked about. Imagine the endless amounts of ways that this could turn out……

….. crazy right? It was actually really sweet. We had the white boards covered with spider web diagrams, lists, and connections to the ideas we were all posing. It actually flowed together quite well. At least roughly so that we have a good kick off for what we’ll eventually get to.

I have a couple interviews lined up for the next week or so. Two friends of mine who have posed the idea that our majors teach us how to think. One being an English major the other an Engineer. The engineer being in his last semester and taking classes outside his major for once. I guess he’s having a rough time because he’s never had to “think this way” before.

We are always being shaped. Always learning. What is learning? I’m learning right now… processing. Learning how to communicate my thoughts. Typing speed increasing. Multi-tasking as I think and type my thoughts to King Tut, looking for the perfect song for my video. Ha! Its crazy how so much ties together. We are shaped by our experiences. Exactly the point of my ethnography in Religion in Culture. (If you’re interested in listening to the podcast, let me know and I’ll shoot you the link!) We’ll never be what our experiences keep us from becoming. Experience, inside or outside of schooling, will always keep moving us forward. Everything in the past is permanent.

I started looking for schools where people are encouraging this kind of “questing” at scale

CAPS in Overland Park, Kansas
– normal high school for half the day
– feels like Google headquarters or a startup, lots of energy
– students make really big plans

“Everyone is empowered as a learner” Parker Palmer – The Courage to Teach

Fundamental difference is: Have we helped cultivate a sense of WONDER
– do we give space for students to FAIL
– do we provide students a safe place to embrace their vulnerability?

students who embrace failure
– story student who created app for Orange Leaf

Collectively we co-create the world
– it’s less about celebrating yourself as it is about celebrating the connections we have with others

Ending with a visual of what wonder looks like: Video of Wellington, New Zealand where it never snows
– these people go into a state of wonder

Wonder is to be comfortable even when you are uncomfortable

Snow on Cuba Mall in Wellington (HD)

See article: Cuba Mall snow video takes on ‘life of its own’

wonder can also be seen as a CAPACITY, it’s not just a capacity
– we make the same mistake with LOVE as we do with WONDER
– you can get better at it, you can practice it, your life can become richer because of it

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One Response to Michael Wesch on Creating Learners which Question and Live in a World of Constant Wonder

  1. Darren D says:

    Thanks, Wes. You take amazing notes!

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