Presentation: The Crisis of Significance


I recently returned from the Educause Learning Initiatives conference in San Antonio where I gave a talk I called, “The Crisis of Significance.” I began by recounting the simple 2 question survey I gave my students 2 weeks ago:

Q: How many of you do not actually like school?

A: Over half raise their hands.

Q: How many of you do not like learning?

A: No hands.

I use this and other examples (several from “A Vision of Students Today“) to suggest that:

The most significant problem in education today is the problem of significance itself. Our students, our most important critics, are struggling to find meaning and significance in their education.

I then proposed that part of the problem has to do with a growing cultural gap between students and teachers, partially driven by new media. At the end, I offered a 3 part solution to the problem, using our World Simulation project as an example. The response was tremendous. One person commented that listening to the talk was “like being shot out of a cannon.” It was fun. And I’m looking forward to revising it and taking some of the insights I am getting through this process and applying them back into my teaching.

You can watch the full presentation at Educause Connect.


Associate professor of cultural anthropology. Ed Traceur. Hacker. Car-free.

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19 Responses

  1. carson daly says:

    really interesting in watching this presentation, but when i go to the site and download the firefox plugin i can see the presentation but there is no sound. checked the usual mute/volume etc. is there any sound with the presentation?

  2. Prof Wesch says:

    Yes, there should be sound. It works on my computer here (also using the Firefox plugin). Firefox always seems to have issues with WMP. Maybe it will work in IE?

  3. Hans says:

    Why not release this presentation on YouTube? Did Educause just opt for their own system or is there other content in the presentation?

    Looks very interesting, as usual!

  4. roke says:

    Maybe it could be used the slideshare platform (I do)

  5. Scott Elias says:

    Ugh! I really want to watch this! Downloaded and installed the Flip4Mac plug-in for Leopard and it doesn’t work. Tried it in Windows under IE and also Firefox and it doesn’t work.

    Even in IE under Windows it still comes up and asks me to download the Firefox plug-in (makes sense… since I’m running IE and not Firefox, but that’s why I’m not a Windows fan…).

  6. Scott Elias says:

    UPDATE – I got it working. I had to go straight to EduCause and search for the video. Running it in IE on Windows it’s working fine, BUT it looks like the link provided is NOT a “generic” link, but rather to a link that’s specific to Firefox (looks like it redirects you depending on your browser).

  7. John O'Keefe says:

    Looks interesting. Too bad Educause has such a convoluted Mac solution – i.e. it does not work. That’s an odd decision given the number of Mac on campuses around the country. They can be that out of touch? Would you consider posting a mac friendly version.

  8. Justin says:

    I might find this more significant if it worked on my computer.

    Ok, Sorry for the low blow, but judging from the text alone, this is a very valid point. I think I am lucky as an undergrad in that my classes are small and have quite a bit of discussion, yet they still lack a level of significance to me and my classmates. I guess what I would like to see in a class is something that critically engages students as educators of themselves. This isn’t even about pushing students towards a curriculum, or having them do some of their own work, or pick their own readings, this is more along the lines of the students are the curriculum. Who is this (or any) discipline going to consist of in 10 years? Should students be a product of the status quo or should they define their own roles? I see the ideal role of a professor as a resource not so much an educator. Someone who can be there to say, “thats a very interesting thought, and I wonder how that would have affected this guy or that gal in theory/history of the discipline,” or “so and so looked at a very similar problem way back when.”

    Meh, I’m probably just naive and sleep deprived, but wouldn’t that be cool?

  9. Eric says:

    Perhaps someone has thought/posted of this idea before. I read the detailed description of the world simulation game, and it seems like the simulation is destined for the same end (world chaos or destruction)everytime. After briefly thinking about it, I concluded that at least 2 things happen in the game that perhaps predestine the game. First, when a “people” go to war with another group and win the winner gets the “hard power” used by the opponent. This does not seem to model real warfare. Quite frequently warfare leaves both groups crippled and even mortally crippled. They may be evenly or unevenly crippled. Very seldom does the winner gain the losers “hard power” in fact the winner could be worse off than the looser. Second, Also from the description it seems like colonization is assumed to be inheriantly evil and unsustainable. This seems to put a 20th century bias into the game and minimizes historically successful integration and even assimilation of people types. I point to the Greeks, Romans, Chinese and perhaps others who have had large empires and succesfully integrated people groups into themselves after conquering, colonizing etc. There may even be smaller examples of people groups sucessfully occuping another and integrating/assimulating the occupied. This may even change the occupier’s culture.

    Well that is all.
    The simulation is really a great idea. Keep up the enthusiastic approach to teaching.

  10. Tess Esposito says:

    I am amazed at what ingrates students are. The lack of critical thinking in this video is startling. At the same time, students recognize how lucky they are in comparison to the rest of the world, they show little or no gratitude for what they have. The advancements in technology, without hard work and study, are of little value to anyone. These students should show their gratitude to their parents, and their country, by studying five or six hours a day so that they are either prepared to compete in the global economy or have the background to make informed decision about solving problems in our world. What a bunch of whiners who complain they have little time, but waste most of it playing with technology rather than using it to educate themselves. Of course, it is so much easier to complain than examine the past and realize the world has also been filled with problems, and there are very few people willing to work to solve them. It is so much easier to be critical than to be hard-working. The lack of balance in most univerisities will not resolve the world’s problems because of the limited thinking of so many students and their professors. What a sorry state of affairs for our educational system!

  11. Patricia says:

    Hi ! I really want to watch that video but it does’nt work and with the comments of others I see that I’m not alone in that case. Anyone can explain to me what to do ?

    I’m not so good with computer and with english so please make it simple if you can :)

    Thank you

    Email me if you have a solution :

  12. S Mann says:

    I think your, “A Vision of Students Today” portrays – to a large extent – the hearts and minds of high school students as well. Not that this is bad, my take is we can use what your video has identified and begin reforming K-12 education policies and practices to better engage students.

    “Quality K-12 Education: Taking The Next Steps” is a Facebook group I have begun to move the discussion forward at a grassroots level. We teachers hold the key to this reform and given enough time I think we’ll exceed in our efforts.

    “Quality K-12 Education: Taking the Next Steps”

  13. Thenbelow says:

    Pension On,while like ship late since relation body politics several relationship pressure writer complete how pub hence treat turn turn minister why party lunch name determine cat network hell dangerous negotiation cover deep suppose space miss lord pay option horse indeed institution much question route security soil engine before consider university end distinction news arm advantage peace art launch character present morning there man winter tiny incident flow beneath memory today play advance relationship jump religious seriously order both play source accompany repeat upper effective winter afternoon reasonable

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