Last Week Anya Kamenetz announced her new project, The Edupunk’s Guide to a DIY Credential.   Jim Groom, credited with coining the term edupunk, was less than enthusiastic.  At first glance, writing, and presumably selling, a book about DIY education seems as naively ironic as ****ing for virginity.  But I went back to read Anya’s whole post. She indicates that the Gates Foundation will own the copyright but allow her to freely distribute the content.  If everyone has that option (one of the commenters has already asked about whether the right to redistribute transfers with the content), you have a document that is essentially released under a CC license.  This made me feel better about the whole thing. Jim, not so much. Anya then raised the issue of definition control.

Jim has promised a blog post,  and I thought about waiting for him to weigh in, but I’ve decided I want to start working through this in my head/blog.  The first thing I wondered was, “Why is Jim upset if the resource will be open?”  I think I have a decent handle on what edupreneur (the term Jim suggested be used instead) means, so I went back to edupunk.

Etymology doesn’t help much.   “punk”, outside of music references, has tended to refer to some combination of youth, prostitution, and antisocialness.  Bruce Sterling provides a more useful explanation.

” The term “-punk” doesn’t mean that people are historical counterculture punks, musicians with razor-blades and torn clothing.  It means that people are using modern social networks to route around established disciplines, so as to appropriate technical knowledge for their various street-level purposes.  That practice is not old-fashioned.  That practice is intensifying.  It will go on no matter what names it has.”

I then went back to Jim’s first post that used the term . The first thing I took away is that edupunk, at least as Jim originally envisioned it, is anti-corporate.  This can explain at least in part, Jim’s criticism of the Gates foundation. Even before you consider the educational initiatives Gates currently advocates, you have to acknowledge that it has grown out of money which came from Microsoft, a corporation that used its market position to exert control over how people used their computers. When you then look at how the term has been used more recently. It seems to have two rather distinct meanings.

In a September 2009 Fast Company article, Kamenetz seems to focus on edupunk as representing a change of business model.

“The edupunks are on the march. From VC-funded startups to the ivied walls of Harvard, new experiments and business models are springing up from entrepreneurs, professors, and students alike. Want a class that’s structured like a role-playing game? An accredited bachelor’s degree for a few thousand dollars? A free, peer-to-peer Wiki university? These all exist today, the overture to a complete educational remix.”

Notice that she still uses terms like class and degree. Jim also points to this article about the higher ed bubble, although my money quote isn’t the same one he picked.

“Post-bubble, perhaps students — and employers, not to mention parents and lenders — will focus instead on education that fosters economic value. And that is likely to press colleges to focus more on providing useful majors. (That doesn’t necessarily rule out traditional liberal-arts majors, so long as they are rigorous and require a real general education, rather than trendy and easy subjects, but the key word here is “rigorous.”)

My question is whether traditional academic institutions will be able to keep up with the times, or whether — as Anya Kamenetz suggests in her new book, “DIY U” — the real pioneering will be in online education and the work of “edupunks” who are more interested in finding new ways of teaching and learning than in protecting existing interests.”

Both of these quotations point to edupunk as a change in means rather than a change in ends.  The goal is still to end up with documentation of economically valuable skills. I think Jim’s vision of edupunk goes beyond that.

In this explanation of edupunk, Leslie Madsen-Brooks describes the movement thusly:

“In short, edupunk is student-centered, resourceful, teacher- or community-created rather than corporate-sourced, and underwritten by a progressive political stance. Barbara Ganley’s philosophy of teaching and digital expression is an elegant manifestation of edupunk. Nina Simon, with her imaginative ways of applying web 2.0 philosophies to museum exhibit design, offers both low- and high-tech edupunk visions.

Edupunk, it seems, takes old-school Progressive educational tactics–hands-on learning that starts with the learner’s interests–and makes them relevant to today’s digital age, sometimes by forgoing digital technologies entirely.”

This ties in, to some degree, to the unschooling revival.

I see the split  as whether edupunk is mostly about how we learn (choosing MIT’s OpenCourseWare and a CLEP test to build a credential rather than traditional classes) or whether it’s more fundamentally about why and what we learn*.  If edupunk is a new map for learning, do we use it to pick a different route, or a different destination?  That makes the discussion between Jim and Anya important.  Nothing will create misunderstanding and acrimony faster than two groups of people hearing the same word and perceiving two very different meanings.

* Alan Levine asks some important questions about the limits of self-directed learning.