teaching new media subjectivities

Michael Wesch offers a new article on Academic Commons "From Knowledgable to Knowledge-able: Learning in New Media Environments." Wesch writes not only of the now familiar social media applications that are changing the contexts in which we teach but also of the institutional limitations that hamper our efforts to respond as educators to the cognisphere in which we now live. He also discusses the challenges of assessment that I want to return to in a later post. Here though I want to investigate two other points Wesch makes.

First, he remarks on the "crisis of significance" facing education. That is, "the
fact that many students are now struggling to find meaning and
significance in their education." There are so many problems here that go far beyond the issues of social media, though as Wesch notes, technology seems to intensify this problem. When students see no value in their education, they turn to their devices for distraction. So here are some thoughts about this:

  • Is this a new crisis? Did students 20-30 years ago really think there was value in the lectures they attended? How about 50 years ago or a 100? I don't think we have any way of knowing the answer to this.
  • How much of this is part of a larger cultural disconnect between academia and the broader range of cultures from which students now arrive?
  • How do we address the serious cross-purposes of education vs. "job preparation" or whatever it is students think they want from college?

So I really see three issues there. First, there are some legitimate issues with educational practices in higher ed. Second, we need to address larger cultural attitudes toward education and intellectual life. Third, we need to do a better job of communicating to students what a college education is, how it works, and why it is valuable to them.

This leads to second point of Wesch's I want to speak to here. Wesch writes

like to think that we are not teaching subjects but subjectivities:
ways of approaching, understanding, and interacting with the world.
Subjectivities cannot be taught. They involve an introspective
intellectual throw-down in the minds of students. Learning a new
subjectivity is often painful because it almost always involves what
psychologist Thomas Szasz referred to as “an injury to one's
self-esteem.” You have to unlearn perspectives that may have
become central to your sense of self.

This is something that has long been on the minds of rhet/comp pedagogues, particularly those who come from a cultural studies, post-process approach, and Wesch's own objectives in relation to student subjectivities echoes those of cultural studies.

If one thinks of subjectivity as a kind of interface, as I have written elsewhere, then the articulation of new subjectivities relates to the potential to connect in new ways with cognitive-media networks. And yes, it is about changing people, changing students, but that's what education has always been about. Wesch describes this as an "intellectual throw-down." I think of the experimental, mutative potential of media networks acting in compositional processes.