Micheal Wesch is a rare professor who is a celebrity on YouTube. He’s made viral education videos that have amassed more than 10 million views. Wired magazine once awarded him as one of 22 “innovators, instigators and inventors” who are “changing the game” (alongside J.K. Rowling and Arnold Schwarzenegger). He even talks like a YouTuber, talking about increasing “watch time” (how long viewers stay tuned) and referring to his videos as “content.”
But Wesch is also an award-winning classroom teacher—in fact he won a national teacher of the year award a few years ago. Though he’s based at Kansas State University, where he is a professor of cultural anthropology, he’s increasingly kind of a professor-at-large on the internet. He co-created a free site, Anth101, Anthropology for Everyone, where anyone can follow along at home and try the online challenges he gives his students. One of them entails interviewing a stranger and sharing a picture or video of the encounter on social media.
So I was surprised to learn that Wesch doesn’t like to be on camera. Even after all his success with videos, he still has to psyche himself up to do it.
“I hate being on camera,” he says. “It’s really, really hard for me to get on camera, but I’ve become much more comfortable with it. And I think because I struggled with it so much, I thought it was important to make a video about how I struggled with it and some tips for how I overcame it. Because I know I’m not the only one who struggles.”
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These days, Wesch is sharing all kinds of tips for making educational videos in a YouTube series called Teaching Without Walls. He started the project before the pandemic, but he’s recently put out more episodes to help those who may be suddenly teaching online for the first time. As more instruction moves online, he says he’s found that video can be a key tool to make connections with students.
For this week’s episode, I connected with Wesch to hear about his vision of how to turn online educational videos into what he calls “adventure lectures.” And he shares some of his tips for bringing online teaching to life, which include using duct tape and recording himself reading assigned texts aloud, with running commentary.
Listen to this week’s episode on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts, or use the player below.