Monday, 7 January 2013

Review of The Edupunks' Guide to A DIY Credential

(review for Technology Enhanced Learning module)

The Edupunks’ Guide To a DIY Credential by Anya Kamanetz is the online resource I’ve chosen to evaluate for this blogpost. The guide is available to read online for free at…

Alternatively, it can be downloaded as a pdf, if a $9 Day Pass is paid to scribd, or if you sign up for a monthly ($9 per month) scribd membership - the business model for this resource can therefore be described as ‘freemium’.

The Guide is just over 100 pages long and has been read on scribd 58,000 times.

What’s an Edupunk? Anya Kamanetz explains…

An edupunk is someone who doesn’t want to play by the old college rules. Maybe you have interests that don’t fit the academic mold. Maybe you’re in a remote location. Maybe you have a family, a job, or other responsibilities and you can’t take on life as a full-time student. Maybe you love new technology and new ways of learning. Or maybe you’re just a rebel! (page 2 para 2)

The thrust of the Edupunks’ Guide is excellent - encouraging people to take ownership of their own learning and (for educators) framing the need to be open and flexible to student needs (and to the needs of the ambient (societal, educational, media and industrial) environments.

However, as educators we know that undirected or self-directed learning can be as problematic and as protracted as the ‘self-taught’ path which has always existed.

I pointed out some of the dangers of a naïve approach to self-directed education in a blog response to an interesting March 2012 BBC video article on ‘the internet sparking an educational revolution’ (‘blackboards and textbooks are so old school’). In the BBC video, Christina Cacioppo - a ‘School of Visual Arts, Design co-teacher argued…

‘…students don’t have to do things that they don’t want to do, and not just paper things that they don’t need, things a traditional university would have them do…’ - Christina Cacioppo - School of Visual Arts, Design co-teacher.

Whilst Adam Pritzker - General Assembly Co-Founder swiped vaguely at the pointlessness and cost of traditional educational models…

‘diy education offers a wider array of potential experiences. You’re not committing to paying a huge amount of money and to give a huge amount of time to a program which, if you look at the statistics, may not have a definite outcome.’

In my March 2012 blog response, I said that…

…these people strike me as experienced media communicators and new-business people behaving as amateur educators…

In her Edupunks’ Guide, Kamanetz sagely anticipates our concerns as educators…

In the case of DIY education, it means getting the knowledge you need at the time you need it, with enough guidance so you don’t get lost, but without unnecessary restrictions. DIY doesn’t mean that you do it all alone. It means that the resources are in your hands and you’re driving the process. (page 3 para 5)

Kamanetz is also extremely pragmatic about the skills and commitment required for the DIY or edupunk student…

Being an edupunk is not for the faint of heart. Without exception, the students I talked to said that being self-motivated and having good time management skills are absolutely essential for success along a DIY educational path. I would add that you need to be the type of person who’s willing to try something new, even if it’s a little unproven and untested.

Much of Kamanetz’s guide consists of clear and concise advice on creating a personal learning environment – through the Edupunks’ DIY Education Manual. Kamanetz gives excellent advice on how to create a Personal Learning Plan, on ‘How to Teach Yourself Online’ (basic strategies for online research, inquiry and reflection), on how to build a Personal Learning Network, on how (and why) to Find a Mentor, on how and why to demonstrate (your) value to a network. Much of this section of Kamanetz’s guide resembles conventional publications like Judith Bell’s (2010) OU book ‘Doing Your Research Project’.

Page 55 (in The Finish Line section) looks at colleges specialising in degree completion - suggesting excellent, efficient and cost-effective routes to accreditation.

Empire State College (link on page 56 (top para)) describes itself as…

…a college unlike any other. We believe that people deserve the opportunity to study based on their personal and professional goals. Rather than have a prescribed associate or bachelor's curriculum, your degree program can be customized to focus on an area of study necessary to achieve your objectives.

However many of the colleges mentioned Western Governor’s University offer courses in relatively ‘hard’ disciplines (Nursing, IT, Business, Science), which can be easier to assess and feedback through tests...

At WGU, you can earn your whole college degree by passing tests. (page 59 (bottom para))

The guide does also look at ‘low-residency’ programmes, where learners can design personalised study programmes, guided and challenged by faculty advisors.

Goddard College’s (link on page 62 (bottom para)) MFAIA Intro page says…

The Master of Fine Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts (MFAIA) is a self-directed learning community that fosters a climate of ethical, lifelong, creative inquiry.

Each one of our students designs and pursues an individualized course of study. Based on your unique personal interests, intentions, and professional goals, faculty advisors - themselves accomplished and evolving artists - work with you one-on-one, providing personalized feedback, guidance, and challenge.

Despite the more flexible or open student pathway, colleges are building pedagogical rigour into the individualised course structures, using faculty advisors to provide ‘feedback, guidance and challenge’.

Though the Open World section of the Edupunks’ Guide (from page 67 onwards) is packed full of free course and site links, the listings are concise and by no means exhaustive – MIT OpenCourseware, Khan Academy and others are represented whilst MOOC’s and Coursera aren’t mentioned at all? Almost all of the courses, colleges and universities are (of course) in the U.S.. Other small irritants include an inference that the OU (not specifically the OU’s OpenLearn component) is free

On page 82 of the Guide, the profile of the OU OpenLearn students is described by PhD researcher Kasia Kozinska…

“Everybody I have spoken to is a really, really keen learner,” she says. “They are very strongly motivated, because there is no assessment. And they’re not necessarily interested in formal feedback - they don’t want to do tests, they just want to talk with others in discussion forums.”

While some learners are more independent, captivated by the sheer intellectual pleasure of learning, others are much more social, and interested in belonging to a group, supporting and helping each other learn. A lot of students, of course, are using OpenLearn to get more information before deciding to study formally at the Open University, which is a great way to use open educational resources.

So, programmes like OpenLearn are still being framed as ‘informal’, an information-gathering gateway to formal study at the OU?

On page 100 of her Guide, Kamanetz concludes with rallying calls for DIY education…

After reading through the resources in this guide, I hope you’ll agree that it’s never been a better time to be a learner.

From following a new interest, to finding and collaborating with peers and mentors, to getting recognition for your work, there are new opportunities blossoming all the time. I hope you’ll also get the message that there is no one recommended path within DIY learning. If there’s any single change that I’d personally like to make in the education world, it’s the realization that you, the learner, are in charge.

You should be able to decide what you need, and you should be given the resources to accomplish it, as long as you’re willing to work hard and be a self-starter.

Once again, for all of its faults and limitations, ‘The Edupunks’ Guide to A DIY Credential’ is an excellent online resource.



Bell, J. (1999). Doing your research project: a guide for first-time researchers in education and social science. 3rd Ed. Buckingham, Open University Press.

Other Resources

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