DIY U and a New Vision For Higher Education

I read DIY U in about 24 hours. Anya Kamenetz’s book is only 163 pages, but I don’t think it contains a single skippable sentence.

DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education is one of the most interesting and exciting books I’ve picked up in the past year. I grabbed a copy from Amazon a week ago and within one day of its arrival, I had seven chapters full of heavily annotated and underlined text. Anyone who is researching/writing about/interested in the future of higher education needs to read Kamenetz’s book.

DIY U BookIt all started when Marc Bousquet invited me to make the journey over to Atlanta last Tuesday for Emory University’s Symposium on Digital Publication, Undergraduate Research, and Writing. Glancing at the website, I spotted my friends Pete Rorabaugh and Robin Wharton, both of whom were presenting at the symposium. I figured Brian Croxall might also make an appearance, and I decided it was worth the day trip over from Athens. Thank god I did because it was a good day.

Pete was nice enough to let me crash at his place the night before, thereby allowing me to avoid a stupidly early alarm on the morning of the symposium. That night a few of us met for drinks. Our small group contained some important figures in digital scholarship, one of whom was Jim Groom, the director of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies at the University of Mary Washington.

Later that night Pete and I started seriously discussing an idea that had recently gotten a lot of traction on Twitter when I had asked the Twitterverse:

The conversation spread quickly. See Pete’s storify, if you’re interested. Bottom line: It’s apparently a subject lots of people are curious about.

I know there’s a lot more to say about this project that we’ve loosely termed an “educational collective,” but this post is allegedly about my reading of the book DIY U, so I think I’ll stick to that for now. More to come on educational collectives in future posts . . .

I was familiar with Kamenetz’s book, but I didn’t own it. At some point in our conversation, Pete and I decided we should both check it out in light of our #edcollective brainstorming session. And here’s where things started to get interesting.

In Which I Decide DIY U is a Must-Read

On my way back to Athens later that day, Pete called to read me a passage from Chapter 5 of DIY U where Kamenetz interviews both Jim Groom and Alec Couros of the University of Regina, another educational innovator we had been talking about all day. These guys are discussed in a section she labels the “monks” of “educational futurists” who “contend that community- and practice-based learning can transcend the limitations of existing educational institutions” (109). Hmmm . . . sounds a lot like a category into which we might place our educational collective.

Needless to say, I walked in the door and bought a copy of DIY U on Amazon. It arrived two days later and one day after that, it was finished. If this kind of talk excites you, do yourself a favor and grab a copy of Kamenetz’s DIY U.

Oh, and if you want to talk more about the educational collective concept, let’s do it. What are your thoughts? What if adjuncts created a new non-profit educational collective?



  1. And Kamenetz is just a jumping off point. This discussion is popping up all over and needs to be open as possible. There are related online resources and discussions not on adjunct lists, groups, pages as well as individuals and small groups already working on similar projects … or facsimiles thereof.

    Having been trapped in and influenced by Ivory Silo

    1. Right. A lot of people have talked about doing it, but no one actually has. Unfortunately, some of these big groups get paralyzed by talk and never take action.

      The idea ends up getting picked at from so many different angles that it never stands a chance. We could probably learn something from the “lean” mentality of start-up culture. Something that education has never really been good at.

  2. Oh no, not another bunch of clattering to read. Just getting the gist of her book based on this one blurb of a review, I am more than just skeptical — DIY? We need free education at state schools, and more community colleges teaching skills and working like Clemente Course on the Humanities. Time and time again, when you hear the students struggling with huge debt, their biggest complaint after that are the large classes — 400, 800, and now, what, 7 billion? Hands down, we need small, engaged classes. Retraining teachers, and movements that lend the teaching field as an avocation and one that well finds support in our cracked capitalist society.

    I don’t know if I have time to read this book —

    This is telling, though —

    DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Education (review)
    John W. Presley
    From: The Review of Higher Education
    Volume 34, Number 4, Summer 2011
    pp. 714-717 | 10.1353/rhe.2011.0018

    In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:


    Good comment, albeit stodgy, here on her IHE essay

    Editor’s Note: For the sake of conciseness, links have been substituted for full text in this comment.

    1. Actually, DIY U is about challenging educational systems that are increasingly becoming less useful in the 21st century. It asks questions about the absurd level of student debt our country is now in and it raises concerns about whether or not our existing educational model is sustainable.

      I’ll admit DIY U (do-it-yourself university) seems iffy, but Kamenetz is actually a major proponent of education and she’s just trying to wake us up to the fact that if we don’t adapt, we’ll blow it and higher ed will implode. That’s what I got from it, at least.

  3. I’d say until we “adapt”/opt-out of this consumer society, one predicated on lifting the One Percent and their army of 29-percenters wanting this broken capitalist society to chug along until it implodes — physically as well as virtually — well, we are doomed for sure.

    Community colleges have not been around long, and therein lies the problem. We need to re-engage a whole multiple-set of generations to go back and work together, first, in their community of place. That’s in the communities where the bricks and mortar are — working there on campuses, around them, in the communities. Practicing speaking at city councils, at planning and zoning meetings, at arts boards, neighborhood groups. Physically being there, with physical teachers, physical classmates. Walking off those miles at the community level to see where bikes belong, pedestrians rule and density is needed. Finding that first — applied to all aspects of education, all disciplines. The WWW and grand Wiki World of Me Do It Myself and all those apps and community boards and engaged digital communities GIS-ing and social media-ing and community journalism-ing everything imaginable are only tools, asides, really.

    I can spend a lot of time with guerrilla gardening web sites and new urbanism and tactical urbanism and global movements on subsistence farming and so much more around climate change and sustainability in on-line learning communities — and I do — but the gap is being local, acting locally, thinking local, and invigorating localism, local identities, local fabrics. Old fashioned bricks and mortar need revamping, re-uping, reinvigorating and retrofitted. Hence, community colleges should be “free,” externalized for us — at the investment through the richer generations now and the corporations and non-taxpaying entities now. For the future.

    We need traditional colleges and better educators and better, not less.

    Globally, we all have this community of purpose, and that is great, to a degree. Unfortunately, disassociating community responsibility is what the community of purpose levels when you are a multi-national or huge national chain. When you work for Bank of America in Spokane, your duties, allegiances, and operating systems are focused on BoA’s bottom line, not the place you live in.

    So, get some kick starting back to state legislatures on funding those key community colleges and certainly programs in state universities that are flagging. Do it Yourself is about hands on, hands in and hands with a real community.

    Anything that speaks to social networking, MOOC-ing, on-line DIY education is just more of the same attempt at reinventing the wheel. We have not had enough time in to say we need to chuck education as a frame for community engagement as a public space and commons.

    I’m glad, Josh, you think this book is the cat’s meow. And the author, the cat’s pajamas. I doubt it, though, really.

    What is the end game here, in any conversation about “redoing-refitting-rethinking education”? More of the same business as usual everywhere else in the USA? Full of cultural death, superficial thinking, consumer this, and consumer that? I’m skeptical, really, of DIY education. As is true in PK12, young minds need other young minds there, face to face, with other adult minds. Really. You can go on-line and look at elephant projects in real time in Kenya, or speak to kids in Haiti via skype, or do all sorts of scatter plots via satellite technology. But, really, we just want to push aside affordable and state-federal-corporate funded schools for DIY ed? Nah.

    1. It’s amazing how critical you are of a book you haven’t even read. Especially considering you’ve mostly misjudged its premise. My students would be in trouble if they tried that move.

      Totally agreed on the community argument. I believe the answer lies in some kind of hybrid that combines ftf and digital learning.

      If we just keep standing back and bemoaning the kids these days and their newfangled devices, we won’t even be invited to the table when it comes time to plan the future. We need to get involved and work towards real solutions.

  4. Whoa. First, that’s an absurd line — “my students would be in trouble if they tried that move.” That’s an interesting take, really. Thanks for the patronizing. I already prefaced my earlier statements that I have got a thousand books to read and parse. I’ve never said I know what this woman is offering specifically based on my guess. You in fact offered very little in your glowing review of her book. Not very deep, specific, but certainly a nice promo to order it on Amazon. That’s the ticket — keep Amazon running, that lovely monopoly whose Bezos family is backing charter schools for the rich here in Washington State, which was an initiative that passed this past election cycle — thanks to hundreds of thousands from Bloomberg, Walton Family, others.

    I’m certainly listening to youth and kids these days — and I hear them again, after 3.5 decades teaching in community colleges and universities — they want smaller classes, more faculty team teaching, more learning communities, and many-many more opportunities to make what they are learning and experimenting with to be applicable in the communities they live in and might end up working in after their education.

    I’m also talking to youth who wish not to be identified who work for organizations like Amazon in Seattle, and you’d be blown away their own disgust of their own hypocrisy around their involvement in the knowledge economy and software development that they themselves know will eventually put themselves or others like them — younger — out of the running for decent jobs in the future.

    I’d certainly not condemn a student who might be critical of Turner Diaries or Zero Dark Thirty based on some great critiques and analyses of those two turd things for not reading the book or attending a screening. If they want to delve into either one more deeply, well, sure, go for it.

    It’s a tough call, Josh. As a journalist, I was part of a group of reporters looking at the DoJ going after people who might have a snuff movie in their possession. Many reporters, male and females, opted out on viewing one of those disgusting things, a snuff movie. Does that make the journalist less armed to cover stories around that topic, or could that journalist have gotten the gist of the movie (sic) through second and third hand analyses?

    I’m making a leap here, though, so, when I have time, I will have to check out the book at the local library, or read-skim it at my local bookstore, even big bad Powell’s. Since I have been busy on the job hunting market, in both the virtual and physical space — though I sure wish I could have more physical contacts and ability to speak with real people and not just push upload on some HR on-line application tool — I have not gotten to Powells. And Borders is closed, and Barnes and Noble in Vancouver is closed too.

    But beware — I am DIY-ing on the WWW reading various analyses of Anaya’s book. My bad? Bad pre-research? I’d never tell my students that.

    I’ve read this take, too —

    Oh well, back to writing a piece on Cosmopolis the book and the movie. Interesting prescience Don DeLillio in his book, about the economic meltdown, before Sept. 11, 2001.

    So, as a good researcher, I have also read some of Anya’s writing, gone to her web site, and read more and more on that book you love so much — Then I will judge once I read it over a cup of fair trade coffee.

    I also expose my students to crap like this, for discussion —

    The debate over technological unemployment

    1. The thing is I agree with most of what you’re saying, but you seem to be really anxious to argue about something, anything. This conversation is going in circles and we’ve both made some good points, so I’m going to just leave them alone. Thanks for your comments, Paul.

  5. Not quite what I had in mind advocating open discussion but goes with the territory. Just Scoop’t antidote, Pete’s piece, Terror’s of a True Believer: MOOCs and the Precarity problem,, which problem he refers to briefly on recent Storify,

    Speaking of not getting picked at every which way, that is characteristic of formal higher education in general and may have much to do with institutional constraints. Workplace, occupational, languages, literacy are education areas doing more, picking less. Mobile learning may seem to far out but take a look at @Ignatia Webs Inge is a remarkable educator, radiates enthusiasm and kindness… plus understands working in low resource areas

    … now back to pondering the post human of digital culture

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