A short explanation from a terminal smasher (or, Blackboard as an access control company)

YAAY! I am also going to smash all my corporate-made computers and hand-build my own. It’s NOT about the vehicle – it’s how you use it…

— Lee (no last name provided) dismissing EDUPUNK in a comment on the Chronicle article

As a person who has been involved in quite a bit of social activism, and done way too many interviews where I felt the resulting article was to the side of the real point, I have to say the fact the Chronicle has now covered EDUPUNK is incredibly significant, no matter what the slant. This term is literally less than a week old, and it is already disturbing people. That’s very very, good. And the fact the article links to our little blogring here means that the article can say whatever it wants (and kudos to the Chronicle reporter for being linky here). People interested in the concept can wander over into our conversation and get a level of analysis deeper than the “let’s smash Blackboard” dismissal.

And since they may be wandering over here, let’s clarify that.

First — on why this ends up being about Blackboard, even though we all just want to move on… well, is there another LMS of the size and influence? Of course not. Any discussion of LMS use in America is going to focus primarily on Blackboard, and if people don’t like that, they have only Blackboard and their government to blame. EDUPUNK didn’t grant them the patent, and EDUPUNK didn’t crush competing options through lawsuits and buyouts.

But let’s get to the main point, the thing that becomes clear once we get past EDUPUNK as terminal smashers rhetoric.

The movement is primarly creative, not destructive. It just looks like destruction to those who haven’t seen creativity in a while.

They didn’t get that about punk either, as Iggy himself tried to explain in a CBC interview:

Look, the movement is not anti-corporation. Google makes a profit, as does WordPress, as does pbwiki, as does Twitter (well, ok, not technically *profit* there, but still).

What the movement is about is this — while Blackboard was busy trying to leverage their foothold in the University to get into the business of dining hall management, video surveillance, and door access control, this little thing called Web 2.0 happened. And suddenly the technology Blackboard had for learning began to look — well, old. Junky. Very 1999.

So while Bb spent their efforts trying to become the single sign-on point for your instiitution, professors, frustrated with the kludginess of the actual *learning* part of Bb’s suite, started looking elsewhere for solutions.

Their first discovery was that they could do everything they were doing in Blackboard for free, and much more easily.

But the second discovery was the kicker. These Web 2.0 tools they adopted encouraged them to share their stuff with the world, instead of locking it away in a password protected course. And suddenly, they got a taste of open education. And it didn’t stop there. The tools they adopted had a true web DNA, and played well with other tools in a loosely coupled mode. So suddenly, they got a taste of what it was like to build your own custom learning environment.

And so on. They started to experience the creativity that the web can unleash, and experienced for the first time that connectivist thrill people had been going on about.

And it was then, with their courses out on the net for all to see, having developed WordPress pages that mashed together video with slideshares with twitter updates and del.icio.us feeds, having witnessed students commenting on posts right next to people from across the world, having seen authors of books responding to their student’s reader response essays, directly —

It was then that it hit these people. Blackboard was never a learning tool.

It was an access control system.

That detour into running your dining hall cards and your security cameras? It wasn’t a detour. It was the core business, extended into other realms. To Blackboard, it’s the same business. You pay your money, you get to get in and get the food.

And I think a lot of people realized at that point that Blackboard did not have (and never did have) the slightest idea what the web was about. Once you see how access control, and not learning, is at the heart of what they do, reading their promotional material becomes amusing. Even the better advocates for Web 2.0 over at Bb can’t escape the pull of the force. Here’s their promotion of their new Web 2.0 collaboration tool, Scholar:

That’s really what Scholar is all about. The whole idea is to enable academic resource storing and sharing among people with the common focus of education…a “validated network”, if you will. All Scholar users are instructors, students or staff from educational institutions and therefore you can consider most of the resources on Scholar “vetted”. It certainly saves me time and effort in a lot of the research I do everyday.

You see, it’s Web 2.0 — with access control! And this is from one of the more astute people over there. But she can’t fight it. It’s in the DNA of the company.

Look here’s the deal in a nutshell. If you believe there’s not much difference between the business model and mission of your Dining Commons, and the business model and mission of your university or college, by all means, give your vendor the keys. Let their feature set determine what you do in your classroom. Get excited about all the people you can keep out of your academic endeavor. Tie your roster and your building access into the same central database.

Seriously, go ahead. From a student service perspective, it may be exactly what you want. Go with God.

Just don’t confuse that with education. Keep your education EDUPUNK.

We’ve seen the future. And we’re not going to put it back in the box.

21 thoughts on “A short explanation from a terminal smasher (or, Blackboard as an access control company)

  1. I actually don’t want to be too hard on the folks at the Blackboard blog — I know that their hearts are in the right place — they are just stuck working for the empire, trying to make a difference from the inside. You know how I know that? Because a) some of my old friends from Cognitive Arts are over at Blackboard, and we were idealists to the core, and b) Because Greg Ritter over there reads Brian and D’Arcy. That’s right, Blackboard reads EDUPUNK!

  2. I changed the title from “a short note from a terminal smasher” to the current overlong title based on feedback that the real meat of the article is too far down the column…..hopefully now people will read it until after the Iggy vid where it starts to get to the point…..

  3. Mike, I like the thread of this discussion quite a bit. The thing I am wondering about has to do with lies down the road — on one side, I worry about encouraging the use of external tools b/c of fears of permanence and on the other hand I have a bad feeling about a large collection of the Institutional knowledge that is wrapped up in teaching fall into the hands of any one vender. Does that make any sense?

    Your questions here are very good ones. I’d like to follow this as a line of open discussion among many of the people you point to. I feel like if we are going to move this discussion forward we need to do it with a large, community-based, voice.

  4. “Don’t stick a candle in turd and call it a cupcake.”

    Not sure what this commenter was referring to on the Chronicle piece, Bb or EduPunk. Perhaps it was just a piece of practical advice. But I like the the whole DYI, punk-inspired vibe behind Jim Groom’s thang, despite my current wrath at WordPress’s bug-infested 2.5 upgrade. I don’t know a damn thing about Bb, but based on what other people say about it I feel glad to not have to work with it.

    I also didn’t know that Bb did dining hall management, video surveillance, and door access control. Is this Blackboard or Blackwater? Will they be handling these services at the new Cheshire County Jail in Marlborough?

    Seriously, it sounds like something out of Kurt Vonnegut. You log in and become unstuck in time like Billy Pilgrim, and the next thing you know you’re getting a cavity search at the local lockup, courtesy of Blackboard.

    Don’t think it can’t happen. One word: Vista.

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  7. @Cole: absolutely on the permanence issue. This is a major thing we have to address. One of the things I’ve been wondering is if consortiums like the Open Courseware initiative might be able to help institutions with that…

    In an ideal world I think we would be using Web 2.0 technology, but maybe syndicated from a central authoritative source — so materials would be uploaded to a store and sent out to YouTube, WordPress, etc.

    It gets complex quickly though.

    In the short run, some good archiving habits could get us pretty far.

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  9. Very good. If people hadn’t been paying attention but suddenly started too, because of this meme, this post goes a fair distance to helping them along if they want to come. Not all the way, for that they gotta face the fear themselves, but good job.

  10. Thanks, Scott. I appreciate it

    Also, one of the great things about this meme-storm is that I’ve added so many blogs to my reader as a result of people coming here and commenting. Your blog is one of the great adds. So thanks for that, and keep posting!

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