Can Edupunk and sustainability possibly coexist??

As one who works in higher education, I am very concerned with the rising costs of an undergraduate education.  (In both 2006-2007 and 2011-2012 tuition increased with an annual growth rate of 5.1 % beyond inflation.)  Anything that we can do to decrease costs while adding value is crucial.  Therefore, I am not personally against the idea of throwing out an expensive, vendor-based LMS in favor of a more student-led (PLN) approach.  I am confident in my own ability to learn new software and programs and apply them to teaching.  However, there is a lot of value in having a dedicated (on-site) team of experts available to help, which is absent when working with open source software or with free online products.  Migrating away from a centralized approach will mean a lot more work and effort on the part of instructors.  However, if such a move can cut costs and open learning opportunities for students, I am not against the idea.  Aren’t educators supposed to be reflective practitioners who constantly update themselves?

In response to the second question of the week, “What are the implications of “going Edupunk” with learners?” I have a few thoughts.  First, when knitting together a patchwork of online tools to support learning, the learner’s overall experience must be considered.  If a learner must master five different platforms (one for grades, one for submitting assignments, one for interacting with peers, one for accessing class resources, etc.) the student will have to expend a certain amount of time learning these platforms, and this can take away from the time that they can spend working with the actual content of the class.  (It can also add to the sense that the instructor is disorganized and unfairly demanding, when that may not be true at all.)  Much discussion was made in Jim Mott’s article about how vendor-based LMSs are content-centric.  However, the fact is that (particularly for K-12) much of our education system demands that content come before all else.  Teachers are under pressure to balance content with technology. 

I spent a lot of time researching DIY and the punk ethos this spring, in preparation for my library exhibit, so I appreciate the Edupunk idea of bringing this anarchistic fervor to education.  I have also read Anya Kamenetz’ book, and I agree with her on many points.  I like the idea of trying a whole new cost-effective approach.  The problem with the edupunk idea, as I see it, is that it will never be able to be widely adopted.  Only a few technologically savvy early adopters will feel confident enough to jump into the myriad tools that exist in order to experiment with them in educational settings.  One of the main problems with educational technology, which Larry Cuban talks about at length in his book is that teachers are often thrown technology with little support or guidance as to how to integrate it.  And thus, it is rarely effectively used, save by a small population.  Gardner’s comment in the Edupunk Battle Royale video summed it up nicely for me.  He said “what I’m interested in is building something that is sustainable as an alternative”.  He points out that this punk ideology may not be the best way to frame a sustainable movement.  I could not agree more.  “Punk” and “Sustainable” just don’t coexist well.

Sustainability is almost anathema in the online world.  Libraries, in hopes of cutting costs and bypassing commercial vendors, used to use Meebo widgets as a way to provide point-of-need reference service.  We happily embedded these little chat windows all over our sites and watched as more people found us and asked research questions.  But then Google purchased Meebo and shut down the parts that we needed.  So much for embedded, point-of-need reference services (that our patrons now EXPECTED to see).  These kinds of shifts, acquisitions, and pricing model changes happen so frequently in online products that no educator would be able to rely upon technologies that they selected from month-to-month.  The edupunk movement is not sustainable because the nature of people is to want to be able to build upon the work that has already been done.  Not reinvent a class structure every semester due to platform changes. 

Yes, using tools that are familiar to students such as social networks (I have always been surprised that more educators don’t use NING to set up networks for related classes), blogs, wikis, and Tumblr can increase engagement and lead to rich learning experiences.  I am not arguing that point.  In fact, I had a great experience this year integrating Facebook, mobile apps, and QR codes into our First Year Experience workshops, and I really think the students absorbed more because of this approach.  However, I am extremely skeptical about Edupunk as a distinct movement.  I just don’t see it effecting any real change as it requires so much more maintenance on the part of the instructors, and such higher-level organizational skills on the part of the students. 

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2 thoughts on “Can Edupunk and sustainability possibly coexist??

  1. Hi Meg. I also had really just started using Twitter for more meaningful purposes. I never had an account until recently and I am getting a lot out of it.
    All these emerging technologies can be overwhelming to me, but it’s amazing how far it’s come.

  2. Meg,

    I agree with your post whole-heartedly (and wrote very similar thoughts about learning new technologies taking away from learning material in my blog.) I also think the bells and whistles associated with some emerging technologies may distract students from getting as much from these items as possible. Case in point: I spent a lot of time tweaking the look of my about.me page and WordPress blog before considering the content. The visual is an important component, but not as important as the content.

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