Between DIY edupunks and big data extraction

I just read through a review of the book DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education by Anya Kamenetz (2010). The title was intriguing. And her message seems to be too. She explains the revolution of open online education and how technology and social media are changing how we think of education, how accessible it is independent from expensive university fees, student loans and other limitations compared to classroom and campus-based education. She calls the participants in these spaces “edupunks” and “edupreneurs” as they learn self-directed through MOOCs and set up peer-to-peer education.

And I really don’t want to be a killjoy when it comes to social media and teaching. But I am skeptic here.

Taking this course on open pedagogy and open educational resources, I have to say I have some hesitation when it comes to social media and its usage for assignments in particular. As much as I recently started to enjoy Twitter and Instagram, eager to find out how these things might be useful for my teaching practice, I also see massive downsides in them. I don’t mean social media anxiety here, more the question of a political climate and vulnerability connected to social media.

Writing tweets or blogging, makes one more public than giving academic talks at expert conferences or participating in a few activists’ panels. I started tweeting last week, after the course had its second tweet chat. This chat took place just an hour before the first keynote speaker at the Finnish national gender studies conference opened the event with her talk. As  I am currently a visiting scholar at Helsinki University I was part of the conference. And I felt brave after the course chat. Right after closing our ONL tweet I continued tweeting on the conference hashtag about the keynote and the following panels and plenary sessions. Honestly, I had a few sleepless hours over some of my tweets later that day, especially about my clumsy illiteracy in how to write a good tweet, the @ and the # were all over the place…

Public caution

But on another topic, while tweeting I linked my posts with other relevant hashtags besides the conference hashtag. I thought this might be good to get more attention for the speaker and her keynote for instance. But I also realised that at this moment I am becoming a public figure. No longer a researcher and teacher anonymous in my office, but actually highly visible, openly making statements that are feminist, anti-racist, pro-trans, and queer-friendly, speaking to a community of listeners without any idea of their reactions.

In a world in which feminism is increasingly targeted by a growing alt-right and populist movement, becoming vocal in social media can be a dangerous move. It’s a question, when the next neo-Nazi decides to target my house (this is public information in Sweden) or writes hateful letters? It has happened to my colleagues in Sweden many times (the letters mostly). But this is fairly harmless considering more difficult national contexts where public feminist opinions are criminalised. I wonder, when considering using tweeting, and blogging as teaching tools for “shared” assignments, in the name of open pedagogy, I really wonder if social media is a safe place to send my students to?

As you can see, my formerly discussed social media anxiety, is now taking shape as a full fledged crisis.

It’s the crisis of the publicness of one’s political opinion – it comes partly from caution but mainly from responsibility for my students. Being a teacher in Gender Studies means that all my teaching content is far from neutral. So are the student assignments and interactions. Mostly Gender Studies as a discipline is seen as politically charged, even as ideological. From the point of populist critics, it is harming conservative family values, questioning white supremacy and privilege, as well as provoking feelings of transsexuality in perfectly normal people (Gilloz et al. 2017).

Openness as a continuum

Listening to Kay Oddone discussing openness is a continuum, I wish I would live in a world where I could be fully open with my opinion, where my colleagues and students wouldn’t be exposed to murder and other threats and were I could safely send my students into the public sphere of open educational sharing without negative consequences for their potential opinions on trans rights, homosexuality, refugee support, and intersectional feminist politics. Yet, this is not the case.

Open education, fully grounded in the wish to accommodate largest possible forms of accessibility, student-centered, anti-hierarchical structures of learning and knowledge exchange, transparency and its ethos of sharing and accountability (Oddone/Creelman) would be a good place to create a feminist, norm-critical classroom of inclusiveness, accessibility and non-hierarchical learning collectively (hooks 1994). In this sense, the two philosophies of feminist pedagogy and open pedagogy have a lot in common. It meets for instance also in Catherine Denial’s concept of “pedagogy of kindness” – a learner-centered idea of pedagogy (Denial 2019). This is something that has been inherent to feminist and critical pedagogy throughout all decades of its existence.

Open pedagogy has become strongly identified through the creating, use and sharing of open educational resources (OER) (Whiley/Hilton 2018). While open pedagogy can mean many things, e.g. a trusting pedagogical context, its increased link with open educational resources and the “open movement” (Oddone/Creelman). “Open pedagogy” has in the 21st century become increasingly associated with the creation, use, and sharing of open educational resources (OER). Open pedagogy and open education resource-based pedgagoies mark a particular moment in time when social media and internet-based sharing entered the field of education (Wiley/Hilton 2018). A significant element in open pedagogy is the non-disposable, or “renewable” assignment in opposition to the “disposable assignment.” (Wiley/Hilton 2018). Another significant marker, according to more conservative peagogues, is the imperative of the five Rs: retain, reuse, revise, remix and redistribute. These five elements mark what one can do with classroom lectures, reading material, assignments and syllabi. It is strongly connected to the anti-copyright movement and free licensing ideas.

A less narrow and less tech-based definition of open pedagogy is put forth by Robin DeRose and Rajiv Jhangiani who offer a more processual notion by contending, that open pedagogy “is a site of praxis, a place where theories about learning, teaching, technology, and social justice enter into a conversation with each other and inform the development of educational practices and structures.” In their understanding it’s a shifting definition that is under constant renegotiation.

Coming back to ideas of safety and caution when teaching open online courses, I have to account for not benign the one who knows all. Literally. I have to account for not being the one who knows for instance the national context, the political conventions, the limits of what is speakable, and the unsafety into which my students wander off when leave their Telegram chats and start blogging their course essays as “blog entries” in the name of the “useful assignment”.

On the shoulders of giants

The useful assignment, I love this term – and I love the idea of assignments that are not read by only one person but by many -that become useful in the information that is shared and given. It’s fantastic if students want to blog, tweet, Facebook feed and share their opinions widely. But this can’t be a compulsory classroom assignment since I don’t know my students’ contexts, their levels of vulnerability to threats and to social exposure, or the easiness one’s opinion can lead to criminalisation. It’s such a small step to overstep the narrow parameters when opening Pandora’s box of discussing one’s opinion on same-sex marriage, abortion and reproductive rights, forced sterilisations of indigenous and queer people, or human rights in general.  Apart from this, a critique in exploitative social structures are always linked to colonial contingencies and capitalism. Not an easy diet for many political situations when considering an international classroom.

I am also here thinking of Harvard Professor Shoshana Zuboff’s work on surveillance capitalism (Zuboff 2019; 2014). Her work adds another dimension to my caution towards public assignments. It’s the question of data extraction from social media, which is especially relevant here, when linked to educational technologies. She critiques the tech-centered move to learning as detrimental to democracy as it is strongly embedded in a surveillance regime and a new form of capitalising on personal data. It creates a surveillance capitalism that is ultimately oppressive and harmful and this surveillance technologies generate new forms of political, economic and social power.

Hard to belief after all these negative arguments…

But I am really excited about open pedagogy!

I am fond of its commitment to social justice and accessibility, and, despite of my critique of sharing and open assignments via social media, I am tremendously enjoying this course on Open Online Learning and its participants from different parts of the world – and the sychronous experience of snow outside my window in Finland and spring in South Africa.

This post is more a matter of reflection, of awareness, and possibly a request of sensitivity towards my fellow learners in this course in regards to constructing social media-based assignments. Now, I end this entry with a quote, Kay Oddone shared with us during her talk on sharing and openness, “If we stand on the shoulders of giants, what heights might there be?” Let’s just make sure it’s a friendly giant we select for our outlook into the future!



Denial, Catherine. 2019. “A Pedagogy of Kindness”. Hybrid Pedagogy. Blog.

DeRosa, Robin and Rajiv Jhangiani, Open Pedagogy Notebook. Sharing Practices, Building Community. Blog.

Gilloz, Oriane, Nima Hairy, Matilda Flemming. 2017. “Getting to know you: mapping the anti-feminist face of right-wing populism in Europe” Open Democracy Net. Blog.

hooks, bell. 1994. Teaching to Transgress. Education as the practice of freedom. London: Routledge.

Jhangiani, Rajiv and Robin DeRosa, “Open Pedagogy and Social Justice,” Digital Pedagogy Lab, June 2, 2017,

Kamenetz, Anya. 2010. DIY U: edupunks, edupreneurs, and the coming transformation of higher education. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Oddone, Kay and Alaistair Creelman, “Openness and sharing in education”. Course lecture.

Wiley, David and John Hilton. 2018. “Defining OER-Enabled Pedagogy.” International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 19 (4): 133 – 14

Wiley, David. 2013. “What is open pedagogy?”

Zuboff, Shoshana. 2014. “Safetys in Numbers?” Frieze, issue 161, March 2014.

Zuboff, Shoshana. 2019. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.

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Teacher and researcher in Gender Studies with a specialization in the field of Transgender Studies!

3 thoughts on “Between DIY edupunks and big data extraction”

  1. Thank you Wibke for an interesting perspective on openness. I can relate to feeling conflicted about this subject. There is such possibility for greatness in openness and sharing. But also a lot of questions to be considered.

    As for the subjects of equality I think that social media has been a great force in spreading awareness. Some people have had to be brave to start sharing for example what it is like to be trans. And this means a huge risk for the first people doing this. But if no one did then how can people be enlightened? This is a dilemma. I agree with you that it needs to be an individual choice when it comes to subjects that can be seen as controversial.

  2. I really enjoyed your blog and you pointed out a very important and controversial issue. In fact sharing some specific ideas might be dangerous for some people that lives in specific controlled and repressive countries. But I still believe that a human life cannot be controlled by fear. That is actually the purpose of some of the more repressive or right-wind parties and leaders, to control the masses through fear. In those settings, where fear is the controlling mechanism to keep the people under narrow believes, only the few most courageous ones will speak out freely. But, if more and more people would release themselves from the fear, and speak out as well, the message would reach more people and the number of persons to be targeted would be so high that it would be impossible for the repressive leaders to punish them all. The masses have the power when they stick together.
    But I totally understand your point on being cautious in making obligatory to students to share their assignments on-line and thanks for pointing out such an important issue!

  3. Thank you for posting your insightful views on openness – I learned a lot from reading your post. I also share the feelings of being conflicted about this topic. Thank you also in particular for bringing Professor Zuboff’s work to my attention – based on what you write here, that work seems extremely central in relation to the current political climate in many parts of the world, and would also be relevant to study in the context of open sharing and of the tangible risks of such practices.

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