Wired Magazine calls him "the explainer." His classes are so popular students submit applications to enroll. Now Kansas State University's Michael Wesch adds another honor to a long list: He is the winner of the national professor of the year award for research and doctoral universities from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
Carnegie/CASE is honoring Wesch, a cultural anthropologist and media ecologist, today in Washington, D.C. He is the third K-State professor selected as a national winner in the research and doctoral university category. K-State is the only research/doctoral university in America, public or private, to have had three national winners, and the only Kansas school to have even one national winner.
K-State President Jon Wefald said, "We are very proud of Michael Wesch and delighted he has joined the elite group of national professors of the year for research/doctoral universities. He is earning well-deserved honors from many quarters for his outstanding ability to communicate effectively with students."
Previous K-State national winners are Chris Sorensen, 2007, and Dean Zollman, 1996. Both are university distinguished professors of physics. K-State also has had seven state professors of the year, the most of any Kansas school. K-State holds the top spot in Kansas for the Carnegie/CASE awards, and is in the top 10 nationally among all universities, public and private.
"We are grateful Mike Wesch, a K-State graduate himself, returned to teach here after completing his doctorate," said Duane Nellis, K-State provost and senior vice president. "His innovative thinking about new and more effective ways to engage students makes for an outstanding learning environment."
Wesch launched the Digital Ethnography Working Group, a team of undergraduates exploring human uses of digital technology. Coinciding with the launch of this group, Wesch created a short video, "Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us." Released on YouTube on Jan. 31, 2007, it quickly became the most popular video in the blogosphere. To date, it's been viewed more than 7 million times and has been translated into more than 10 languages.
Wesch has won several awards for his work with video, including a Wired Magazine Rave Award and the John Culkin Award for Outstanding Media Praxis from the Media Ecology Association. He is also a member of Britannica's Editorial Board of Advisors and regularly blogs on that site, http://www.britannica.com/blogs/author/mwesch
His work has been featured in the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education and numerous other national publications.
Wesch developed the World Simulation as the centerpiece of the Introduction to Cultural Anthropology course out of frustration with large lecture classes and his students being more concerned about memorizing what might be on the test instead of actually learning the subject matter.
"Students are asked to imagine the world in the classroom and create their own cultures to survive in their own unique environments," Wesch said. "This helps create an environment for meaningful and inspired learning, preparing us for a final simulation in which we take everything we have learned and try to actually simulate the processes and systems that create our world. The simulation is video-recorded and edited into a final 'world history' drawing explicit connections to events in real world history."
Recently featured in the U.S. State Department's "The Next New Thing," the World Simulation is a massive experiment in education that is now being considered for adoption by high schools and universities throughout the nation. It is online at: http://mediatedcultures.net/worldsim.htm
"Questions loom over every single aspect of the creation of this simulation, and because I do not know everything and the simulation attempts to simulate everything, I am in the wonderful but awkward position of not knowing exactly what I am doing but blissfully learning along the way. My job becomes less about teaching, and more about encouraging students to join me on the quest. The quest goes beyond the classroom, facilitated by a custom Web platform that fosters community and media literacy through the integration of a wiki, blogs, mobile phones and other applications."
Wesch graduated summa cum laude from the K-State anthropology program in 1997 and returned as a faculty member in 2004 after receiving his Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Virginia.
Photo: Michael Wesch interacts with students in his Introduction to Cultural Anthropology class. Wesch is the latest of three K-State professors who have been named a national winner in Carnegie/ CASE's national professor of the year for research/ doctoral universities.