Edupunk, Open Access, and the DIY Education Reform Movement

Jim Groom, an instructional technologist at Virginia's University of Mary Washington, is said to have coined the term "Edupunk" in 2008 to describe the growing movement toward high-tech do-it-yourself education, independent from traditional institutionally controlled venues and commercial tools, such as Powerpoint or Blackboard and other closed Learning Management Systems. According to Groom, "Edupunk … is about the utter irresponsibility and lethargy of educational institutions and the means by which they are financially cannibalizing their own mission."1

Read more about Groom on his home blog, or visit his new online open course Summer of Oblivion, about digital storytelling, or his blog about a variety of topics, called bavatuesdays.

Edupunk: DIY Open Access Initiatives from Outside the University

In the Canadian publication, called Tyee (published in British Columbia), Edupunk is discussed as part of a series about the DIY Movement known as Makers Culture.

... EduPunk ... sums up the need for educational reform -- reform that, to some extent, has already begun.

Ordinary people are taking their education into their own hands. Using Web 2.0 tools, they have a world of knowledge at their fingertips. And classrooms, lectures, and curriculums are changing, dramatically.

"What we're doing now as EduPunks is we're kind of taking the same concept, the same ethos of the punk era and we're applying it to education," says Steve Wheeler, a self-proclaimed EduPunk educator at the University of Plymouth. "We're doing it ourselves. We're using our own tools. We're bypassing the educational systems that have been put in place by the corporate companies and institutions. That's EduPunk."2

Open Access Initiatives from Inside the University

Open access to college courses and learning materials began within university systems over a decade ago, partly spurred by economic conditions and new technologies, when in 2001 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology starting posting online course lectures notes, exams, and multi-media. Currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, its site serves almost a million unique users per year, and has reached 100 million people during the past decade.3 Yale and UC Berkeley have begun to make video lectures available online, and the Open CourseWare Consortium has formed, comprised of colleges and universities that offer free online courses.

"Early online efforts were meant to 'level the playing field and drive down costs', says Cathy Casserly of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. "I don't think we're there yet, because people are still experimenting with how the technology gets used."4

Edupunk Today

Today, Edupunks continue a more grass roots reform movement outside university systems to use open web technologies to 'unbundle' once exclusive college learning experiences. The movement has spread across continents, involving

Formerly called the “poster boy” for Edupunk, “Reverend” Jim has recently distanced himself from that movement, stating in his blog that "... [its] history of flirting and seducing the neo-liberals who want to dismantle public institutions has been a real turn off."5 Jim continues to focus on independent DIY initiatives that are free from traditional establishment web tools, such as Blackboard.

Open Web Sources

Open web tools, based on open source software, are free, non-proprietary applications collaboratively created by developers who share source code and related resources, and who abide by a set of standards regarding distribution, derivations, authorship, nondiscrimination, and licensing.

Origins for open source software include "the entire history of Unix, Internet free software, and the hacker culture. OSI (Open Source Initiative) was formed as an educational, advocacy, and stewardship organization at a cusp moment in the history of that culture."6

Examples of open web tools include Wordpress, Zotero, Firefox, Moodle, Audacity, and Gimp. Specialized or custom enhanced versions and add-ons are available for some applications as commercial products, but these must be built around the core open source code.




1Kamenetz, A. (2009, September 1). How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education. Fast Company, (156). Retrieved from, June 20, 2011.

2Howard, S., Veerman, N., and Saunders, J. (2010, March 20). EduPunks Say School Yourself!. The Tyee. Retrieved from, June 20, 2011.

3MIT OpenCourseWare's First 10 Years: 100 Million Served, MIT Open Course Ware website. Retrieved from, June 21, 2011.

4Arden, P. (2010, July 28-August 3). Will the College Bubble Pop?. The Village Voice, (Vol. 55, Issue 30), p. 14. Research Library, pg. C2.

5Groom, Jim. (2011 February 23). Bavatuesdays [blog]. Dear EDUPUNK, [blog post]. Retrieved from, June 20, 2011.

6The Open Source Definition (Annotated), Version 1.9. The Open Source Initiative, a California public benefit corporation, with 501(c)3 tax-exempt status, founded in 1998. Retrieved from, June 20, 2011.