Perpetual Motion

reflections on being a student in the 21st century:


“Perpetual Motion” by destinazione_altrove (feat. Donnie Ozone) via

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“A Vision of Students Today”

is the title to this video by Dr. Michael Wesch and the students of Introduction to Cultural Anthropology,  Class of Spring 2007 at Kansas State University:

which presents a question about how to effectively employ web technology in the classroom.

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Maybe Nicholas Carr is part of the problem

On September 25, 2008, Nicholas Carr appeared on the Colbert Report to promote his new book.  In the interview, he speaks of an evolution of the Internet into a “worldwide computer,” and talks about the increase of people using the Internet as an online storage space instead of their individual computer.  Carr says that the Internet and Google are useful, but he also sees a problem due to how much the Internet is used.  Carr’s concern is that people are starting to think like the Internet. That we are ‘starting to act like the tools we use,’ and “think like a computer,” “jumping from piece of information to piece of information.”

Carr thinks that we are losing the ability to think deeply because of the Internet.  I find this laughable.

Carr believes that the Internet has caused people to lose the ability to stay focused on one thing, that we are losing our ability to concentrate, reflect, and contemplate.  He is concerned we are losing our ability to “slow down and think.” Carr suggests that “we’ve become so connected to everything, that we are actually disconnected from any one thing.”  He says he has noticed that when he reads a paper book, “something that used to come naturally,” he finds that his mind ‘starts to wander’ and wants to do what it does when he is online.

The Internet does allow us to quickly jump quickly between sources of information.  But this is not the same thing as the “superficial relationship with information” that Carr is afraid of.  The Internet permits the exact opposite of a “superficial relationship,” because it allows an individual to look beyond any one source of information, and produce their own connections between the material they find.  The investigation of related information is a form of deeper thinking.  It can be the contemplation of one subject, at a far deeper level.

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Why the Internet will help protect voting rights

The Internet allows people to not only identify “mistakenly published information,” but to also rapidly tell other people about such “mistakes.”  The monopoly on information is over – any agency that attempts to misinform students people about their voting rights can be publicly exposed, and the damage inflicted by their “mistake” can be corrected by the rapid distribution of accurate information.

According to McClatchy on September 24, 2008, there have been several recent reports about college students being provided with “incorrect information” about their voting rights:

Balink issued a statement saying his office had misinterpreted state law and “mistakenly published information that was incorrect.”

Balink’s actions are the latest of several instances in which local election officials, including some in Virginia and South Carolina, have discouraged college students from voting in a year in which legions of students have thrown their energy behind Obama.

… Greenbaum noted that Virginia’s elections board recently revised language on its Internet site that discouraged students from registering after reports of a similar episode at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Va.

The New York Times reported Sept. 8 that a local registrar had issued two releases that incorrectly suggested dire consequences for the university’s students who registered to vote there, including the possibility they no longer could be claimed as dependents on their parents’ tax returns.

My first reaction to this news was a thought about how online networks of students can counteract these kinds of “mistakes.”  For example, this is the link to the New Voters Project that is mentioned in the McClatchy article.  This organization  is active on Facebook and MySpace, and has collected information about voting rights, links to state election offices, as well as a list of related links.

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Virtual Unknowns: Poverty, Culture and Class on the Internet

When I read this in Adult Learning: An Overview by Stephen Brookfield (1995):

After criticisms that the emphasis on self-directed learning as an adult characteristic was being uncritically advanced, that studies were conducted mostly with middle class subjects, that issues [concerning] the quality of self-directed learning projects were being ignored and that it was treated as disconnected from wider social and political forces, there have been some attempts to inject a more critical tone into work in this area.

it reminded me of a Bridges out of Poverty training I once attended and how there has seemed to be something missing in the theories of adult learning that I have explored so far. Despite the attention to tailoring the learning experience to a learner’s roles and experiences, there may be an assumption in the background that fails to factor in the complexity that poverty adds to needs of adult learners.

I raise this as a point to consider because the Bridges out of Poverty training identified profound differences in how various populations process information, communicate and make decisions. As the summary of a related book by Dr. Ruby K. Payne points out, these differences tend to be “virtually unknown” to people with middle class or wealthy backgrounds, which does make me wonder about how the impacts of class divisions and poverty have been considered by adult learning theorists.

The Internet seems capable of making class divisions more profound and acute. There is already a sharp divide between those who have access to the internet and those who do not. As the field of online education develops, it seems important to acknowledge the class-based differences of learners in order to reduce the risk of replicating and strengthening class divisions that can exclude populations from the educational opportunity of the internet.

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What is the Internet?

According to the Pew Research Center in 2002, the Internet is a textbook, reference library, tutor, study shortcut, study group, guidance counselor, locker, backpack and notebook.

The students employ five different metaphors to explain how they use the Internet for school: The Internet as virtual textbook and reference library, as virtual tutor and study shortcut, as virtual study group, as virtual guidance counselor, and the Internet as virtual locker, backpack, and notebook.

In the videos “The Machine is Us/ing us” and “Information R/evolution” as well as “A Vision of Students Today,” Dr. Michael Wesch from Kansas State University describes the Internet as a revolution in how we think about education, communication, participation, community, identity and culture.

On June 23, 2008, Dr. Wesch presented “An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube” at the Library of Congress. The video is close to an hour long, and it discusses several dimensions of society that are transforming with the Internet.

In the video, Dr. Wesch refers to the book Bowling Alone (about the collapse and revival of the American community) and begins his presentation by talking about Kevin Kelly, (who is currently writing a book online about the developing internet).

I went online to find the August, 2005 article “We Are the Web” by Kevin Kelly, which briefly appears in “The Machine is Us/ing us” video by Dr. Wesch. I found several points that illustrate compelling ideas about the nature of the Internet.

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