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Recommending Kamenetz's DIY U Book
July 5, 2010 - 9:25pm

Dean Dad gave it a lukewarm review, but I say to stop whatever you are doing and go and order Anya Kamenetz's DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education.

Kamenetz misses a bunch of things, which I will touch on below, but she gets enough right to make this an essential read if you work at the intersection of higher ed and technology.

The fact that somebody wrote a book that places some of our heroes and brightest lights at the center of the narrative is reason enough to celebrate this book. People like Gardner Campbell, Jim Groom, Stephen Downes, David Wiley, Carol Twigg, and John Seely Brown and others pop up in wonderful ways throughout DIY U.

If you are a learning technology person, like me, the other reason to read DIY U is that Kamenetz has something to teach us about costs, access, and the economics of higher ed. I didn't learn all that much about the open education movement, large scale course redesign, hybrid learning or even the edupunks - as these are all topics that I live with on a daily basis. But I did learn some things about why the cost of tuition is rising at twice the rate of inflation, the perverse incentives that cause costs to go up while access decreases, and our countries shameful failure to fund adequate post-secondary education.

Where Kamenetz is particularly persuasive is in her writing about our "winner take all" education system - one that pushes many people into college but does a poor job of ensuring they get their degrees. And even for those lucky (or wealthy) enough to gain a diploma, it is not clear that the skills that graduates emerge with are well aligned with the demands of the labor market. I came away from DIY U believing that in higher ed, much like in health care, that we need to find ways to bend the cost curve will insuring increased access and quality.

Where Kamenetz is less persuasive are in her recommendations for change. I think she misses out here because she failed to talk to some of the key people who have been thinking for a long time about how technology can bring about structural and fundamental change in higher ed. I would have put Richard Katz at the head of this list. His writing, particularly his recent work on cloud computing and higher education is the first and best place to start if you are looking for both a roadmap for change and understanding of how we got here in the first place. In fact, it appears that Kamenetz did not attend any EDUCAUSE events, or talk to any of the leadership EDUCAUSE, a glaring oversight in any effort to chronicle innovation in higher ed.

Another glaring shortcoming is to not have talked to Lev Gonick, Vice President for Information Technology Services/CIO at Case Western Reserve University. Lev has been a leader in pushing both his own institution and our whole profession towards using technology to diffuse the benefits of education out to our communities. Katz and Gonick are just two examples of discussions Kamenetz should have had (I'm leaving out many more - I'm sure you have many candidates as well - please share), and her book is much poorer for missing these crucial actors in the post-secondary education and technology story.

Despite these complaints, I think that DIY U should be read and shared with your colleagues. This book would be a great bridge between educational technology staff and faculty - at only 208 pages it is brief enough for a book club and lively enough to generate debate and disagreement.

Any other readers of DIY U who would be willing to share your thoughts?


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