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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Long Distance Mom: Edupunk
February 16, 2011 - 10:01pm

When I first heard the word, I thought, ‘Edupunk sounds like the kind of educational strategy that my son Nick may appreciate.’ My seventeen year-old's declining grades and motivation in his AP and Honors courses have been a source of mystery for his father and myself. When he’s not watching Youtube, Nick strives to be a rock-n-roll star, so connecting education to the D.I.Y. strategies of punk rockers may just be his ticket.

Edupunk was first coined by blogger and educational technology specialist, Jim Groom. Groom was disillusioned with the high costs and low creativity pay-offs of corporate course-management systems, such as Blackboard. In Groom’s words: …teaching and thinking happen within the medium of texts, videos, film, images, art, conversation, game playing, computers, etc. Technology may provide new ways of delivering and accessing this information, and mark the basis of many a medium, but the idea of a community and its culture is what makes any technology meaningful and relevant.

Community is something that we know happens in college dorms and campus student groups, but is difficult to measure and not often listed as an outcome goal in the classroom. As reviews of Academically Adrift have made apparent, students find plenty of community outside the classroom, but not a lot inside. At least they don’t seem to find community that contributes to the acquisition of knowledge.

Community becomes even more challenging when college coursework depends on online applications. (I’m not referring to the virtual classrooms of distance education. That’s another matter…) As faculty at many universities are pressured to increase their class sizes in order to help balance budgets, instructors in larger classes are relying more and more on Blackboard-style course management tools for web-based assignments, blogs and grading systems. No wonder we’re looking for ways to scream out our lectures or bust-up our chalk with the Clash playing in the background. It’s getting harder to tell who’s listening.

The term Edupunk spread quickly through the Chronicle, IHE and around the blogosphere when it appeared in 2008. Asking students to apply DIY strategies with technology around subjects that demanded both critical thinking and creative insights was an idea that was immediately popular. For instance, J.B. Murray at the University of British Columbia (UBC) taught a course called, “Murder, Madness, and Mayhem: Latin American Literature in Translation” which asked students to bring Wikipedia articles on Latin American literature to “featured article” status. Students began the semester with the Wikipedia entries and then collaboratively proceeded to research, edit, and reedit these entries in order to gain the status that fewer than .1% of Wikipedia articles attain — featured article.

Professor Murray wrote an assessment of his UBC class project, which accomplished—in his opinion--critical, editorial and collaborative writing skills, but not much argumentative insight. Student motivation did not seem to be a problem; in part because the class included DIY competitive elements with obvious rewards. Students responded to an outside evaluator (other than the instructor) judging and rewarding them. Murray’s course is consistently pointed to as one of the best examples of DIY Edupunk philosophy. Recently, IHE reported on other Edupunk examples mentioned at the TIAA-CREF Institute's 2010 Higher Education Leadership Conference, such as the University of Virginia's 'flash seminars' which reward the first 25 students to respond to notices with gaining access to a faculty discussion on an "edgy topic" in the professor's living room.

After my son realized that if he fails AP English he will be graduating high school with his younger sister, then he found more academic motivation (if not more community). But I know it isn’t over for Nick yet. While he loves to read about history, write science fiction novels and play the bass guitar outside of class, the traditional classroom community isn’t working very well for him in high school.

I wonder what community will work for him in college…?


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