Reflections: Michael Wesch—A Cultural Anthropologist Looks at Digital Technology

Last night I was thrilled to have the opportunity to listen to an interview with Dr. Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University, through Elluminate thanks to the wonderful Steve Hargadon and The Future of Education network. As many of you know, the work of Dr. Wesch and Wendy Drexler has inspired the design of my Media 21 Capstone project I am piloting this fall with English teacher Susan Lester here at Creekview High School.

In last night’s interview that lasted slightly over an hour, Dr. Wesch provided an overview of the framework and thought process behind his teaching methods and way of framing learning.   In addition, Dr. Wesch provided a brief but fascinating overview of his work as an anthropologist and his interest in digital ethnography. To me, his teaching methods are  truly grounded in the theory of connectivism and represent a 21st century model of learning in which students collaborate, construct knowledge through social interaction, and are immersed in multiple literacies, not just traditional forms of literacy.

While I am still processing last night’s conversation and plan to listen to it again in the next week or so, these thoughts stand out to me; these are idea I will be trying to unpack during the summer.

  • Advice for those starting with the Wesch model: “Why am I doing this?” and “Why is this important”–always be able to answer these questions effectively.  (echoes of Dr. Bob Fecho, University of Georgia)
  • A discussion about the difference between assessment and evaluation, one in which I’m still mucking about.
  • Learning by doing is very important in this kind of learning environment.
  • The “Knock Your  Head Off Idea” concept
  • Teaching as a subversive activity
  • Creative thinking encompasses critical thinking if done right”
  • Focus on creating a strong relationship w/ students so they are willing to go with you” (in response to my question, “What advice would you have for those just starting out with this model of teaching and learning?”)
  • Must have purpose and a connection for great learning environment”

Dr. Wesch also recommended these two books to help frame this paradigm:

If you missed last night’s interview or just want to revisit the interview, the recordings and chat log are now available at http://www.futureofeducation.com/forum/topics/michael-wesch-a-cultural .  You can learn more about Dr. Wesch at his website, http://ksuanth.weebly.com/wesch.html, and his blog, http://mediatedcultures.net/ksudigg/; you can also follow him on Twitter. I also recommend you check out his YouTube Channel and course NetVibes page. Last but not least, another interview with Dr. Wesch is available at this link.

You may also want to check out this resources to learn more about how Dr. Wesch runs his class:

Although I use social media on a daily basis, I have to confess to still being a bit awe-struck at having the opportunity to actually connect in real time with someone who has influenced my thinking so deeply the last six months.  Last night was truly a rich opportunity to enhance my existing understandings that underpin my Media 21 project.  I want to thank Steve Hargadon for hosting last night’s show and Dr. Wesch for graciously sharing his time with over 200 participants who sat in on the live broadcast.

New Layers for the Media 21 Capstone Project

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Used with permission under a Creative Commons license from http://www.flickr.com/photos/fooey/441194594/sizes/m/

Here are some new possible layers/options I am thinking about adding to my Media 21 Capstone Project for 2009-10:

  • After reading Wendy Drexler’s blog post, “Crowd Re(Sourcing)”, I am thinking about introducing Zotero to our students.   I’m trying to figure out where, if at all, Zotero might fit into our class wiki, class Diigo account, and possibly a course delicious account.  I’m also wondering how it might complement NoodleTools.  I like the idea everything would be transparent in one place.  I would need to test to see if students would have rights to fully use it; right now, they do not have access to Firefox (sniff!).
  • New Twitter friendhttp://twitter.com/mrgunn also suggested I check out Mendeley as well.
  • Evernote is also an option still on the table.

Clearly, Mrs. Lester and I have some playing around to do and decision making to do in a few weeks.  If any of you have experience in using these with high school students, I welcome your feedback!

Two other new ideas:

  • I am thinking Susan and I should each blog the whole process of working through this unit to chronicle our ups, downs, challenges, and insights from our experiences.  They might be helpful to anyone else who decides to approach information literacy in this manner.
  • I would like for students to present their projects—not just the content, but to also share their insights as to how all the research tools and social media we’re going to be using worked or did not work for them.

What do you all think about these two additional layers?  Suggestions?  Other ideas?

Guest Blog Post: A Library Netflix Subscription Model

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I am honored today to feature a guest post from Twitter friend and librarian Tweep extraordinaire Brent Ferguson. Brent Ferguson, MLS, has been working in libraries for over 20 years. Sixteen of those years have been spent working at Elkhart Public Library where he is currently employed (http://www.myepl.org). Those sixteen years include working in Adult Services, Audio-visual, and Young Adult. After obtaining his Masters Degree in Library Science in 1998, he has worked as a Reference Librarian and Webmaster. He has also been involved in doing technology training in many diverse software packages and Internet based resources. In his free time he is a musician, book loving father, and an avid open source hacker. Mountain Dew, Sweet Tarts, and Squirrels are a plus.

A Library Netflix Subscription Model

It was a gorgeous mid-afternoon Spring Day.  Coming up for air from an afternoon of writing code, I peaked at Twitter.com to see what was happening.

Someone was wondering why Libraries couldn’t adopt a Neftflix subscription model for library materials so that there would not be any overdue fines.  Bookswim.com does have a book rental service for $9.95 a month, but I am unaware of how popular the service is.

My first initial thought was in the format of an equation.  Subscription Fee + Diverse Economic Demographics – Library Fines = Uneven Service Model.  The patrons who have the economic means to purchase a   subscription would not pay fines while others would still be strapped with fines.  In the current equation model, the implementation of a subscription service model is unattainable.

I began to question the above hard line position, when I realized that libraries do charge per-page fees for copies, and some libraries charge for music and movie rentals.  The equation scenario lead me to question why do Libraries have fines in the first place.  Without doing any serious research two scenarios came to mind.  There has to be a penalty or boundary set up so materials are returned in a timely manner and so that materials are treated with care so that they are returned in good condition.

The utopian idea entered my mind of why even have fines at all?  In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point” the perception of objects and how they are treated is discussed.  The example of a dark dingy New York Subway is used.  The subway stations were treated with disrespect, and turnstiles were circumvented by simply jumping over them without fear of penalty.  New York City began cracking down on turnstile jumpers, and hung art prints in the subway stations.  It wasn’t long before the stations were treated with greater respect.  It is naïve to imply that patrons will stop returning materials late, or not at all, if the perceived value of the Library is raised within the community.  It is not uncommon that whenever boundaries are set up within a society that there will be certain elements within the society that will try to push or circumvent those boundaries.

There have been some attempts by commercial companies to not have late fees.  Blockbuster Video in 2005 had an advertising campaign where they promised there would be no late fees. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A11433-2005Mar29.html)    Looking at the fine print, it turned out that if you did not return the item within 7 days, you were charged for the item.

David Lee King, in multiple blog posts in 2006, proposed a Netflix based library subscription model.  He saw elements of the Netflix model already being used within the library that he was employed.  The library used the postal service heavily for alerting patrons for a myriad of different reasons.  He noted that in a certain aspect, his library was already utilizing a piece of the Netflix subscription model pie.

So how might a Library Subscription Model Work

  • The subscription fee would be used to cover mailing fees and offset the cost of replacing items never returned.
  • There would be a maximum due date, in which they would be charged for the item. Traditional overdue notices could be used if abuses occur.
  • New items would not be sent out until old items were returned.
  • Not all materials would be suitable for a Netflix like model, for example oversized hardback books.
  • Paperbacks, CD’s, DVD’s, Children’s Materials would be optimal sized candidates for mailing purposes.
  • An inventory of current staffing usage would have to be looked at to accommodate the subscription model.

It is easy to see that the subscription model goes well beyond the traditional model of how most libraries are operating.  Many libraries are facing budgets cuts;  a subscription model could be used as a long term solution instead of an annual fund raising event.  Is this a revolutionary idea or just an interesting proposal? Remember, the conductor must turn his back to the audience to direct.

How Social Media Helped Me Remix My Collection Shelving

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This is a blog post I should have written in late March, but it somehow fell through the blogospheric cracks as I got caught up in spring conference presentations, working with students in the library, finishing my Media 21 Capstone proposal, planning activities for National Poetry Month, and tackling other assorted projects.

Since last fall, I had been thinking about rearranging my collection.  After living in this space for three years, I had gained a better sense of traffic patterns and usage trends in the library.   I started to wonder if moving fiction to the other side of the library where I was housing reference books would be a better use of space since students enjoyed sitting at tables during morning, lunch, and afternoon hours.

After seeing a window of opportunity to make the move during the week of graduation testing, I Tweeted my plans for feedback.  Fellow librarians and Twitter friends Elisabeth Abarbanel ,  Laura Pearle, Amanda Clay Powers, and Elease Franchini quickly provided some thoughtful questions to ponder before committing to the move.  Both asked me had I considered intershelving nonfiction and reference rather than continuing to keep them separate.  Through Twitter and Facebook, they patiently answered my questions about the pros and cons of intershelving the two, and after some productive conversations, I decided to go for it!  Thanks to these friends pushing my thinking, I realized that I could provide easier access to the materials and in the process, eliminate the need for the current fiction shelving that I had, thus opening up additional space for lounge seating and tables.  Without these friends, I might not have envisioned such wonderful possibilities.  I feel sure there were a few other Twitter friends who also provided helpful feedback, and I apologize that I can now not remember the additional voices that were so gracious and informative!

The first step was to get the books moved in a timely manner as I only had about five school days to get everything moved.  Fiction was very easy to move, but it was somewhat time-consuming to move and intershelve the reference books with nonfiction because so much shifting of books was involved.  However, it was worth every drop of sweat and backache!  Now the books are all in Dewey order, and the students no longer have to look in two sections for those materials.  In addition, the move of fiction to the old reference area allowed me to be creative with the shelving and display the books more creatively in stacks and with the covers up.  Students immediately praised the new fiction shelving, commenting how much easier it was to see what we really had!  I saw an increase in the circulation of fiction books, especially those that were on special display.  It is really too soon to say just yet if the intershelving of nonfiction and reference will have a positive impact other than the fact we now have a wonderful open area for additional lounge seating and study areas, but the students have not seemed to have problems finding the materials the last six weeks.

After getting approval from my principal to repurpose the 5 shelves in the building (they ranged 16 to 27 feet in length), I sought teachers who might need the shelves for extra storage.  I was happily able to find teachers who needed the shelving to organize and properly store materials for their programs; thanks to the help of head custodian David Loggins and his amazing crew, the shelves were moved out during our Spring Break (no small feat, let me tell you!) and get them to the classrooms.

The whole project has been a win-win for everyone involved!  The positive feedback from students about the new fiction area as well as positive comments about the library feeling more open without rows of imposing shelves taking up so much floor space have affirmed my decisions!  I am working on donations and some possible grants for additional furniture, so stay tuned for updates on that front.

What I really appreciate about this whole experience is the honest feedback, support, and encouragement I received from my peers in my personal learning network!  I would like to thank everyone who sent words of good cheer during the move via Facebook or Twitter!  A special thanks to Laura, Elisabeth, Amanda, and Elease for helping me to think outside the box and make choices that ultimately have been best for my students.

You can see larger before and after photos in this Flickr photoset!