Posted by: Serena | 1st Jun, 2008


So I guess it’s my turn to weigh in on this EDUPUNK thing. No, it’s not about the label. It’s not about the technology. So what is it about? Why is it hitting home for so many people, and hitting a nerve for many others? The most fascinating thing about Friday’s article on EDUPUNK in the Chronicle of Higher Education is not the story itself, but the contention in the readers’ comments. (Incidentally, Mike Caulfield has–in one sentence, no less–come up with a terrific response to the dissenting faction: “The movement is primarly creative, not destructive. It just looks like destruction to those who haven’t seen creativity in a while.” Read the rest of his post for his take on the Blackboard issue.)

Melanie McBride says “Well, by this definition I proudly proclaim myself an edu punk” and Jeff Drouin “couldn’t agree more with The Reverend Groom.” But Kevin Schoepp points out that “this isn’t the way most faculty want to go. The cookie cutter approach provided by Blackboard is exactly what the majority of faculty want.” And that’s just on one page of comments.

There’s even conflict on EDUPUNK’s days-old wikipedia page. (Should such a recently coined term have its own wikipedia article? Until earlier today, it was pending deletion, but the mention of EDUPUNK in the Chronicle seems to have bought it a temporary reprieve.)

Over at blogher, Leslie Madsen Brooks refers to earlier blog posts from Jim, D’arcy and Mike, providing a pretty good definition for EDUPUNK:

“Jim Groom recently coined the term “edupunk” to refer to a scrappy, DIY spirit in some sectors of educational technology.” … Edupunk, it seems, takes old-school Progressive educational tactics–hands-on learning that starts with the learner’s interests–and makes them relevant to today’s digital age, sometimes by forgoing digital technologies entirely.”

That’s all very helpful, but I think my favorite reaction is Jennifer‘s:

“I’ve got to make my EDUPUNK post, and it’s going to be short. I only have 2 things to say.

  1. It makes me smile and I suddenly feel 20 years younger.
  2. Don’t dissect the metaphor.”

It’s just perfect. So now that I understand the motivations, passions, and controversy behind EDUPUNK, how do I feel about it? Somehow, I inevitably become the default student voice (along with Shannon) in the edublogosphere. But wait! That’s not fair! I’m not representative of all students. That would be silly.

So I’m going to take this a step further and toss in the opinions of six other college students. My victims were students at three different institutions, with varying majors, class levels, and technological prowess:

Lauren (University of Mary Washington, senior, English)

Victor (Virginia Tech, senior, Biology)

Michael (Christopher Newport University, junior, Computer Science)

Alyssa (University of Mary Washington, senior, English)

Chris (University of Mary Washington, junior, Business)

Stephanie (University of Mary Washington, sophomore, English)

1) Have you ever been asked to keep a blog for a class?

Lauren: “Yes, I’ve blogged for two of Dr. Scanlon’s classes (Contemporary Poetry and Women in Modernism), one of Dr. Kennedy’s classes (medieval courtly love), and two for Dr. Dalla Torre (Italian 201 and 202). In fact, it was Professor Dalla Torre who gave me the idea to blog while I’m in Italy- to post on the Italian 202 blog. However, I have a lot to say so I started a brand new blog for the summer.”

Victor: “Nope. Neither here nor at George Mason.”

Michael: “I have not. (Keep in mind I’m a CompSci-CompEng major.)”

Alyssa: “Yes, for Dr. Campbell’s Intro to New Media Studies course.” (Her blog is here.)

Have any of your friends had to?

Victor: “I believe I’ve heard other people mention it.”

Michael: “I’m relatively certain that they’ve had to do forum posts, but not keep a blog.”

Do they like it?

Michael: “They liked it because it wasn’t that difficult, unfortunately.”

Chris: “It depends on the class. People who blog for classes they enjoy being in enjoy blogging, people who blog for classes they dont like as much feel like blogging is a chore.”

Could blogging, if the professor handles it right, get students more excited about classes they don’t like as much?

Chris: “That’s a possibility, but it has to be handled just right. A professor can try and come up with a way that THEY think is creative and interesting at the beginning of the semester, but if the students still see it as a chore, the professor should be willing to adapt what they consider to be their ideal plan.”

Do you think that traditional papers are inherently more difficult than online writing?

Michael: “For me, absolutely. I know that some people can get into a paper-writing mindset and just cruise toward an A. I am not some people. I cannot step into that state of mind and work. My online posts, however, are (to the best of my knowledge) grammatically correct and spelling error-free.”

Lauren: “I feel like it’s a lot easier to stay on track with traditional writing assignments, because they have deadlines. With a blog, you’re on your honor to post the right amount of times. My ideal class (modeled after Dr. Scanlon’s ‘Women in Modernism’) would have traditional assignments for most of the grade, and the blog as a participation grade. When you know the blog is just for expanding on class ideas and communicating with other people in the class, it’s more fun and there’s less pressure to post an epic each time.”

Stephanie: “I like traditional writing assignments because I like handing in hard copies, but I think I’d like blogging just as much.”

Alyssa: “For me, anyway, it’s more instantaneous than writing a paper (i.e., less formal and structured) and also more interactive, as you can read classmates’ blogs and they can read yours, but you rarely read each other’s papers. But at the same time, it gives you more room and time to collect and put together your thoughts than you get during class discussions, so you can explore things more deeply without necessarily having to write that formal paper on the topic. So I guess it sort of walks that line between traditional writing and interactive discussion.”

What do you think of UMW blogs?

Lauren: “I really like UMW blogs. I didn’t think twice about where to post my blog while I’m studying abroad- I went straight to This way, whenever I post, its easy for my friends at UMW to find my blog, and also for other students at UMW to read in case they’re thinking about studying abroad too.”

Alyssa: “They’re useful if actually utilized, but completely ridiculous if not. (We had to make them for ITAL201, and never used them, so it was just sort of annoying.) But for my English courses, they’re pretty interesting.”

Stephanie: “Shiny.”

How do you feel about blogging for a class?

Victor: “It would depend how much they asked me to do. I’d probably feel like it was tedious but would get into after I started as the ideas rolled out.”

Alyssa: “I think it’s good supplement if you actually tie the blogging and the class discussion together in some way. But again, I think it really depends on how it’s handled.”

Chris: “I enjoy reading original content every now and then, but I was against having to use a blog (nonUMW, though) for one of my classes. But I wasn’t really interested in that class anyway.

Well, how would you feel about blogging for a class that you were interested in?

Chris: “As long as I could actually think up the required content without having to really ‘overstretch my creative boundaries’, I would be fine with it.”

Did you have any problems using the blogs, or was it pretty straightforward?

Lauren: “I think the blog is pretty easy to use. I haven’t had any trouble: it’s very user friendly. My problem with it was the opposite- I wanted MORE options to do myself, like pick my own layout for the site. I settled with taking my own picture for the header.”

Even if it meant a little more work for you?

Lauren: “Yes! I mean, we’re students, we have the most experience with modern technology. But I’m not saying we should get rid of the user friendly format altogether- that should be available for people who are not comfortable using modern blog technology.”

What would be your ideal learning situation?

Chris: “One in which the going to class and actively paying attention to the lecture/powerpoint/activity is a key part of the class, supplemented by online or in text readings, and MAYBE a bit of blogging, depending on what class it’s for.”

How do you feel about using other online resources for class? (like Flickr, Twitter, YouTube,, etc.)

Lauren: “I’m very new to these! Well, I’ve been watching things on YouTube like Charlie the Unicorn and YuGiOh Abridged! for ages, but I never contributed. A few days ago, I opened my first Flickr account to more easily post to my UMW blog, and it was easy to use as well. I’m not on Twitter yet, but we’ll see!”

Victor: “I’ve only briefly used Flickr and Twitter. I know one professor who had mini lectures or would make announcements using videos and loaded them via Youtube. I’ve never heard of”

Alyssa: “It probably depends on the class and what they’re focusing on, but I think having a feed of relevant things tagged by classmates is really cool and interesting. It could potentially spark new directions to take, etc. Flickr and YouTube more or less only work if they’re used in a way that’s relevant to the course. And I’m honestly not sure how you’d use Twitter as an effective learning tool quite yet, but I’m sure there’s a way . . .”

Stephanie: “I think YouTube would be fun. I don’t understand the purpose of Twitter. I have it, though.”

Do you think that using these resources would help you learn, or just be confusing?

Stephanie: “I think it’d help me learn. I don’t see how it would be confusing if the professor gives instructions on how to use it. As long as we’re told how to use it, I think it would be easy to do.”

What kinds of classes do you think would benefit most from using online tools like blogs, twitter, flickr, youtube,, and others?

Chris: “English classes, history classes, art and art history classes, psych and sociology classes, and anything dealing with contemporary issues or the sharing of great amounts of personal input (without the waste of paper or email inbox space).”

How do you feel about Blackboard?

Lauren: “I think it’s helpful, but not so reliable. Some things contradict each other on blackboard and I end up calling other people to confirm what the homework actually is!”

Victor: “I’m fine with it. I don’t love it or hate it but it works so I’m content.”

Alyssa: “I honestly have never used it for much beyond looking at my syllabi to check on assignments, etc. (I have a tendency to misplace my printed copies.) I’ve never really had a professor or teacher use it for much beyond posting syllabi and assignments, and sometimes (but not often) grades.”

Chris: “I like the concept, but the execution is flawed. I like that there is a digital dropbox to hand in papers and store documents, I like that professors can post useful or required things, I like that it allows for quick quizzes to be done… but I dislike the inconsistency which some professors use require its use or fail to put things on there that should be on there. It HAD potential, but I think that the times killed it by making things that could be more efficiently used.”

Stephanie: “It’s all right, you know, just for grades and stuff. But there aren’t a lot of other options. And it doesn’t have pretty colors.”

Is there anything else that you wish you could do that Blackboard doesn’t?

Lauren: “I haven’t actually considered that! I mean Blackboard does a lot of things that are useful, like having a discussion board, that most of my classes don’t implement. Maybe the answer is that I think we ought to be using Blackboard to the fullest, instead of halfheartedly, to take advantage of what it does.”

Chris: “I’d like some sort of feed or notification system so that when professors post required information you know it gets posted. Some professors expect you to check Blackboard all the time, so when something gets posted and you don’t notice it, it can really hurt.”

Alyssa: “Honestly, something about Blackboard has always seemed a bit cumbersome and unappealing, so I wouldn’t really want it for anything more.”

Is there anything you’d want to say to professors who are worrying about how best to connect with students in this net-centric age?

Chris: “I’d say that they don’t need to be completely internet savvy for everything, but the time has come for them to have to learn how to work the tools available to them to better connect with their students. This may require a bit of outside research and use of tools not provided by the school, but the results should prove effective.”

Victor: “Encourage students to be involved rather than forcing things on them. Like commenting on each others blogs and helping each other out, but saying what they do and don’t like/agree with. The teacher and the student need to work together to get the most out of it.”

Alyssa: “Don’t worry, and don’t be afraid to ask your students for ideas. And the internet is not that scary or complicated. Really.”

The other day, Jim Groom (on his blog) coined the term “EDUPUNK”. It refers to using emerging technologies and free internet resources for education and pioneering the use of these (innovating along the way, etc.) with a special emphasis on a DIY kind of ethic and a rejection of more limited commercialized educational tools like Blackboard, etc. (Professors deciding to scrap Blackboard and use class blogs, forums, Flickr, YouTube, for example.)

So, as a student who is affected by these kinds of decisions, what do you think of EDUPUNK?

Lauren: “I think its great! I mean, there are no identical institutions of learning, classes, and certainly no identical students! We all learn differently and it’s great that now we have so many different and customizable ways to learn and share our learning.”

Victor: “I think it’s an interesting prospect that teachers should take into account to change things up in the classroom and–if used properly–could help get students more involved in something they’re familiar with.”

Michael: “I think it’s on-the-whole a good initiative. It’ll be uncomfortable at first, especially with the older professors. The more tech-comfy professors in my department have already attempted use of Moodle and other similar programs. If it’s going to work, it’ll require less reliance on the current commercial systems and switching to the new open-source systems. I saw it this past semester; my computer science professor tried to parallel use of our current commercial system and an open source system, but the students primarily used the old system for reasons of ease of login, familiarity, etc. On the other side, the professor didn’t do his best to keep up both systems, and at the sign of more students using the old system, let the old system reign. Use of YouTube has been accepted by my public speaking professor. And at my [university] job, for example, we use GoogleDocs for maintenance of information on individual client systems and even to keep one another posted on what we’re up to in the working day. So far, it beats the pants off of the old paper system.”

Chris: “I pretty much agree with it. I feel like if there is a better way of doing something, you should forget the school system and use what works best. For example, the school email is… less than good, so gmail wins out. If blackboard is failing the purposes of a class, I fully support finding the best alternative. Plus, if a class uses a system that students are already a part of and are fluent in, then they will be more likely to use it and enjoy using it.”

Stephanie: “Shiny. I think it’s great. I mean, I’m sure it’s better than Blackboard and stuff. Anything’s better than Blackboard.”

Alyssa: “I think it’s a really cool–What’s the word I want? Theory? Concept? Practice? Thing we should do? I’m a fan of the DIY idea behind it and I think it offers a lot more freedom to customize for each class’s needs, something that Blackboard doesn’t really do on its own.”

And what do you think of the name itself?

Lauren: “I like it. It reminds me of steampunk, the term for an internet developed method of writing, crafting, living that evokes Victorian sci-fi. And man do I love steampunk.”

Victor: “It’s catchy.”

Stephanie: “I think it’s funny. And I think your porcupine is funny.”

Chris: “I like it, except for how it’s all in caps. It makes it seem like an acronym. If it were EDUpunk, or EduPunk, or something like that, it seems like it would flow better to me … Is it an apt label? Well, it’s a created name, and a created name can be as apt as you want it to be, but it SOUNDS like what it represents.”

Alyssa: “Oh, Jim Groom. You have invented a catchy new word.”

Michael: “Honestly, it conjures up very unprofessional ideas. The “EDU” part sounds fine (it’s in the URLs for every university, so that matters not). It’s the punk part that gets me. I don’t know what to think, honestly. What I feel is a mix of familiarity and uncertainty. Familiarity comes from the use of a word mash-up, and uncertainty comes from the odd combination of words.”

Too edgy?

Michael: “Perhaps, yes. It may also be the case that edgy is what is needed to shake up the current ways.”

Posted by: Serena | 1st Jun, 2008


Just what you’ve all been waiting for.

Posted by: Serena | 31st May, 2008


Posted by: Serena | 30th May, 2008

warrior PorcuJim

Round Two.

Posted by: Serena | 29th May, 2008


Do you ever find yourself wondering what I do with my free time? I didn’t think so. But now you want to know, don’t you? Sometimes I do productive things. And other times I do things like this:

For context: Jim Groom shaved his hair off this week, and is now the proud owner of a spiky head. You can see the haircut here.

Posted by: Serena | 14th May, 2008

Madcap Scheme (beta)

Faculty Academy is over but, unsurprisingly, I’m having a hard time just lying down and going to sleep after all of that. So I thought maybe I’d blog it out. Ha. Like that’ll help.

I could talk about the normal issues central to any academic conference; the battle professors face when trying to connect with students, what role technology plays in this, the evolving relationships between pupil and instructor. You know, the usual. But the things that really caught my mind all stemmed from slightly less formal exchanges. Steve Greenlaw and I (later joined by Vidya) had an interesting back channel conversation on Twitter today about the way students are viewed by much of academia. It all started with this observation from Steve:

“I think it’s part of the academic culture that undergraduates don’t do real world. It’s not true, but the mythology is a hurdle.”

I just sat and looked at that for a while. What did he mean? Of course professors take students seriously. Isn’t that a basic requirement of teaching? Apparently not. Soon we were discussing ways to dispel this myth. Who’s at fault here? Instructors who fail to showcase exceptional student work? Students who are afraid to share what they’ve done? Yes. (And thanks again, Gene Roche, for adding that vital dose of reality to the way I view academia.)

How can we change this? Steve thinks that faculty who are “supporting real undergraduate work” need to share that, and students should be able to look at their own work as academically significant. So far so good, but (as with most important things) it’s much harder to put this into practice. Do you think that–even if the supportive professors are showing their students’ best work to colleagues–the rest of academia is going to sit up and listen? Chances are, the ones paying attention are already in the choir. (Oh no, metaphor number one. The first thing that happens when you spend too much time listening to presentations and keynote speeches is that metaphors kind-of just build up around you until they soak into your skin, and then you’re stuck spouting awkward metaphors for the next week and a half.)

But I want to sing with that guy on the street. And the cashier in the grocery store. And mangy stray cats! Why can’t they be part of my choir? Why can’t we knock some sense into that stuffy geology professor who thinks that “serious undergraduate student” is an oxymoron? Forget about persuading this guy to adopt new technologies in his classroom. If he’s not viewing his students as scholars, then he’s not even going to be concerned about truly connecting with them.

Jim, UMW blogs is doing a fantastic job of showcasing student work, and I really hope that it’s managed to reach some of those professors. Patrick, your organizational system for the blogs is going to help students discover each other’s work. These are great, and probably reach even more people than we think they do. But what if a student doesn’t take the time to look? What if a professor just doesn’t care enough to find out what other instructors are doing? I have a proposal. Having just realized that I have a proposal, I’m afraid it’s not going to be very well developed at this stage, but here goes:

We already have an online environment in which to showcase student work. What we don’t have is a physical one. Now, I know that each department has their symposiums at the end of the academic year to show off what students have been doing. But there’s not much publicity for them, or even inter-departmental exchange. I want student work where I can see it, experience it, interact with it. I want to be able to go to UMW blogs on my computer and browse through different student blogs, but also to watch a student talk about the work that’s been done, and ask questions. I want to engage in every kind of conversation.

My theory is this: make student creation and inspiration inescapable.

We already have a great online space for this. Let’s create a real-life space and merge them. A campus-wide student symposium would be a perfect catalyst for this unification.


1) Every department should be involved. Every student and professor should know about it.

2) Week-long. Even a student with the craziest schedule will still be able to attend a few presentations.

3) Inside and outside of the classroom. Students choose their own spaces. Ball Circle? Sure. Combs 139? Absolutely. The steps of GW? Of course. (Gardner, we can all be neo-hippies!) The beauty of this is that wherever you go on campus, there will be something new to see and experience

4) Students can present whatever academic work they choose. However, a strong emphasis will be placed on selecting work that represents the most fun they’ve had in classes all semester. Because–let’s face it–a mashup about Jaws and the Russian Revolution is going to be more interesting than a PowerPoint summary of statistical variations in Antarctic annual rainfall. Bottom line: if students are visibly passionate about what they’ve done, then there’s a much greater chance that other students will also be interested.

As for professors, I’m sure there will be (at first) mixed feelings about student work that is less traditional in nature. But maybe if they give it a chance and watch a couple of student presentations, they’ll realize that everything students share–whether a musical composition, improv sketch, or academic paper–reflects a deep and enduring enthusiasm for learning. And maybe that’s the extra push that everyone needs.

5) Collaboration with other students is encouraged. Music majors and English majors combining a song with a short story.

6) Photos, podcasts, video streams, etc. allow students and faculty to easily bridge that gap between the virtual and physical.

7) Finally, I’d rather call this a ‘festival’ than a symposium. It’s a celebration, not a conference.

And the result? Physics majors reading poetry by creative writing students about Greek philosophers mentioned in a business major’s blog. Wouldn’t that be something? And who knows… maybe that old, grumpy geology professor will learn a little from his students.

Am I being naive? Maybe. Can we do this? Or maybe this is the more appropriate question: Are we ready to do this?

Posted by: Serena | 22nd Mar, 2008

I’m an inspiration junkie.

(The first step is admitting you have a problem.)

After a tiring evening of assorted geekery, I found myself engaged in conversation with a friend. The usual kind of late night conversation. Languid, wandering, tangential. And full of unexpected thoughts that eventually inspired this post on my film blog.

But what about this inspiration? Suddenly I found myself on fire. It took me completely off guard. Surprise! It’s four in the morning, and one minute I’m half awake, ready to collapse on the couch, and the next minute I’m up and engaged, captured by thoughts that are just too intriguing and inspiring to let pass by.

How does this happen?

I was struck by inspiration like this in high school, in childhood, of course I was. But nothing like it’s been while I’ve been here. The frequency, the intensity of everything that flies around in my head sometimes, whether I want it to or not. It’s overwhelming, it’s exciting, it’s frightening, it’s one of my favorite things about being alive. It’s the reason I do this. It’s an addiction. A yearning. A passion. Byatt’s kick galvanic, though intrapersonal rather than interpersonal.

I go to classes every day, hoping for my next fix. Waiting for the next bolt of lightning to strike. I want thoughts that will completely disarm me, engage me, infuriate me, so insistent that I feel strangled by my own ideas. Uncompromising insistence and complete irresistibility. (Is it possible for something to be incapacitating and energizing at the same time?)

Is this intellectual masochism? Is it healthy? Are the only people who recommend this way of living the ones who are already hopelessly entwined in it?

I don’t think I’d even believe that this kind of inspiration were possible, at least not in this frequency, if it weren’t for Gardner Campbell. I’ve called him many things, mostly complimentary: inspirational, naïve, hopeful, optimistic, disorganized. But he gets this, the most important thing. The way that you can wake up in the middle of the night with an idea that practically drags you to pen and paper. The look on a student’s face when seemingly ordinary class discussion has triggered an extraordinary thought or connection. How achingly painful it can be to have an idea that can’t be explored until other, more mundane tasks are done with. And maybe the fire will be out by then. The constant fear that lightning won’t hit again.

Correct me if I’m wrong, Dr. C, but I think you believe in all that. You believe that this brand of inspiration (not the usual over-the-counter, $5.99 a bottle kind, but the illicit, mind-altering kind only whispered about in even the most deviant circles) not only strikes, but strikes frequently, if given the proper environment. You don’t just believe this; you know it.

I think I do too.

Posted by: Serena | 17th Mar, 2008

love letter

Dear UMW,

I feel that our relationship is heading steadily downwards. Romance is declining. You consistently fail to deliver on promises, like faster internet, helpful administrators, and edible food. It took over five minutes for this page to load, OSACS is as frustrating as ever, and I just had chicken that tasted like cat. (Not–I might add–that I know what cat tastes like. But I have a more than adequate imagination.)

You never buy me flowers anymore. Or tune the residence hall pianos. You block campus foot-traffic with enormous tents for days, then block it again with enormous tent disassembly. Your chicken nuggets threaten to scrape off my throat lining. And you have enough money to throw an elaborate ball complete with chocolate fountains, but not to support your own student organizations.

After all we’ve been through together (drunken presidents, abuse of cleaning staff, near-elimination of rowing teams, this year’s freshman class, etc.), I think that I’m owed an explanation. I’d recommend calling me, because your network sometimes makes e-mail sluggish, torpid, or non-functional. Campus mail might also work, as long as you don’t include any apology bananas. My dad sent me a banana once. It was not the greatest plan.


P.S. The RAs would like to know when their timesheets are next scheduled to be lost by administrators. That way, they can plan ahead and start stockpiling food and begging on the streets for tuition money.


Posted by: Serena | 12th Mar, 2008

Kicking and Screaming

Over the course of my internet travels, I’ve seen many commercials. They show up on web pages, before online episodes of TV shows, and–of course–on YouTube. Some are funny, some are irritating, some are just stupid.

But none of the ads I’ve seen are as effective as one I ran across the other day.

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Do you think a commercial like this would go over well in the U.S.? And for you parents out there– amusing or upsetting?

Posted by: Serena | 10th Mar, 2008

Best error message. Ever.

Just got this error message on my computer.


Um, what?

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