The Joy of Hacking

  1. Hack or die.
  2. If it’s broke, hack around it.
  3. The digital world is your playground, hack away.

These are the main messages of Hacking the Academy.  This short volume is a project launched in the digital sphere and published in the old fashioned print world.  CHNM’s Daniel Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt solicited pieces for their book through social media and other electronic forms of communication.  They gave the ambitious deadline of seven days and, remarkably, received 329 submissions from 177 authors.  One-third of the pieces were written in that short window, the rest had already been written.  By publishing the contents in print, they hope to reach those who haven’t made the digital plunge yet.


Here are some gems that stood out to me from this lively collection of pieces by digital optimists doing digital humanities:

1.  Hack or die.

-If scholars do not more fully embrace digital technology, non-scholars driven by profit may call the shots in ways not agreeable to the profession’s aims and values.

-Get over peer-review.  Publish then filter is the way of the web.  Engaging with peers and beyond is happening in many new ways.

-Get over books.  Embrace web-based models: Digital Story Telling (using more than just text), use HTML so others can interact with your content.

-Get over arrogance and jargon as “experts.”  Think of accessibility to new audiences beyond the academy.

2.  If it’s broke, hack around it.

-The for-profit publishing (online and print) market is a racket that is damaging the ethical imperative that knowledge be shared as widely as possible.

-Publish with non-profit journals that allow greater open-access and publish using various formats that are open online.

3.  The digital world is your playground, hack away.

-Rethink what we share or publish:  beyond the book review, editorial, journal and monograph are other useful forms to other scholars.  Blogs, tweets, online syllabi, tweets, source-sharing (e.g. Delicious and LibraryThing), e-books and so forth are such examples.

-Rethink classrooms: arrange rooms for collaboration and exploration, not as shrines to the expert person and screen at the front.

-Rethink the teacher’s role:  information is no longer scarce, teachers can help students learn how to learn by being a role model, facilitator of collaboration, tech support and sage guide.

-Rethink the focus of teaching: stop asking students to cram so much “what” and “how” and go back to the “why.”  Teach how to learn and other critical inquiry skills because content is no longer king in a world where content changes quickly and is easy to access.

-Rethink “correct answers”:  make the stimulation of new questions the goal.

-Rethink subjects: facilitate learning processes that allow students to learn subjectivities and not just subjects.  Michael Wesh describes these as “ways of approaching, understanding and interacting with the world.”

-Rethink assessment:  beyond standardized tests and even essays, figure out how to measure higher order thinking and affective dimensions.  After all, creativity, risk-taking, invention and being fine with uncertainty are needed skills in a knowledge economy.

-Rethink diplomas:  consider portfolios of work as proof of skills, knowledge and expertise.

-Rethink conferences: organize smaller “un-conferences” that allow participants to contribute to the subjects discussed, to collaborate with peers in exploration and problem solving and to gain what they need and not what a few deem the needs of the many.

-Rethink libraries:  space for storing information is no longer scarce, so libraries ought to be places were scholars can connect with people as well as text resources to explore and solve problems collaboratively.

Perhaps the way to sum up an active embrace of the digital humanities is best put by Jeff Jarivs, “Life is a perpetual beta[!]”


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