‘Hacking the Academy’ – Intimate Conversations with Voices at the Edge

By Jessica Knott
Associate Editor
Editor, Twitter

Much like the tone of ETC Journal, the collection of articles compiled in Hacking the Academy does not comprise the most rigorously edited academic prose. The writing is often conversational, rarely dense, and I found this to be one of its greatest strengths. I felt as though these academics were sharing private ruminations, not writing manifestos. From the moment on page seven I read Tad Suiter’s definition of a hacker as being “a person who looks at systemic knowledge structures and learns about them from making or doing,” I was hooked. So much of what we do in online education (indeed, education in general) is “hacked,” whether we acknowledge it or not. I believe the greatest value this collection provides is fodder for debate: in a time where “the academy” is equally immovable and in flux, are we doing enough to challenge ourselves and each other as we work within its virtual, tangible walls?

Hacking A2In a chapter on Unconferences, Watrall, Calder, and Boggs discuss the hidden costs and challenges of organizing a “for the people, by the people” type of conference. As a matter of full disclosure, I have attended Great Lakes THATCamp twice. It feels, by far, more like a true academic conference than an unconference. If you are considering attending or planning an Unconference, I encourage you to heed Watrall’s advice regarding planning. In this particular instance I can tell you that what he writes truly translates to an experience that surpasses expectation.

In this vein, separate from the overall conference planning, I encourage readers to pay close heed to Calder’s urging toward self-preparedness: “The best thing about an unconference is that professionals are able to come together and discuss real issues face to face… your input could be the difference between moving someone else’s project forward – perhaps in ways they never expected” (135). This, the perspective of the prepared other, planning to present or not, is a refreshing one. Follow Watrall on Twitter at @captain_primate, and Boggs at @clioweb. 

As might be expected in a humanistic tome, voices are a huge theme throughout this book, and social media emerges as a means for making one’s academic voice heard. Have you ever attended a conference via Twitter or another social media outlet because you could not afford to attend in person? I have. And, so has Brian Croxall (@briancroxall). In “The Absent Presence,” he describes the plight of many contingent faculty members, as members who work as academics, focused on teaching, scholarship, and much of that which tenured faculty members also do, but without the benefits.

Croxall’s description of the detrimental effects not just to himself but to his students, too, is what makes this piece especially poignant, and its previous publications have sparked debate throughout the academic sphere. Here, he reflects on his experience “going viral” on the Internet (“Recently, I’ve had to come to grips with the fact that I’ve quite likely peaked” (119) and, with a wry humor, discusses what it was like to read of himself as a “virtual nobody” who had suddenly found visibility – because of the incredible networking power of the Internet. His voice was heard loud and clear, far beyond the 35 people his colleague addressed in the break out session at the MLA conference.

As an associate editor of a collaborative education blog, you had better believe that the chapter on blogging caught my eye. What surprised me was that the chapter and its sections were not longer. What surprised me further was that they didn’t have to be. Daniel Cohen cut to the heart of blogging with this: “The most stimulating, influential professors, even those with more traditional outlets for their work – like books and journals – overflow with views and thoughts…as it turns out blogs are perfect outlets for obsession” (29). Say, if you must, that blogs are dying, or even that they’re dead. I challenge you, then, and say that perhaps you’ve just not tried to see what more they can do.

Overall, Hacking the Academy was a valuable read. It challenged my perceptions and forced me to think about what I believe about higher education, online education, and the directions we’re taking as a field. I found some new ideas, and others I feel are up for debate. Have any ETC readers picked up a copy, or are any of you interested in doing so? I would love to discuss your views!

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Update 5.23.13: See Jim Shimabukuro’s review ‘Hacking the Academy’ – A Test of Time.

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