Edupunk vs. Edupreneur

I’ve been inspired in my new business venture by the writings of Anya Kamenetz whose book, DIY U, analyses the new movements in liberating higher education. A recent article focuses on Edupunks, those who are seeking to overthrow tradition higher education, mainly through providing free (or nearly free) content and classes. The article is well worth the read as a resource for free (or nearly free) courses, content and degrees available online. I’m a big fan of free content on the Internet; many of my lectures have been informed by free videos of lectures, podcasts, online discussion boards and course notes.

The part of this particular aspect of the movement is, much like online newspaper content, is still relying on the old institutions (the university) in order to provide content. The professors who are providing this content are paid by the university. Why not allows students to access their lectures? They are still pulling in their salary, there are still students paying tuition and putting their butts in the seats, and chances are, they have tenure and thus almost absolute job security. How many adjuncts have the time, resources or academic freedom to be able to do the same things?
How many of them want to?
At the end of the day, my small project needs to make money or else it will cease to be. I am providing a service that I would love to give away to non-traditional and minority students in order to help them succeed, however they want to. But I also have a family to help support, student loans and other debt to pay off, rent to pay, food to buy, etc… In discussions I have been having on Twitter with others who are passionate about education reform, some have said that real change will come from below. DIY U seems to imply that the changes are coming from the top. I can assure you that change will not come from the middle.
At the bottom, there is nothing left, really, to lose. There is nowhere to go but up. At the top, there is the security, the connections, the money to be able to take a chance. In the middle, there is nothing but fear and necessity. Fear of falling farther behind and the necessity of taking care of your family above all else.
Perhaps there are those in the middle who are braver than I. But for the moment, I have to settle for scrapping something together for myself and for others with the hope that I can make at least a small change, nurture it until it grows into something larger.

I’m an Edupreneur! Wait, what does that mean?

Or, an Edupunk? Can I be both?

In the space of a week, I’ve found/been lead to two different articles that describe my new title in the world of education. A new book is coming out, DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, that chronicles the many different movements in higher education, empowering both students and those educators who have been left behind (visit her website, In another, related, article, EduPunks say, School Yourself!, the authors outline how students are increasingly taking ownership of their educations and not just allowing institutions of higher education dictate their learning path.

I’m of two minds about all this. First off, it’s nice to know that I belong to larger community of frustrated educators and learners who are looking to do things differently. Where experience counts more than what courses you’ve officially taken (that’s the Punk side). And where if you think you can do it better, than do it (the entrepreneur part). But really, what does all this mean? If students can really just go online and learn whatever they want or need, why would they pay for me to either tutor them or teach them a college readiness course?

From “Edupunks”: [Former college instructor David] Hall imagines a system where the student is an active participant in their own education. In order for this system to work, though, students need to be engaged in their own education. He says students don’t realize how important education is when they’re going through it.” It’s important to note that this is coming from another former non-tenure-track instructor, who seem to be making a huge contribution to the DIY world of education. The truth is that students really don’t know how to learn, I mean really learn. My idea isn’t just that the class is about learning how to write a paper, but how to actually benefit from college, how to come out of college, not just with a piece of paper, but a real sense of having learned something.

Getting right down to it, I want to empower students to make the most of their experience at college or university. Yes, it’s about reading, writing, and critical thinking. But what are you going to read, write and think critically about? I can help you get there. When I asked colleagues and friends who are also university instructors and professors, what is it you wish your students knew or had, they all answered (in one form or another), a will and a passion to learn. The apathy or disinterest they note in their students is more disheartening than any lack of basic writing skills.

How do you teach that? You don’t. You inspire students to take control of their own educations and show them the power they have to shape their future. You show them how to read the map, how to maneuver the vast array of choices the university presents to them. Teach the basics, give them the tools, and just point them in the right direction. That’s what I try to do.

Learning about the Web

It really is never too late to learn. Writing for the web has proven to be a real eye-opening experience. Short (no, I’m an academic!), moderately repetitive (must draw search engines) and zingy (must sell myself!). Which is one of the reasons I started a this blog; I need an outlet for my “real” writing.

Creating a web-presence is exhausting: facebook pages, tweets, this blog, commenting on articles related to my website, tweaking my site endlessly for optimized search success, modifying my online ad campaigns, using any and all contacts I have in order to get my first few customers. There is always something else I could be doing. And, it is terrifying. I’m putting myself out there, as myself. There is no hiding behind a handle or a username; I am who I am, and what I write is how I am presenting myself to the world. This is Lee Skallerup, PhD, and here is what I think. Please visit my website.

In my academic life, I had to be careful. No postings that might make me seem unprofessional. Or politically incorrect. Or critical of academia. Talk about your research and little else. And now, well, guess what? I’m poking a (very tiny) finger in academia’s (giant) eye. Probably won’t be noticed. But, then again, it might. Nothing about my research, just talking about teaching. Offering services outside of the university. Not accepting low pay anymore. I am teacher, hear me roar!


The most frustrating thing about all of this? We have been lead to believe in the immediacy of the Internet; information (and money!) at your fingertips. Do you know what I found out today? It takes 6-8 weeks for a search engine to find and index your site, even if you submit it to them. Really? There’s a kick in the gut. So for all my web presence optimizing, I am going to have to buckle down, print up some posters and just go nuts in a very low-tech way. At least I was able to do the poster in my word processing program; for my first experience in self-employment, I distributed hand-drawn fliers around my neighborhood advertising my services as a babysitter. It paid off, though. I had one family who used me consistently throughout my high school years. Let’s hope this second round of fliers works just as well!

Let’s go, low-tech!