alec couros is hardcore edupunk

Instead of talking about edupunk, or philosophizing about what defines punk culture, Alec just went ahead and lived it. His EC&I 831 course was serious hardcore edupunk, before the term was coined.


He ran a grad course, completely in the open. He invited a whole bunch of people to join the class, where students and guests discussed and explored ideas and strategies, and shared the combined output. He modeled some serious DIY chops, drawing on more free (and non-free) bits of tech than I could track, and pushing the students into the driver’s seat as part of the process.

The course had structure and definition, but was also fluid and organic. Responsive. Adaptive. Open. It was an edtech course, using insane amounts of tech, but the magic was in the non-tech aspect of the course – that students were in control (but not out of control).

Alec Couros is seriously hardcore edupunk, and hopefully his students will have picked up on some of that. Imagine what will happen when his students unleash that philosophy in the classroom…

The cool and exciting thing is that Alec isn’t the only one doing this stuff! Will people that go through this kind of course be able to go back to “traditional” courses? What will happen, down the road, when these people start running the show? Interesting times…

on edupunk

Jim’s been talking about edupunk a fair bit lately (starting with the killer post The Glass Bees, then Permapunk and finally tying in the awesome Murder, Madness, Mayhem wikipedia project), and Jen wrote up a piece that dovetails nicely into the concept. There’s something about the edupunk concept that is resonating deeply in me.

It’s a movement away from what has become of the mainstream edtech community – a collection of commercial products produced by large companies. Edupunk is the opposite of that. It’s DIY. It’s hardcore. It’s not monetized. It’s not trademarked. It’s not press-released. It’s not on an upgrade cycle. It’s not enterprise. It’s not shrinkwrapped.

It’s about individuals being able to craft their own tools, to plan their own agendas, and to determine their own destinies. It’s about individuals being able to participate, to collaborate, to contribute, without boundaries or barriers.

And it’s not new. The early days of the “edublogosphere” had a definite edupunk vibe to it. Long before that, we had seen edupunk, and it was awesome. I remember when Hypercard was commonplace. When teachers and students would regularly build and adapt their own interactive applications, games, and databases to support classroom activities. Without fanfare or infrastructure or strategic planning or budgets. When Hypercard was killed, it was an end of a renaissance era of DIY edtech.

But, the key to edupunk is that it is not about technology.

It’s about a culture, a way of thinking, a philosophy. It’s about DIY. Lego is edupunk. Chalk is edupunk. A bunch of kids exploring a junkyard is edupunk. A kid dismantling a CD player to see what makes it tick is edupunk.


I’m not about to suggest that technology isn’t important or relevant to edupunk – of course it is. But only as an enabling piece of infrastructure. Technology can empower individuals, amplify actions, and connect communities. But without the edupunk philosophy underlying it all, it’s just a bunch of technology. Uninteresting and irrelevant.

One of the coolest classrooms I’ve ever been in is the Engineering Design Lab at the University of Calgary. It’s a classroom from the outside, but is really nothing but rows of workbenches, armed with any tools and materials imaginable. Drawers full of Lego for building prototypes. Cabinets full of Mechano for piecing together simple machines. A full machine shop for building more complex ones. It’s a place where the students are not only allowed, but encouraged to explore and create. Working in groups to create and solve problems. Critical thinking. Inquiry. Experiential. And it is the most hardcore edupunk class I’ve seen.

engineering design lab - 6

fortress of knowledge

Another bonus photo! It’s been a fun day, photographically. This is the MacKimmie Library Tower, on the University of Calgary campus. It’s going to become part of the Taylor Family Digital Library complex, and is scheduled to get a makeover, including new cladding. Not sure what the final design will look like, but it’ll probably be quite different than this…