The rise of the “edupunk” student – maybe not so much

A posting from Inside Higher Education noted that universities will soon have  to address the needs of the “edupunk” student. The article suggests that universities need to think about how students might gain credit by completing coursework offered through alternative educational avenues. This is an intriguing issue to deal with, but I question if it is one that we should be concerned about in the short term. My institution, like others I’m sure, have test-out procedures for students who demonstrate a background in course content.  If a student demonstrates that they have the requisite background in a subject they can test out of the course and receive credit.  But I doubt, especially in the United States, if there will be an appreciable number of undergraduate students who take this route anytime soon. My skepticism arises out my experience with students at the small  university where I teach.Does the current population of university students have the skills to use these resources on their own to gain sufficient knowledge?

“Edupunk” was coined in 2008 to characterize an instructor that sheds the restrictive, industrial age mass production approach to teaching done in most education institutions in deference to an open, DIY approach. Now, the edupunk moniker is being applied to students. Dissatisfied with the content and cost of what they are offered under the current university environment, the edupunk student is turning to the growing amount of open educational resources available on the web. They recognize that it is no longer a necessity to sit in a university classroom to further their education. They have access to  a wealth of instructional materials, courses, and can create a personal learning environment and network to support their learning via the Internet.

Over the years I have experienced an increasing number who have difficulty thinking for themselves. That is, they need additional mentoring in trying to understand course content without asking “what is important”, or “what do I need to know”. Or, when working on assignments asking me, “what I’m” looking for. They simply don’t have the ability to learn on their own, especially those just entering the college studies. These sentiments were echoed at a recent discussion session at the Association of American Geographers meeting in Seattle concerning issues of distance education related to teaching geography. Several of the participants, representing small private to large public institutions, indicated that many students lack some of the basic computing skills to successfully navigate through an online course environment. Zimic (2009 ) has also questioned the techno-savvy sterotypical image of the Net Generation student.

My feeling is, at least for the students I deal with, the standardized assessment movement that currently pervades  K-12 education has led educators to teach to the test, thus narrowly defining what’s important for the student to learn. Few pre-college students seem to be lacking the independent learning skills to work on their own. In order to be an “edupunk”, it’s my feeling that one must have well-developed independent learning skills in order to get the most out of open, DIY educational materials. It is my experience that a majority of the students who walk through my classroom doors lack these skills. As such, the edupunk movement among students, and the necessity of universities to address their needs, is in the distant future.

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About Michael Ritter PhD
Professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, science textbook author, educational technology blogger, podcaster, and freelance media consultant.

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