I don't know if this is just a tempest in a teapot or we are seeing the next stage in the evolution of learning from the old industrial model to a new individualized approach. Over the past six days a figurative firefight has broken out over the concept of Edupunks. It seems to be an outgrowth of the uproar around an advertising pitch by BlackBoard surrounding its new academic suite. The promotion on its website reads:
Engage. Interact. Collaborate.
Release 8.0 is the complete engagement solution with smart grading capabilities that will delight faculty; tools that promote critical thinking skills and increase student engagement; and a single content management solution that enables users with diverse needs to collaborate across the institution. Learn more about the benefits and find out what it can do for you.
This announcement seemed to be a call to arms for education bloggers on the overall topic of whom should be controlling the means of learning and discussion. It appears that Brian Lamb Jim Groom of BavaTuesdays started the ball rolling back on May 25th when he argued that BlackBoard was turning learning from a community effort to a technology effort. My take is that the Edupunks endorse the concept that Web 2.0 tools are just that tools used to facilitate individuals' ability to learn from one another. Stephen Downes offers this definition of Edupunk (prefaced with the proviso that "true edupunks deride definitions as tools of oppression used by defenders of order and conformity.").
[E]dupunk is student-centered, resourceful, teacher- or community-created rather than corporate-sourced, and underwritten by a progressive political stance.
Stephen has done great work on collecting the disparate threads of conversation around this concept. You can read his posts starting here, and then here, and the latest here. All are chock full of links to follow. Chronicle of Higher Education provided a brief cover of the piece as well.
Whether the Edupunk attitude carries on or not it does focus a spotlight on the future of Web 2.0 tools especially as formal organizations such as educational institutions and corporations look into using these tools. As David Warlick puts it in his blog post What's this about Edupunk?:
I do not have any real objection to corporate embrace of these tools. We’re all trying to make a living.
What worries me, though, is school officials hearing the buzz, and thinking that they can buy their way into the crowd, rather than learning their way in.
Replace "school officials" with "corporate officials" and Dave's line still rings true. I have to say that I think I have at least one foot in the camp of the Edupunks. The key to learning is not to use new tools to deliver the same top-down approach. As our society is opened up to alternative sources of information they are naturally becoming critical thinkers. The main stream news media are financially hurting because the public no longer has to rely on the single newspaper in their community or the three local television affiliates to provide them with news. The Internet has removed them from the isolation and dependence on these outlets to provide them with information.
Likewise, learners, especially those who have graduated out of organized schooling and have entered the workforce, no longer have to rely on organized training sessions to learn about their job responsibilities and how to perform those responsibilities. Professional organizations looking to use Web 2.0 tools to enhance learning need to step back and be willing to relieve control to the learners. Provide them with the resources (videos, podcasts, computer-based learning, monthly seminars, and the tools to create their own content) and let them construct their own learning at their own pace and let them talk about it.
I am not here to out punk anyone or defend terms I had no hand in creating. I am also not here to cheerlead a group of people who could articulate their ideas much better than myself. This post is already one of many, probably too many, posts trying to attach meaning to a label. The creators of the term are probably sitting back and laughing at the direction their idea has taken. Some students are already angry that adults without their input are once again hijacking their movement.
A commenter notes "I agree that the edupunk is just other stuff rebranded. what is more interesting is the notion of open source and cooperative approaches." They're both probably right, yet as William Shakespeare said, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet." If you don't like the term "edupunk" than don't use it and look at the arguments within.
FURTHER UPDATE: Hat tip to Serena for correcting me on who blogs at babatuesdays. Jim Groom runs bavatuesdays, while Brian Lamb blogs at Abject Learning.