I have always been a little out of the box when it comes to teaching and learning anthropology. I believe that the best educational experiences occur in an open and participatory environment. I’ve never been comfortable as the “sage on the stage” and feel that seminar is far more effective than lecture, even when I am dealing with freshmen. Co-opting those tendencies to the learning of the discipline, I always retain what I learn best in an atmosphere where I can see it, hear it, get my hands dirty and participate. I love the technology, the interaction, the edupunk possibilities of wired communication and I am bringing that to the Education section of Anthro Now Online.
So, what do I mean by edupunk?
Edupunk is a term coined from the Punk music movement, and there are several basic tenets. It is do-it-yourself, it resists authority, and it combines altruism with self-interest (from Education Innovation). With the advent of, and increase in, technology available to both researchers and educators/students, we no longer have to accept that the information we are spoon-fed or that is packaged carefully for us, is complete, nor do our students. One-size-fits-all learning and teaching models aren’t our only options anymore. We can all learn what we want, anytime or anywhere. Based on the do-it-yourself original punk movement, we weave an environment where we can control our own learning experiences, think and learn for ourselves, and we enable others to do the same. The connectedness that comes from electronic access, open access, and social networking has uncorked the genie’s bottle, and we want to throw the cork away.
Anthropological fieldwork has always been edupunk. Over a century ago, not content to sit in our armchairs and read about the world anymore, anthropology went out and found out. Through a method called participant observation we learned about the world and the people in it by going there, becoming part of the community, watching, asking questions, taking notes, learning languages, by laughing and crying with our contacts. We learned to look at cultures holistically and tried not to make the mistake of equating a small piece of what we could see as representative of the whole of it. As the field matured, we began to include a dialogue with our contacts in our analysis, allowing us to reach deeper understandings of what really was going on. We began to insert ourselves into our ethnographies, those descriptive reports of our research findings, with the understanding that who we are and what we know affects both the people and the environment around us, changing them in ways both subtle and sharp. Edupunk in our theory and practice takes a shape that acknowledges the motion of human existence, the ever-changing world we look at and the myriad of ways we look at her. I suppose you could say that we are anthropunk.
My first foray into edupunk teaching occurred after I found a host of interesting and short videos on youtube with anthropology (and related discipline) themes. My pedagogy grew to include class wikis, blogs, photo sites, hands-on participant-observations of their own, and the use of laptops and Twitter in class. After reading about Michael Wesch’s World Simulation, I decided to try that, too. This last step is not for the faint-hearted, I must advise, but the students loved the opportunity to act out in simulation all the concepts they had learned about during the semester.
Wait, wait, you’re thinking, this is all way beyond your comfort level! You’re just getting used to students sending emails, or using a CMS to track grades, you like taking notes and having someone tell you the information you need, you don’t want to do this, you don’t have the time or expertise! Ah, you see, you don’t have to do it all at once. You don’t have to do it just because it’s there, or expected of you.
All of us have different styles, but I warrant that all of us also can include some of the tricks and tips I’ll be talking about without changing who we are. In future columns, I hope to walk you through ways in which, with little steps, we can open both our learning and teaching styles, our ways of “living the world, not just in it”. (EI) After all, we in anthropology did participation first, and I think we still do it best.
Denice Szafran is an adjunct lecturer in anthropology at SUNY College at Buffalo and SUNY University at Buffalo, where she is also a PhD student in Cultural Anthropology.
Digital Ethnography at Kansas State University