Meet the EduPunks

Radical self-educators challenge the “tyranny of credentials”

| July-August 2010

One night in 2008 at a Brooklyn bar, Jim Groom, a technologist at the University of Mary Washington, coined a term that is changing the way the world looks at education. The word is edupunk, and it speaks to the need for educational reform—reform that, to some extent, already has begun.

Ordinary people are taking education into their own hands using web-2.0 tools. And classrooms, lectures, and curriculums are changing. For Groom, it’s not the word that matters—it’s the movement. “I don’t know if the term itself will outlive the logic, but the logic is certainly alive and well and exciting to watch happen,” he says. People are forgoing conventional tools and using new devices like wikis, blogs, and open-source textbooks to learn what they want to learn.

“What we’re doing as edupunks is taking the ethos of the punk era and applying it to education,” says Steve Wheeler, a lecturer in education and information technology at the U.K.’s University of Plymouth. “We’re bypassing the educational systems that have been put in place by the corporations and institutions.”

It’s increasingly difficult to help students with academic programs, Wheeler explains. In the years between when they enter university and when they come out the other side, the world of work can change. Students are doing a lot of informal learning online. In the U.K., there is a new system called Accreditation of Prior and Experiential Learning to account for this type of knowledge.

For Brian Frank, a self-educator in London, Ontario, edupunk finally gave him a word for his approach to education. Since Frank began educating himself in 2002, his self-education hasn’t been well received by potential employers. “It ranges from incomprehension to being offended almost,” he says.

 But Frank is starting to see changes in workplace culture—a move away from what he calls the “tyranny of credentials.” Speaking engagements on digital media and democracy at London’s public library have added to his credibility. “[We need to] get back to a system where we actually trust the people we work with . . . and have more robust relationships with them,” he says.

Jackson Hale_3
7/30/2010 3:59:06 PM

Montessori for adults

Tim Gieseke
7/30/2010 10:22:49 AM

This movement is good for those that the passion to understand. I recall Abe Lincoln was a self learner - candle and a book, right? It is amazing that we have so much information at our eye and finger tips but few are motivated to engage. I recently completed my first book and was able to do that using the Abe Lincoln method. But the most valuable skill that I used was from my more formal education - learning the language of calculus that allowed me to integrate and differentiate the gobs of information that is at our fingertips.

Dallas McPheeters_2
7/9/2010 5:32:30 PM

Credentialing has traditionally required an authoritative body to oversee. Technology is affording a new model of just-in-time learning but also affords the ability to demonstrate one's newly learned skills and capabilities. Therefore, the future will be about the collection of collateral proofs demonstrating one's abilities rather than documented credentials. The tools already allow for this demonstration. Culture will have to catch up eventually perhaps. Or not. Do you agree?