The punk zine approach

The Leisurely Historian has a nice post on what education can learn from the punk zine movement, which flourished around the time of punk. One could also expand it to any fanzine movement really (football fanzines would be another good example), where the DIY ethos makes them more valuable to a certain audience than the glossy, formal productions.

He lists several things we can learn, which I'll touch upon, but you should read his post:

  • All you need is Sharpies, tape, and a Xerox machine – ie a lot can be achieved with relatively low resource. For a zine this meant you didn't need an expensive printing press. For an educator this is even more relevant with the proliferation of free tools. You don't need a corporate VLE, or an enterprise licence for broadcast, you can create it yourself from various tools and embed them in a blog.
  • Fast and ugly is better than slow and pretty. This is probably another way of thinking of the perpetual beta, and also to move away from thinking everything has to be broadcast quality. Learners will often trade relevance and currency for quality of production, eg they'd prefer a regular vodcast that really helped them with their studies to a BBC programme that was interesting, but tangential.
  • Don’t cover what your audience can find elsewhere – oh, how relevant this is for education. This might be the biggest lesson educators have to learn over the next few years. In a pre-digital, pre -internet age the educator did cover everything (supplemented by books and articles), but now there really isn't any need now to provide most of the content. Instead it is the process of link, embed, interpret and provide structure that an online educator adopts.
  • Change things up when they get boring, but stay consistent enough that people can find you. This could again be a take on the perpetual beta approach. It isn't necessary to engage in a long user consultation exercise before undergoing a radical overhaul of design, you can change elements and if people don't like them, change back.
  • There’s always some lonely kid in rural Iowa who needs to hear what you’ve got to say. Read: Long Tail. In a global education market, and if the cost of course production is low enough (because you're using free tools and content), then you can find an audience. The Semiotics of Soccer anyone?
  • Make friends with a disgruntled Kinko’s employee. By this, he means zines used to get friends in offices to do photocopying for them. In the case of edtech it means take advantage of the free stuff available.


  • Paul Lefrere

    Nicely put. What do you make of the Leisurely Historian’s closing point about User Generated Content? It begins “the Pedagogy of the Oppressed is all about creating an engaged community of learners collaborating in the creation of knowledge…”

  • Cristina Costa

    Great post.
    You said it all. In these day and age it is the learners and theirs guides (teachers, educators, mentors …whatever we are calling them now ) that have the power and not the institution. Free tools and immediate access to these means of communication are key to develop these new approaches. We no longer need to wait for institutional provision to do something that seems relevant now! We just get on with and we just do it.
    And it has been my experience that such spontaneity in doing things like this it quite common in countries where education budgets are low or inexistent. Many rich countries still tend to go to what they call “robust, supported system”. This often leads them to get attached to one single approach which isn’t always the best choice or which after awhile is rather obsolete. Of course, there is always some edu-punks in those institutions who will be determined to explored other venues despite of the official system! 😉

  • Sarah Horrigan

    I love the sound of this approach… but… is it really institution-friendly? Though I hate the phrase… isn’t there a paradigm shift in education which needs to occur before letting go to this extent would ever be considered as anything other than educational insanity? When you’ve just invested a huge wad of cash into an institutional system which is clunky but looks sound… what motivation would there be to go ‘actually, free might be better’?
    Off to read the original post…

  • Martin

    @Paul – I’m not sure what to make of that last bit (though Pedagogy of the Oppressed has a nice rhetorical ring). The idea of fostering communities is good, but as we know from all the Wenger stuff, it isn’t always easy or reliable to do. Sometimes education needs to be, well predictable, e.g. I’ve signed up for a degree in Psychology, so that’s what I’ll get. The hit or miss of a particular community taking off can be too vague.
    @Cristina – yes, I’d think you were right about a lack of resources being a good source of motivation. Necessity being the mother of invention and all that. Enterprise systems meet an institutional need of being able to identify a system, provider, contract, etc.
    @Sarah – I’m disappointed, who’d thought you would shy away from a bit of educational insanity? 😉

  • Sarah

    Nah – I’m not shying away… I just got a job as an eLearning developer at a uni that’s invested in a swanky new VLE… which makes me wonder how on earth some of the cool stuff that’s out there can ever be introduced when it’s at the expense of the expensive! Is ‘better’ and ‘free’ a good enough argument for the accountants who sign off big VLE installations?

  • Liam Green-Hughes

    This all sounds great, but with an increasing number of students now paying for their courses, aren’t they going to expect something professional looking for their money? Maybe this isn’t such a problem, the open source and Web 2.0 tools out there are so good now that you could deploy this approach *and* go for a professional look and feel. We’ve come a long way since the days of only having photocopiers and sellotape!

  • Jim

    I too loved this zine post, and I think one of the things that spearheaded the idea of that now old and outdated term edupunk was exactly this kind of thing.
    I still think it makes sense, however we call it—but I just don’t think it needs to be thought of as necessarily part of a formal educational setting, it would kill much of the fun around i. It would have to be something you wanted to do despite grade, promotion, tenure and all that. It may ultimately help all those things, but I imagine, at least in my feeble brain, that it would be something a group of people come together and do regardless of a fancy VLE or what the semester “coverage” will allow. A fanzine should reflect a p[articular slice of thought of a given community who have shared interest and some creative ideas to share—not unlike a blog. Yet, I think it is different in that it offers a specific theme and way for people to push the creative and imaginative limits of how they understand this thing they dig. Framing it to squarely in an educational setting may (or may not) render it toothless. I think the excitement might fade a bit.
    That said, I think EdTech folks should come up with fanzine that offers people in the field a way to create and think about topics in a theme-based way that is not premised on a scholarly logic. In fact, a form of creative and rant-informed writings, image, and video that may frame the Zines of the 21st century, moreover it has to have an argument (small pieces, PLE, down with CMSs, copyright, etc.–in fact these could provide the themes of each zine release 🙂 ) that it may not be able to simply reconcile, but certainly gives people a place to air what they feel openly and creatively amongst others with a very specific set of issues that represent moment. Is this differnet from blog posts? I don;t know, but the idea of creating something together, and releasing it as a statement does suggest something different.

  • Tad

    Martin– you made many of my major points far more eloquently than I could have… much obliged.
    A couple replies to some comments, here:
    @Paul– I’m actually curious to hear what others think about that section. I know my one-sentence crunch of Freire isn’t spot-on… I only read Pedagogy… this summer for the first time. But it’s something I grew up with, as his work is a cornerstone the educational philosophy of my mother, a principle of an inner-city primary school. I do think that edtech has the potential to help aid in some of the engaged, participatory learning Freire talks about.
    @Cristina– The “necessity is the mother of invention” is equally applicable to zines, too– by their nature, zines are specialist publications that cater to an audience too small to be of interest to corporate media. And yeah– there’s nothing new about Edupunk but the metaphor. It’s all another way of looking at things that educators have been doing for ages. But that’s just it– it’s a new metaphor. And new metaphors often present exciting new inroads into discussing topics that may otherwise seem exhausted, covered, over with.
    @Sarah– To quote Jesse Michaels of Operation Ivy: “If that’s what you call normal, then I’d rather be insane!” …In all seriousness, though, I think there’s a strong argument to be made, though institutional embeddedness is definitely a difficult thing to work against. Honestly, though, as Blackboard comes closer to monopoly, I think there’s a real chance more institutions are going to feel a squeeze. And if those of us who CAN produce CMSs outside of the corporate ones do (hopefully using bandwidth and storage provided by our institutions), and do so well… well, maybe when that pinch starts to get felt, they’ll look to the best practitioners, and find that they’re using drupal, WPmu, and the like.
    @Liam– honestly, no offense, but no. The logic of your argument sort of mirrors the logic of many US universities, that with skyrocketing tuitions, we owe it to the students to build fancy new buildings. Honestly, if you want to give your students their money’s worth, get them smaller classes, better instructors, fewer Graduate Assistants and adjuncts and more tenure-track faculty. Invest in their education, not in flash. Moreover, students want something with exciting capabilities first and foremost. Visually *interesting* is second. “Professional-looking” is much farther down the list. If you don’t believe me, how can you explain the popularity of Myspace, which is PAINFULLY ugly? I’m not advocating ugly or poor design, so much as I’m saying that rounded corners are far less important than making something exciting that works. Sites can look cool without looking corporate– that’s more what I was getting at. (Although, yeah, personal aesthetics led me to making my blog basically look like an old punk zine…)

  • Lawrence

    Fantastic post + comments. Real food for thought. The linking/combining/embedding of existing, low-cost/free multiple tools/resources/content and not wasting time/effort/investment on ‘flash’ or prettiness all feels correct and, across many diverse learning + education sectors, appears to now be commom currency. The bit I am not clear on is the answer to the ‘where is the money?’ question do the technology/content producers get paid? Will this boil-down to Amazon etc referral ads? Might this burgeoning liberated + democratised learning landscape inevitably defer to what is more optimal for the ‘sponsor’ rather than the consumer?

  • Steven Egan

    I think the best way to proceed is actually to have both a structured mainstream system, schools, and a less structured counter-culture system, what ever it is/are that fills the slot. The two systems work in opposite ways, innovation and reliable repetition, but towards the same goal, education. This way the students have more choice than if the new stuff became the only choices available. It’s just that the school systems that would be working with the new stuff would be better than the ones currently available.

  • ghf

    I’m thankful to the one who wrote this passage. I always read and write this style of articles. youtube Also, as a daily writer, I present my respects to the all writers. Lately, I have watched a video resembling that in facebook. I research in all areas.
    In my opinion, people should research first and write then.

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