So my Facebook friends, and my other friends, and the people in the cubicles next to me, and, well, anyone who has ever heard me speak knows that I’m not a big fan of the Blackboard learning management system. Despite having some good interactions over email with Karen Gage and the group of people responsible for the “2.0″ side of Blackboard development, my actual experiences with Blackboard have been confusing, frustrating, clunky and … more frequent than I would like to remember.
So this post yesterday at the Chronicle’s Wired Campus made me smile when I scanned the headline and saved it to my del.icio.us account – I’m not just a disgruntled librarian who lacks the patience to make Blackboard sing. I’m totally punk rock. This morning, however, I realized I needed to go back and read more than the headline – this edupunk idea is apparently a whole thing that resonates with a bunch of people.
This post says “Enter EDUPUNK” and future posts will continue to develop the idea and what it means. I’ll admit I loved this post because it details how the idea developed out of connections made between frustration with something Blackboard was doing, reading a really great novel and an awesome bar conversation — a process I can totally relate to. I loved this statement:
The insanely irresponsible advertising for BlackBoard 8 suggests that Academic Suite release 8.0 will “enhance critical thinking skills” and “improve classroom performance.” What LMS can do this? What Web 2.0 tool can do this? This is total bullshit, how can they make such an irresponsible claim? These things are not done by technology, but rather people thinking and working together.
OMG yes. But more than that – the connections drawn go on to talk about the implications of the specific, corporate environment Blackboard creates and is created by — “And this move by BlackBoard to commodify the labor of others is exactly the problem with the idea that educational technology “is about the technology.”
On his other blog, term-coiner Jim Groom provides an image of himself as the edupunk poster boy. There’s a little badge on the bavatuesdays blog now – leading here — edupunk.org (nothing there yet but an anthem)
Leslie Madsen Brooks at BlogHer provides a much better rundown of the conversation that’s been going on on the blogs.
Generally speaking, when I’ve talked about my problems with Blackboard I have focused on the closed nature of the LMS and how I think that closed off, password-protected, walled garden e-learning environment doesn’t work. Of course on one level I’m talking about the way that Blackboard just doesn’t work very well and there’s no way to go in and fix it. It’s a closed shop and a closed shop that doesn’t seem all that interested in creating something that works well.
But the real problem with the passwords and the walled gardens isn’t really about how it affects me as a teacher. I usually end up talking about how those things affect students as learners. I think that learning how to learn on the web and learn from other people on the web, is an essential part of what it means to be able to learn at all today. And that means learning how to learn in public. It means learning how to find the learning communities that will help you get where you need to go, and learning how to participate in those learning communities — contributing to the shared knowledge as well as consuming it. My del.icio.us network is hands-down one of the most important learning networks I have and it has been for a long time. And a big part of why it is so important is the way that it pushes things I wouldn’t otherwise find across my path. In that community, I make connections between things that I would never have made otherwise.
When Blackboard introduced it’s del.icio.us clone Scholar, Karen Gage provided me with a password so that I could check it out. Even though my interactions with her were really positive, my reactions to the product were not. The big advantage over del.icio,us seemed to be the ability to tag items by course name/number. I needed the special password in the first place because the only way to use it in my own BB environment was for our Blackboard administrator to do a system-wide implementation. And at that time, you could bring your bookmarks into Scholar, but you couldn’t export them out.
Scholar to me became the perfect metaphor of the BB LMS — sort everything into courses, don’t even consider that the best learning comes sometimes from drawing connections between learning experiences, don’t consider customization or user control of their own environment and once you leave school – you won’t need that knowledge base you developed while you were there anymore. Yeah, I know that Scholar might have improved in the year since I checked it out. But at the end of the day, I don’t think that matters.
Even if Scholar worked perfectly and even if it did some awesome things that del.icio.us could never do — I don’t think I would think it a substitute because of the walled garden thing. Our students don’t need to learn how to learn from a pre-selected, safe group of peers. They need to learn how to function on the wild, wide open web. They should be learning that in college. E-learning is something they will be doing for the rest of their lives. They should be learning how to do that in college. Closed off LMS’s don’t give them that experience, and they never will.
Alex Reid takes a rhetorical look at the term, and decides that it might be a case of trying too hard. And I think he might be right. I like his concise articulation of the question –
Still, I think there’s an interesting question here about how pedagogues position themselves in relation to institutionally-approved technologies and in the marketplace and commons of the larger techno-mediascape.
But I’ll also admit to liking the edupunk term. My friend Matt Cibula wrote this essay way back in the nascent days of the participatory web when we were very young but already nostalgic. Matt was a year ahead of me at Canby High School and while we never talked about the Clash while we were in Canby, this essay explains why they were important to some of us who were there better than I ever could. I honestly never expected to have a reason to link to it here – so bonus!