Category Archives: Teaching and Learning

What Edupunk has become

Look­ing at this bit of the SXSW pan­el on Edupunk, I have this to say:

It seems that Edupunk real­ly has become about anar­chy, just as Gard­ner feared, at least in the minds of many.  Downes’ social club the­o­ry of edu­ca­tion is just the sort of point­less pop­ulist angst that punk exploit­ed, and which dif­fers, I would argue, from the more authen­tic (in quotes) Clash-like music, where one gets a sense of hope.  I’m not sure where it comes from, but it’s there, and it’s also not call­ing for destruc­tion.  I think it’s this: the Clash knew the lim­its of the medi­um — rouse but do not pre­scribe, but also do not pro­scribe.   After all, we’re just a band. Leave social change for oth­ers.

I am afraid that Downes comes off as a typ­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a now com­mon­place mil­lenar­i­an­ism among instruc­tion­al tech­nol­o­gists, at least at con­fer­ences — where the Las Vegas prin­ci­ple seems to apply (“What hap­pens at ELI stays at ELI”).  It’s a car­go cult.

Jim Groom is no mil­lenar­i­an.  For him, the essence of Edupunk is not in its anar­chism, but in its com­mu­ni­tarin­ism, if I may impose that word upon him — the relo­ca­tion of deci­sion-mak­ing and cre­ativ­i­ty in the hands of fac­ul­ty, stu­dents, and tech­nol­o­gists, and not in the hands of cor­po­rate busi­ness mod­els that may appear to be log­i­cal and nec­es­sary from an admin­is­tra­tive point of view, but which are in fact nei­ther.   This does not at all mean Kill the Uni­ver­si­ty, as Downes very clear­ly argues.  It means, Let’s not go down this slip­pery slope that cer­tain kinds of soft­ware seem to be push­ing us.  That’s pret­ty much it (which is a lot).

Iron­i­cal­ly, Downes’ approach puts edu­ca­tion much more in the hands of anony­mous cen­tral­iza­tion, for with­out the res­i­den­tial cam­pus, there is no medi­at­ing insti­tu­tion between Google or the Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment and the indi­vid­ual. Downes com­mits the clas­sic fal­la­cy of rad­i­cal­ly indi­vid­u­al­is­tic polit­i­cal thought — the destruc­tion of sup­pos­ed­ly oppres­sive insti­tu­tions like col­leges, fam­i­lies, etc. only cre­ates the social con­di­tions of anomie and total­i­tar­i­an­ism. Good luck with that.

Edupunk, for me, is real­ly all about what Gard­ner and Jim,  like McCart­ney and Lennon, had going at the very begin­ning.  A dis­cus­sion about what sort of lead­er­ship is appro­pri­ate to aca­d­e­m­ic tech­nol­o­gy, giv­en this new mil­lieux of tech­nol­o­gy.  What do we teach our stu­dents and fac­ul­ty, both crit­i­cal­ly and prac­ti­cal­ly?  We need to recov­er this thread; from what I can see, the SXSW pan­el did not achieve this.