The edupunks are coming

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I was referred by a friend to a very good article in Fast Company magazine this week by Anya Kamenetz that provides a good overview of the edupunk movement that is starting to disrupt the higher education scene in the US and elsewhere.

The term edupunk was coined by Jim Groom and is defined as an approach to teaching and learning practices that result from a do-it-yourself (DIY) attitude, and one that avoids mainstream tools like PowerPoint and Blackboard. The ‘punk’ part of the word is to draw a parallel with the rebellious attitude of 1970s bands like The Clash. The punkesque nature of the phenomenon has been captured admirably in this mashup by Tony Hirst.

In the Kamenetz article, Groom argues that higher education institutions are ‘financially cannibalising’ their mission in that they have become outrageously expensive. Meanwhile, he says, there is a general refusal to acknowledge the implications of new technologies.

The end game here is disruptive innovation. As more and more ‘edutechpreneurs’ arrive on the scene, the transformation of the education sector may happen faster than people think.

The word ‘university’ comes from the Latin ‘universitas’ which, as the Kamenetz piece points out, does not mean campus, or class, or a particular body of knowledge, but ‘the guild, the group of people united in scholarship’. Nine hundred years ago, such groups formed in Bologna, Oxford, and Paris ‘around a scarce, precious information technology: the handwritten book’. Images of this era show the sages of the time at a podium lecturing from these revered books, with rows of students sitting attentively with quills and inkwells at the ready; a format not too dissimilar from classes in universities almost a millennium later.

As Kamenetz concludes: ‘Today, we’ve gone from scarcity of knowledge to unimaginable abundance’ and it is only natural, therefore, that new, rapidly evolving information technologies will convene new communities of scholars, both inside and outside existing institutions.