The Accidental Edupunk

Published may. 23, 2012

As part of JFF’s Back on Track Through College team, I’ve been visiting schools across the country where technology is being used to enhance instruction. These schools, serving students who have struggled in school, fallen off track to graduation, or dropped out all together, have implemented a range of strategies from technology-enriched instruction to blended learning. (Innosight Institute broadly defines blended learning as a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, path and/or pace and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home.) Most of these schools are in the developmental stage—figuring out what works; piloting new approaches; and learning, together with their students, how technology can best accelerate learning gains, ensure digital literacy, and support college readiness.

I’ve begun noticing a pattern emerging across these tech-friendly, student-centered schools. These schools are nurturing an “edupunk” culture. Edupunk, a term coined by professor Jim Groom at the University of Mary Washington, is defined as “an approach to teaching and learning practices that result in a do it yourself (DIY) attitude” and was originally used in higher education circles a few years ago. The term is now being embraced by K-12 edutech organizations such as EdSurge, and rightly so.

Elements of the edupunk movement are springing up in classrooms where teachers and school leaders are continually disappointed by the packaged curricula offered by big education vendors. They report that the curricula aren't challenging, don't engage students in higher-level learning, and don't allow for college-ready skills building. What has emerged is teacher- or school community-created curricula that are based on the Common Core—student-centered, and project-based, combining the best elements of face-to-face and online learning. Additionally, many of the platforms that teachers are working with are free, such as Wikispaces and Moodle. Regardless of technology, these leaders and school staff set high academic expectations for their formerly off-track students while also acknowledging that these students need extra supports—academic as well as social and emotional.

Essentially, the edupunk spirit is disrupting the use of edutechnology to perpetuate teacher-centered, passive, one-size-fits-all classrooms of the past. Technology is just a tool—it is the teachers, school leaders, and students who make learning happen.

Photograph courtesy Metro Early College High School, 2011