I Might Just Be An Edupunk

Every year toward the end of August I feel a compulsion to buy a new pencil case and load up three ring binders with fresh paper. Then I pause, give my head a shake, and remember that I’m not going back to school in September. The resulting emotion is both relief and sadness.

The truth is that while I never really liked school, I’ve always, and still do, love to learn. Although one would think the two would go hand in hand I have yet to translate my passion for learning into another post secondary degree even though I know I should.

Instead I learn every day by reading and researching voraciously and by hanging out with people who are smarter, different and much more interesting than I.  I google when I come across things I don’t understand and use wikipedia to gain insight into unfamiliar concepts. I’m a regular visitor to YouTube.Edu, Slideshare.net and Open Courseware Consortium (http://www.ocwconsortium.org). 

It’s a formula that keeps me ahead of the curve especially in comparison to what’s being taught in a lot of colleges and universities because much of what I’m learning hasn’t yet found its way into textbooks.

According to the guy who coined the term, my approach to learning makes me part of a growing wave of “edupunks”.

The term emerged to describe a trend reflecting a high tech do-it-yourself attitude, the importance of thinking and learning for one’s self, and a reaction against what some see as the commercialization of learning.

Given there hasn’t been a lot of change in post-secondary education, we shouldn’t be surprised that new experiments and models are emerging from entrepreneurs, students and teachers.

My favourite approach is one being utilized by the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology best known as MIT. Typically a degree from MIT costs a graduate close to $200,000. However since 2001, they’ve been putting all coursework online for free. This includes the syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, exercises, tests, and in some cases even video and audio files. In effect this means everyone has access to the information. Some 56 million of us have taken up MIT on the invitation to learn. It is only those who want the actual degree who need to attend classes, complete the assignments, and somehow find the money to pay the tuition. 

Of course education is much more than using technology to share information. In addition to sharing information, there are two other components that need to be considered. The first is the social networking required for teaching and learning. Although that always used to take place on campus, now it’s much easier to move it online. The third component is the most challenging aspect of education – assessment and accreditation. The colleges and universities leading the way are those that begin the learning journey with the end in mind. This means they have articulated the outcomes or competencies the learner must be able to demonstrate upon graduation. If these competencies are in place as the ultimate destination, it becomes clear there are many ways, rather than one way, to get there. 

This in turn allows student-centred learning, with the teacher as the facilitator of learning, or as some would say a “guide on the side”, rather than as the “sage on the stage”. It is an approach that ensures students are active, responsible participants in their own learning.

The key to the change necessary for ensuring this shift is that educational institutions separate and treat the three components distinctly – the sharing of information, the social networking required for teaching and learning, and the assessment and accreditation.

It’s not yet clear what the colleges and universities of the future will look like but for sure they aren’t that far away. It’s also probably fair to say colleges and universities will need to move much faster to get there and to think beyond bricks and mortar if they are to remain relevant and meaningful in today’s changing world. 


Posted on 08-24-09

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