On Edupunk Philosophy

Edupunk is a teaching philosophy where the instructor foregoes standard teaching strategies and set curricula in favor of teaching methodologies guided by a “do it yourself” attitude. That seems to be the big thing now. Instructors throughout the nation are embracing this philosophy in protest of generic one-size-fits-all technologies like Blackboard and in protest of the commercialization of education.
You can read a wonderful piece on the rise of the EduPunk philosophy HERE and find out more about them HERE.
Since this seems to be the “big thing” this weekend, let me throw in my two cents. I agree that EduPunk classroom approaches and methodologies can be useful. I think that – for many instructors – these one-size-fits-all technologies are at best useless, and I know that telling the students to log on to Blackboard and download a PDF is not an effective or engaging use of technology. And so, I can see why EduPunks do what they do. Most of the time I find myself going outside of standard classroom practices and doing what has been deemed by administrators as “whatever I want”, but here’s the thing: it works.

As I previously wrote (and you no doubt collected from the articles), EduPunk is a do it yourself philosophy that stems from a mindset of anti-standardization protest. I also wrote EduPunk methodologies often work.
Focus on methodologies.
Everyone has a reason for doing what they do, the same is true for teachers. Teachers use a variety of approaches guided by philosophies. Now, keep in mind that the primary purpose of teaching to educate. I have often gone outside of the “use blackboard” paradigm and set up my own forums and class webpages instead of Blackboard because that is what works with my student demographic. Not only do they see it as a hassle to log on and use Blackboard, but many times they simply don’t know how to use the system or (in the case of institutions where they charge students for the use of similar systems, like the University of Puerto Rico’s Porta-e [1]), they simply cannot afford it. In these cases I strongly encourage teachers to use alternative accessible technologies and encourage their students to use more affordable technologies. Allow me to offer an example.
When I was doing my undergrad, the university required that “all students have an online digital portafolio”, and for that purpose they were making Porta-e available. The instructor of the course looked over the new policies and noticed that while it was required to have an online portfolio, it was not explicitly stated that students were required to use Porta-e (this might have changed since then, but as far as I’m aware it has not). The instructor told us that he didn’t know anything about technology, but if we could do an online portfolio that wasn’t as expensive, we could do that instead. I then offered a series of workshops on how to create online portfolios using free website services (at the time the “cool” one was Angelfire), and all of the lower-income students opted for that. This was a good application of EduPunk methodologies.
In my case, while I strongly encourage students to buy the course texts for the critical commentary and the exercises, if they don’t have the income and prefer to use Project Guttenberg versions, I let them (tho they afterwards regret it, as they have to constantly hunt down classmates to ask them about the critical essays and exercises not available online). I do this because I don’t want students to decide between books or paying the rent. The units I teach on digital and procedural rhetoric in my 1301 – 1302 classes are also EduPunk in nature, as they are all created by myself (based on the works of Crawford, Jenkins, Bogost, and others), all the materials and examples are compiled by myself, and all the writing projects are designed by myself. I do this because I feel that students must learn to write using not only traditional rhetorical tools, but also tools from the newly-developed rhetorics of digital media, as they will grow up (or better yet, are already growing up) in a digital world. They need to understand not only how traditional texts and speeches persuade, but also how digital technologies persuade and are used for the purpose of persuasion.
Here’s my problem with EduPunk philosophy as it’s articulated by many: it’s about “protest”. Many individuals I know use EduPunk strategies because “down with the man down with fascism down with the commercialization of education let’s do it ourselves and not use Blackboard to not give the fascists any more profits”, or something along those lines.
Protest is all well and good and people have the right to free speech as stated in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. But here’s my problem with EduPunk philosophy for the sake or protest: you are messing with education, and (at least in my mind) if protest in the form of education will somehow affect the learning process, then education trumps the right to protest by using alternative teaching methods. Now, I can see how these words might be misinterpreted, so let me elaborate.
An instructor can say “I don’t agree with the policies and encouraged practices of the institution because research in education and learning demonstrates that it doesn’t work, therefore, I will do what has been shown to work”. That’s perfectly acceptable and, in my experience, actually encouraged in teaching-centric institutions. An instructor can say ” I agree (or I disagree) with these policies and encouraged practices and they don’t work for my student demographic, so I’m going to do what I know works.” This, I think, shows motivation, dedication, and the desire to teach. Instructors can even get into the protest spirit and say “I don’t like these policies and I will protest them by doing research, finding out what works just as well or better, and do that instead.” That’s fine. It’s not as altruistic as the other two motivations, but at least it doesn’t lower the quality of teaching. Here’s what instructors shouldn’t say or even think (and this is sadly what I’ve seen most self-identified EduPunk teachers say): “I don’t like being forced to do things, so I’m not going to do it.” At the very least instructors who are “forced” to do certain things should do a bit of research, see if it works, and if it does integrate it. If it doesn’t, then make a principled stand. “I won’t do it because I know it doesn’t work” is drastically different than “I don’t want to for political reasons”.
That being said, some time ago I did have to partially resort to EduPunk approaches when a supervisor told me to use methodologies that I knew both from reading and experience did not work. I discarded the advice, did what I knew was right, and it all worked out. And, honestly, this is most often the case. Administrators often have the best interest of the students at heart, but the people who sell them cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all products do not. It is the teachers who know the students, how they learn, how they study, and how they behave. It should be up to the teacher to decide what technologies to use – and if Blackboard works best for some of the students, then good for Blackboard. But if it doesn’t then it shouldn’t be forced and teachers have the duty to use what does work.
So, what’s my point with all this? Don’t EduPunk because “it’s the cool thing to do” or because “it’s in the spirit of protest”. Those are hogwash reasons. EduPunk because you know what works best for your students.
And know that, sometimes, when it works, using things like Blackboard and Porta-e IS the thing to do.

I should note that teachers in poor sectors have been using EduPunk methodologies forever. Whatever their curricula says and whatever the suggested technologies are, these schools have always been neglected, so these teachers have been using these now-trendy EduPunk strategies. They just never had the time to think up a catchy name for it, or even to put out what they do.

[1] An example of a Porta-e electronic portfolio.
[2] The price of Porta-e when I was an undergrad was 175$ for the software and 85$ for a 6 month subscription.


About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on June 25, 2012, in Education Commentary and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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