Introducing Edupunk

Introducing Edupunk

Jim Groom recently coined the term "edupunk" to refer to a scrappy, DIY spirit in some sectors of educational technology. Edupunk, he writes, is opposed to capitalist co-optation of the labor of educators and progressive educational technologists. He highlights "a scary reality that often gets overlooked (or is it intentionally downplayed?) in educational technology,"

namely that the Utopian, blue sky ideas of technology as a singular harbinger of possibility and liberation ignores the cold and all-consuming role that capital plays in the shaping of technology as means of control. Now I understand that this struggle is by no means unilateral, and that for every instance of technology as a means to consolidate power for capital, there is another instance in which that same technology can be used to undermine the fallacious logic of capital’s vision of progress.

[...] How do I understand the work I am doing in the field of EdTech when in comes to the intersection of progress, power, and the voracious appetite of capital to co-opt and re-package the labor of others as its own, patented, insanely expensive, proprietary product?

He elaborates by using BlackBoard as an example of capitalist predation gone awry:

BlackBoard makes an inferior product and charges a ton for it, but if we reduce the conversation to technology, and not really think hard about technology as an instantiation of capital’s will to power, than anything resembling an EdTech movement towards a vision of liberation and relevance is lost. For within those ideas is not a technology, but a group of people, who argue, disagree, and bicker, but also believe that education is fundamentally about the exchange of ideas and possibilities of thinking the world anew again and again, it is not about a corporate mandate to compete—however inanely or nefariously—for market share and/or power. I don’t believe in technology, I believe in people. And that’s why I don’t think our struggle is over the future of technology, it is over the struggle for the future of our culture that is assailed from all corners by the vultures of capital. Corporations are selling us back our ideas, innovations, and visions for an exorbitant price. I want them all back, and I want them now!

Enter stage left: EDUPUNK!

Jim also highlights a couple of Wikipedia projects he considers edupunk.

Mike Caulfield explains why the concept works for him, and points out one liability:

“Edupunk” gets us there — with its implication of technical accessibility, a DIY ethic, quick and dirty over grand design, and a suspicion of corporate appropriation it hits a lot of the right notes.

The wrong notes it hits are mainly historical — because of course punk had surprisingly little social impact — and it’s worth remembering the same attitudes that kept it pure relegated it to being a tribal phenomenon rather than a broad cultural movement. Punk culture valued its exile from the mainstream. We want to change the world.

D'Arcy Norman shares his view of edupunk:

The key to edupunk is that it is not about technology.

It’s about a culture, a way of thinking, a philosophy. It’s about DIY. Lego is edupunk. Chalk is edupunk. A bunch of kids exploring a junkyard is edupunk. A kid dismantling a CD player to see what makes it tick is edupunk.

D'Arcy also draws our attention to a post at injenuity in which Jen talks about the ideal classroom. She doesn't mention the term "edupunk," but D'Arcy rightly calls her vision edupunk. Jen writes,

Yes, kids need to learn science, math, reading, the arts, etc., but why break them down? They aren’t broken down in real life. Why can’t they all be incorporated? If you had a room full of junk, every single discipline would apply at the same time. Maybe some kids would make musical instruments. Others would make robots. Some would make a business plan and marketing strategy.

Artichoke is also already thinking along edupunk lines, also without using the word:

This thinking is so entrenched that I am grateful for Cuban in helping me tease out and clarify that when we adopt the business rhetoric of “efficiency and effectiveness” and “productivity” in education, when we describe students as “human capital”.... we adopt a mindset that believes that.... personal advancement comes from individual merit and hard work in school.... we start to believe that schools are a solution to inequality in society.

As a direct consequence of this thinking our educational policies start focusing on removing barriers and enabling access to opportunity in the education system framing this education as the solution to producing the future workers and citizens for the 21st Century.

In short, edupunk is student-centered, resourceful, teacher- or community-created rather than corporate-sourced, and underwritten by a progressive political stance. Barbara Ganley's philosophy of teaching and digital expression is an elegant manifestation of edupunk. Nina Simon, with her imaginative ways of applying web 2.0 philosophies to museum exhibit design, offers both low- and high-tech edupunk visions.

Edupunk, it seems, takes old-school Progressive educational tactics--hands-on learning that starts with the learner's interests--and makes them relevant to today's digital age, sometimes by forgoing digital technologies entirely.

But whither this nascent movement? I wonder how its rhetoric might influence faculty (in K-12 and higher ed) to adapt, adopt--or not adopt--particular technologies. Do faculty like to be seen as edgy? Or will they be drawn to new DIY experiments, and inspired to reject slick, corporate ed tech solutions, by edupunk's insistence on progressive interventions?

What are your thoughts? Do you know anyone who's a practicing edupunk?

Leslie Madsen-Brooks helps university faculty improve their teaching. She blogs at The Clutter Museum, Museum Blogging, and The Multicultural Toy Box.

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