Can anybody hear me?

To say I'm disappointed is an understatement. I was due to speak at the roundtable event tonight for Educamp, alongside Martin Ebner, and as those of you who were listening discovered, the technology failed me at exactly the right moment. What can you do? I came in two hours early, tested out the system. The institutional network locked me out. I called my tech guys, who did a stirling job trying to find out what the problem was. No access to Elluminate. Proxy error or firewall problem. They couldn't resolve it. Eventually, bless 'em, they logged me into a specialised system - known as the access grid - which was open with no networking restrictions. It worked. Hooray! I was able to upload my slides, and even tested out the radio microphone I was given. The sound quality was good. All set to go. I walked back up the stairs to my desk for a quick cup of tea before the session started.

Back down in the access grid, I waited for my cue to speak.... the microphone was dead. Like an idiot, I frantically tried to get the sound working. The tech guys had gone home. I was on my own. More than 3 dozen people were waiting to hear me speak and I couldn't make myself heard. Could I try sign language? Useless. Maybe semaphore? Waste of time. Chat messaging on Elluminate was working OK, but not the best medium for presenting a live talk. Morse code would have worked if I knew how to read/write it (and if the audience knew it too). Other forms of language came to mind during the technology failure, none of which are actually printable here. Could I try ESP? How about crab language? Grand Opera? I tried rebooting the computer. Big mistake ... I lost Elluminate completely (again).

Oh the irony! I'm suspicious that the institutional gremlins conspired against me, because my topic was none other than ... Edupunk! Here's my slideshow 'How Edupunk can save the World.' And here are the points I wanted to make:

1) Edupunk is a philosophy deeply rooted in the belief that educators can 'do it themselves', and use tools that are open, 'free' and non-proprietary. It's a movement against the commoditization of learning and against corporate profiteering. It is not just about selecting open tools and technologies. It is also about the freedom to choose the methods of teaching that are open and student centred. I would even go as far as to claim that Edupunk teachers should be challenging the curricula they are required to teach, and especially the assessment methods that are imposed from on high. These are the structures that constrain education and stop learners from achieving their full potential.

2) Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and in particular Learning Management Systems (LMSs) contribute toward restrictive practices in education and constrain both learner and teacher to operate within a model of learning that is insitutionally beneficial, but does little for the learner themselves. VLEs are generally difficult to use, with far too much effort needed to be put into understanding how the system works, to the detriment of the time and effort spent actually learning.

3) An exemplification of Edupunk philosophy is the rise of the personal learning environment (PLE) in which the learner selects his/her own tools and technologies to apply in formal and informal learning. Typical PLEs will incorporate a social networking service, reflective and collaborative tools, e-mail and a mobile device. I use a mashup of wiki (shell to aggregate all tools and provide a collaborative space), blogs (reflective tool and mind amplification space) and Twitter (microblog to update and inform and also to receive ideas and contact from others with a similar interest to me). I also use my wireless laptop and iPhone as communication/end tools.

4) Edupunk is more than 'do it yourself'. It is also a counterculture against corporate control and exploitation of learning, and brings the punk band (the teacher) closer to the audience (learner group). It is unashamedly anarchic and harks back to the concept of 'deschooling society' first proposed by Ivan Illich in the 1970s. Illich famously argued that we don't need funnels (directional learning through institutional control) but webs (multi-directional, hyperlinked learning that can be tailored by the individual to her/his own needs). Rhizomatic approaches to learning fall into this kind of philosophy.

There. That is what I would have said if the technology had allowed me. I got it off my chest. It's a shame that my rant on Edupunk has to end up here as a two-dimensional diatribe, rather than as a round table discussion with a live audience. On this occasion the technology amplified the distance, but hopefully this blog post will narrow the distance again, and that readers will contribute to a semblance of debate through the comments box below. Over to you...

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Sigi said…
Steve, you know what your main mistake was?????? A real Edupunk is not sitting at his desk at school or university or wherever he's supposed to work from , but has the online meeting from home... from a pub... from the beach ( worked well last year with an Italian guy )... with a glass of wine at and a relaxed surrounding...(you'll certainly come up with more ideas on appropiate locations) learning anywhere .. anytime... without depending on the techies in an institutional environment who ALWAYS want to keep their house from fire... haha.. you shouldn't have told them the topic of your talk!! We missed you but as you're not out of this edupunk world, there'll be another opportunity to listen to you... from a different location ;-) thanks for your awesome post we now have the pleasure to read ;-)
Steve Wheeler said…
Well Sigi, you are right. I should have followed my instinct and presented from home, but I made the mistake of using institutional hardware. It has certainly proved a point to me - do it yourself involves location, location, location - as a part of the choice of being Edupunk. Thanks for your kind words about the blogpost - I hope it resonates with others too! Up the revolution!!
Anne Marie said…
Hi Steve,

I was doing housecalls at 6pm so I hadn't realised that your presentation had not worked. If I had been at home I would definitely have been looking in. Still, I think there is the potential for a lot of interaction with these ideas through this blog- maybe even more than in the 'chaos' of an elluminate session.

You state the assumption in your presentation- but should we be testing those assumptions, and how can we do it?
Next, how important is 'school'? I like this interview with Mike Wesch
He is asked near the end if we can learn without walls if 'school' is important and he replies:
"Community is key. We inspire each other, we allow each other to find out what is relevant- becuase in a sea of information it becomes all about what is meaningful, significant, relevant. And we learn those things through communication with each other and that is why the WE becomes important".
I hope we will have lots of discussion in the next few years about how we can support and develop than kind of learning.
Natalie said…
Hi Steve - Sorry the firewall let you down on Monday but thanks for sharing your thoughts on your blog.
@Sigi makes the point that location, location, location is part of the choice of being Edupunk. However many don't have the choice of location and their institutional location restricts access to many of the sites/tools that others like us are using to build up our PLEs etc. I'm not sure how we get round this.
Frances Bell said…
Reading your post, listening to Twitter stream and Elluminate recording, reading older posts on Edupunk all helped me with my re-evaluation Steve see
I'd like to make 2 points:
1. We have the advantage with Edupunk of being able to look at what happened to Punk - anyone done this comparison?
2. You say edupunk ... "brings the punk band (the teacher) closer to the audience (learner group)". If the learners are the audience, we're back where we started. Edupunk is where learners live edupunk too.
Anonymous said…
I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Steve Wheeler said…
To answer Frances, here are some thoughts:

Point 1: What happened to punk was that it firstly energised a stagnating music industry by providing edgy, controversial and ultimately innovative content and drive. Eventually punk transformed into New Wave, New Romantic and other weaker forms of the original ethos. Its influences can still be felt even today in popular music, so it has done it's job. I propose that the same analogy will apply to DIY Edupunk philosophy. It will, and in some cases, already is, transforming some aspects of education, and challenging the established practices. Open Source, I would suggest, was an early wave of edupunk.

Point 2: I can see why you have problems with the analogy of audience and band. However, what I was really trying to get at as someone who played in a 'Punk' style band was that we broke tradition and allowed the audiece to come up onto the stage with us, and in some cases, went down into the audience to join them. We mashed up the roles we took, and this is patently something that is happening within the Edupunk approach to learning - with learners taking control of their own learning, and forming their own groups, communities and networks to teach themselves. Back to Illich's web of learning again!

I hope this clarifies my previous statements a little.

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