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Kansas State University

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Lessons in Web-slinging

Michael Wesch teaches teachers to turn YouTube into curriculum


Michael WeschMichael Wesch finds himself on YouTube even when he isn't planning to do so.

Wesch, assistant professor of cultural anthropology, has gained international acclaim for his insightful videos on YouTube, starting with "The Machine is Us/ing Us" in January 2007.

He has studied international cultures as well. For a total of 18 months from 1999-2003, he lived in the Mountain Ok region of Papua, New Guinea. He likes to share these experiences to give his students at K-State an expanded world view.

One day in class, Wesch was discussing the culture and dress of the people of New Guinea. While demonstrating a native dance, he looked up and saw a student pointing a camera phone at him.

"I knew where that was going," Wesch said.

That he laughed and took it all in stride may explain part of his immense popularity with students. That he uses short video clips – two minutes or less – to capture interest and begin dialogues in class may be another.

His research interests revolve around digital ethnography, a specialty that covers how the world uses the Internet. He is a cultural anthropologist and media ecologist who explores the effects of new media on human interaction.

Recently, Wesch presented "YouTube in/on/of/for the Classroom," the first session of the spring 2008 series of the Instructional Design and Technology Roundtable Series on campus. About 75 people attended.

One of Wesch's goals for the presentation was to show other professors how to find, download and manipulate online videos to enhance classroom learning and stimulate discussion.

The presentation is available online at

Wesch's name is a household word in the computer world. His most recent recognition was being selected for the Encyclopaedia Britannica's editorial board of advisers.

Britannica's comment on the selection: "Michael Wesch came to our attention by way of a mesmerizing video entitled ‘The Machine is Us/ing Us' that circulated widely on the Internet last year. It was produced by Michael and his students in the Digital Ethnography Working Group at Kansas State University, and it is but one gem of many in that growing trove of new-media scholarship. Working in collaboration with his tech-savvy undergraduates, Michael explores the effects of new media on social life, using those very media as his tools. We were taken with his creative approach to postmodern ethnology; we also figured that anyone who'd won an award for ‘praxis' was someone we wanted to know."

Released on YouTube on Jan. 31 2007, "The Machine is Us/ing Us" quickly became the most popular video in the blogosphere and has now been viewed over 5 million times. 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. Along with other explorations of mediated culture, the Digital Ethnography working group is now studying video-blogging on YouTube, a project that was featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education.