Founder / Creator / Producer
When my career is laid out in a neat little “about” section like this it would appear that I am an anthropologist with a passion for experimenting with different media forms to tell stories that capture and convey the remarkable diversity and richness of human lives. But from my perspective, my career is the result of what Tim Minchin calls “the passionate pursuit of short-term goals.” I never really knew where my life was taking me. I grew up in a small town in Nebraska which nurtured in me a passion to get out of small town Nebraska. But before I could actually leave I found myself falling in love with the town. What at first appeared to me as the typical petty dramas and gossip of a small town became a rich tapestry of complex lives unfolding as we all struggled to find our way. I left with tears in my eyes, intent on exploring that rich tapestry of complex lives unfolding in myriad different ways all over the world.
Eventually I discovered anthropology and started making trips to Papua New Guinea – the most different place I could imagine. While I was there, new media arrived in the form of – not computers, the internet, or mobile phones – but books (mostly census and law books). These books had some dramatic unintended effects on the culture. When I returned to the States we were having our own “media revolution” in the form of Web 2.0 / Social Media. I wondered if we might also experience some unintended effects. I wondered how the machine was us/ing us, and did some anthropological work in the just-then-emerging world of YouTube. Both videos went viral (accidentally) and I suddenly had an international platform for expressing my ideas about the things I cared about. And what I cared about most was teaching.
I had always wanted to be a teacher but in my first semester I immediately encountered a crisis: the crisis of significance – students just “getting by” and going for the grade, struggling and often failing to find meaning and significance in their education. I wrote about it, made a famous viral video about it, and started experimenting. I won the US Professor of the Year Award for it, and all of this kicked off a 9 year speaking tour that extends to this day. I continue to explore the possibilities and pitfalls of using digital technologies for teaching and how we can (and must) inspire a sense of wonder in students.
But even if I am considered a “go-to” expert in teaching, I still fail in a myriad number of little ways every day and sometimes in really big ways, and these failures continue to fuel my explorations. Most recently, I started trying to learn hard things again myself, like drawing
and handstands, to remind myself just how hard it is to really learn something new.
And I started sitting down with my students to hear their stories, which leads us here, to Life101.audio. This is where you get to hear some of those stories, and hear stories about my latest endeavor of becoming a student again. Meanwhile you can keep up with how this is changing my teaching by checking out my free, open, online course in Anthropology that I am co-creating with my colleague Ryan Klataske at anth101.com.
Finally, if you need a blah,blah,blah blurb that sounds more professional or exciting, you can read the following:
Dubbed “the prophet of an education revolution” by the Kansas City Star, Wesch is internationally recognized as a leader in teaching innovation. The New York Times listed him as one of 10 professors in the nation whose courses “mess with old models” and added that “they give students an experience that might change how they think, what they care about or even how they live their lives.” His videos have been viewed over 20 million times, translated in over 20 languages, and are frequently featured at international film festivals and major academic conferences worldwide. Wesch has won several major awards for his work, including the US Professor of the Year Award from the Carnegie Foundation, the Wired Magazine Rave Award, and he was named an Emerging Explorer by National Geographic.