I’m talking to a professionalization seminar of ABD grad students at the University of New Mexico on Monday on the topic of technology in the classroom. So, in looking to get my thoughts together on the subject I’ve been constructing some of the websites I’m going to be using in the Fall for my two classes. I’ll be teaching History 360 – History of the Early Andes and History 255 – Survey of Early Latin America. The links above are to genuine works in progress– ie, none of the assignments or readings are finalized, and some will be very much changed. Thus, what’s up there now represents the first round of syllabus construction, cut-and-paste from past semester’s and friends syllabi. Some things I’m going to be trying for the first time or again– wikis for consolidating class notes, blogs for content managment, student-produced blogs, and class portals to consolidate rss feeds for our production and related content. As I said, these are in very rough form at this point.
In addition to thinking through how I’m going to apply technology, I’ve been reading and listening widely on edtech and its particular applications in history and the humanities. Some particularly useful sources- Dan Cohen and the Center for History and the New Media, the CHNM’s excellent podcast, and Cohen’s Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web, co-authored with Roy Rosenzweig. Also, I’m a regular reader of blogs like Academhack, The Salt Box, Edwired, Savage Minds, 43 Folders (and Clips), Academic Productivity, digital digs, and the like. Each of these places are chock full of ideas on the intersections of scholarship, teaching, and technology. More importantly, there is a broad consensus amongst “digital academics” that open source is good, and open access to information is better. Moreover, I would venture to say that there is also broad agreement that new technologies (whether one wants to call them social or web 2.0) are simply tools for accomplishing pedagogical work.
That said, they are tools in the form of tools past that transformed the nature of work- new web technologies have the potential to revolutionize the production and consumption of scholarly knowledges. I’m actually using those terms a bit tongue-in-cheek, because they point to what has been for me one of the most fruitful discussions on edtech– the rise of the edupunk. Jim Groom, one of the key instructional technologists behind the University of Mary Washington Blog community, coined the term last May in a rant on his blog sparked in part by a hatred of BlackBoard and other for-profit CMS companies. (By the way, UMW Blogs, which is an implementation of WordPress.org’s multi-user platform for a mere fraction of the cost of a for-profit CMS, has some great examples of professors utilizing wordpress.) I admit I share that hatred, and apparently so do many others. The term took off, and even very quickly appeared in the Guardian and the Chronicle. So, what is edupunk? Well, if you believe Groom (here), there is no one edupunk defintion- so, for me it is more of a posture, or prediliction, a sentido of techno engagement that is pedagogically decentered and also undermines the corportization of knowledge in the university. Blackboard is like the Halliburton of higher ed, a company that is extending its tenticles into as many areas of knowledge management that it can, and putting it behind walls at great expense. The DIY sense of 1970s and early 1980s punk (and I DON’T mean the sex pistols here– let’s stick with the Clash, the Jam, Crass, Sham 69, Chumbawamba, the Ramones, the Stooges, etc.), the kneejerk anarchism (as a predisposition to question institutions of authority), the sense of justice, and the anti-coporate vibe all fit well with the current needs of humanities pedagogy. Right now the crisis of the University is driven by the application of market models and and their benchmark efficiencies, of outsourcing and institutional cultures patterned on the board room rather than the seminar room. Historians and other humanists often react to the corporatization of the academy with the laudatory, yet tragic, stance of the luddite– holding dearly to craft and guild in the face of advancing logics of capital. My fear is that the humanities may well go the way of the luddite down the tragic path of anachronism.
But what does this have to do with EdTech? In the small corner of the classroom there are ample means to resist the inexorable march of market logic. The luddite’s simplistic attachment to chalk, say, or ranting rejection of laptops on student desks and powerpoint presentations up on classroom screens seems to me to be the anachronism of luddism (attached as it is to a set of craft values that are worthy of preservation). I feel affectionate towards the luddism, but I think it’s a dead end, and it’s a dead end in eye shot of technological tools that hold the possibility of changing student engagement. Chalk is no more a guarantee of participatory education than powerpoint is its guaranteed underminer. DIY punk meant thousands of bands forming in garages around the world and making music and community. DIY education must do the same for students- inspire them to become producers of knowledge in communities of information.
So, what am I wanting out of this tech stuff? Well, I’m wanting to make the educational process more DIY by structuring public spaces unbound by the classroom for students to interact. I want to undermine the reception/regurgitation model that produces papers written for the professor’s eyes only, in an attempt to guess what it is that professor wants to see. I want to re-enforce that blog is a noun, a noun synonymous with publishing platform, and that its associated verb is “write.” I want to use technology to aggregate streams of knowledge production, including those of my students, and put them in dialogue with one another. I want the incredible potential of the web to demonstrate connections between bodies of knowledge to be put good use. I want students to understand the nature of wikis, to learn skills of discernment. I want to make my content relevant to my students not through some ill-conceived sense of empathy that transforms the past from the foreign country it is into so many personal identifications, but rather through social media forms that are pioneering the ways our students come to, manipulate, and dispense knowledge. And, I don’t want corporations to get rich off of any of it.
I also want a lot more. Is that too much to ask? The University of Michigan Press recently announced it’s abandonment of the traditional book, moving instead to print-on-demand and digital publication technologies. The academy is moving this way, and I hope that historians will engage the technological direction that is revolutionizing the revolution that was Gutenberg. I’d rather we seek to control our part of the change, rather than have it- and the corporate university-control us. So, what is EdTech? It ain’t powerpoint. Who is edupunk? Who ever wants to be, and hopefully millions more. Edupunk is dead. Long live edupunk.