By Melissa Bower, Fort Leavenworth LampApril 9, 2010
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (April 8, 2010) - Maj. Marcus Rinehart, a student in the 2010-02 Intermediate Level Education class at the Command and General Staff College, said he was almost forced onto Facebook when one of his superiors kept asking why he wasn't a fan of his unit's page yet.
Rinehart and other Army majors said they've had to catch up with the social media culture that developed while many of them were more concerned with winning the war on terrorism.
On April 5, ILE students heard from Dr. Michael Wesch, assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University. Wesch is researching how social media is affecting American culture. He has won several awards for his work, including a Wired magazine Rave Award, the John Culkin Award for Outstanding Praxis in Media Ecology and was named Emerging Explorer by National Geographic.
Wesch told CGSC students and faculty that the introduction of the Internet has caused massive changes in society.
"There is literally something in the air," Wesch said. "It's in the air right now, it's in the air everywhere you go around this fort, it's everywhere you go around the campus of Kansas State, and that is basically the visual artifacts of about two billion people on the planet who are connecting and leaving digital traces everywhere they go, and they're collectively building up all the knowledge resources that you find online."
Wesch's YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/mwesch, showcases social media experiments in his classroom. In one, students conducted a world simulation experiment in which they sent live updates from mobile phones using Jott and Twitter.
Wesch also conducts class using free social media sites. He said because students grew up in a culture connected by social media, they come to college having a vast network of knowledge at their fingertips. His said this method of teaching uses real problems that matter outside the classroom, making students feel engaged and important in the process and harnessing relevant tools online.
"When you start thinking about these students as, not as burdens upon the professor, or then these empty heads you have to fill, but instead you start respecting students, you start recognizing they all come to the table with some knowledge, some really interesting things start to happen," Wesch said.
Dr. Chris King, dean of academics at CGSC, said the Army is using some of the same ideas to educate Soldiers who grew up learning to communicate and learn through social media.
"For these majors down to these new recruits, the social media is the way they take in knowledge; they gather data very, very differently than somebody my age," he said. "And so the Army is examining how that is going to impact our schools and our approach to preparing all of our Soldiers. We have to change and adjust and empower these new systems that allow us to learn faster and better."
He said this week, students in his class used wikis to develop problem statements. With a limited amount of time, King said his students were able to develop statements as a group and come out with a stronger final product.
Maj. John Millay, also in the 2010-02 class, and his classmates agreed that service members should learn appropriate social media etiquette and operational security upon entering the military.
"We have to educate," Millay said. "You can't sit there with a Soldier every night and make sure they're not misusing it."
CGSC students also said it was interesting to watch foreign governments try to block sites, rather than use them.
"I think it would behoove us being on the cutting edge of this instead of catching up," said Maj. Jeremiah Pray.
Pray also said that operational security hasn't changed, but Soldiers need to realize that if they post pictures online, the risk is global rather than local.
"It's almost a culture of responsibility we have to build into the Army," he said.