“From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able”: A Critical Summary

by sjwortma

“We need to move our students from being knowledgeable – that is knowing a bunch of stuff, to knowledge-able – able to find, sort, analyze, criticize, and even create new knowledge.”(Wesch, YouTube)

Michael Wesch is an Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University. In his TED Talks speech “From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able”, he argues that there needs to be a paradigmatic shift in the goals that our educational system sets out to accomplish. He believes that the current system’s goal of teaching students to think critically is not sufficient, and has not been since the advent of “new media”. Wesch explores the way so called “new media” has changed the way we interact and communicate. He believes that students need to understand how to take advantage of and function within a world dominated by these new means of communication. 

In the age of television, the only people who were able to effectively communicate to the masses were newscasters and television personalities. It was conversation “controlled by the few and designed for the masses”(Wesch, YouTube). To have a voice, to be significant, you had to be on television. With the advent of new media, it is now possible for anyone to gain an audience and communicate easily with large groups of people. Blogging, tweeting and online forum discussion are means by which people communicate within this new media. 

As a professor, Wesch sees that his students are often engrossed in the world of new media, even during class. In a recent experiment Wesch found that his students “Facebook through class”, or bring their laptops to class, with no intention of working on class material. Wesch acknowledges that the world has changed. Thirty years ago, this new media had not yet been created. The way we communicated was completely different. However, our educational system remains the same. The goal of higher education is still to develop “knowledgeable” students, people capable of critical thinking, while Wesch believes the goal of higher education should be to go beyond critical thinking, to develop students who are prepared to harness the power of new media and be successful in this changed world. He sees that students need to be able to connect, organize, share, collect, collaborate and publish to effectively use new media. And although it is technologically easy to do this things, in reality it isn’t easy to do, and Wesch believes it is a discipline students should be trained in.

Wesch is right in saying that those who are capable of using new media effectively have an advantage in the world we currently live in. A simple example of how harnessing new media can be advantageous is that of the small business owner or entrepreneur. The ability to inexpensively and effectively advertise and spread word about a product or service could be the difference between a business becoming a success or failing. Furthermore, new media has been a driving factor in political change throughout the world. An example of this influence would be the use of Twitter to organize protests throughout the Middle East during the Arab Spring. Without this means of communicating on a mass level, the world’s political landscape would look very different. 

Wesch’s particular viewpoint on this subject is very likely influenced not only by his position as a professor, but also by his field, Cultural Anthropology. He studies humankind and the way that we interact culturally. The way that we communicate is paramount to what he does. While many people see a higher educational system that is functional, Wesch is likely to have a different idea of what an effective educational system is. Although I agree that with Wesch that we must learn to exist in a world dominated by new media, I also believe that there is still a place for traditional “knowledgable” education. 

Works Cited

1.Wesch, Michael. From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able.

          2010. Video. YouTube. 15 Sep 2013.