Media studies and popular culture witnessed plenty of “hacking” during the 2000s and 2010s. To engage the term pedagogically, rhetorically, and politically, I collaborated with James J. Brown, Jr., Mary Hocks, Aimée Knight, Virginia Kuhn, Viola Lasmana, Elizabeth Losh, and M. Remi Yergeau on a multimodal collection titled, “Hacking the Classroom.”

The collection is open access and contains eight distinct “classroom hacks” or short written pieces, for which Mary and I composed an introduction. While each author and contribution have their own angle and context, the collection as a whole combines critique with creativity and aspiration with skepticism in its approach to hacking. More specifically, it attends to various normative assumptions percolating around hacking and how they unfold in the post-secondary classroom as a space, infrastructure, and culture, with an emphasis (in our case) on camaraderie and institutional change.

We published “Hacking the Classroom” in Computers and Composition Online, but it began as a panel during the 2012 Computers and Writing conference at North Carolina State University. Various links to it are below, including links to the collection, journal, and GitHub repo of files we produced for the project. I’ve also included the introduction to the collection, and I point to the CFP for Computers and Writing 2012 as well as a related talk I gave at the 2015 Modern Language Association Convention in Vancouver. Many thanks to Jim, Mary, Aimée, Virginia, Viola, Liz, and Remi for writing with me, and to Kris Blair at Computers and Composition Online for facilitating the publication process.

Parts of a 3D printer as well as some tools on a table at the University of Victoria

Hacking the Classroom: Eight Perspectives
Published in Computers and Composition Online (Hocks, Kuhn, and Sayers, eds.) in Spring 2014 | written with James J. Brown, Jr., Mary Hocks, Aimée Knight, Virginia Kuhn, Viola Lasmana, Elizabeth Losh, and M. Remi Yergeau | 13,975 words, plus audio, image, and video files | open access

Links: collection of essays (HTML); repository (GitHub); CFP (HTML) for Computers and Writing 2012; talk (HTML) with slides (HTML) at MLA 2015

Introduction, by Mary Hocks and Jentery Sayers, to “Hacking the Classroom”
At the 2012 Computers and Writing conference, a panel of academics came together and embarked upon a series of lighting round talks, broadly focused on the topic, “Hacking the Classroom.” The organizers, Virginia Kuhn and Jentery Sayers, chose this topic because it resonates with the growing practice of hacking academia by turning the critical gaze inward, rethinking institutional structures and practices, and revising them to foster new social relationships, pedagogies, and modes of inquiry.

With hacking in mind, the panelists—who hailed from disparate institutions, professional positions, and disciplines—engaged the following questions: When, where, and why do classrooms in higher ed need to be hacked? How might we hack them? And under what assumptions?

Each panelist provided particular examples of their own hacking practices as well as aspirations to hack the classroom at their respective institutions, while addressing some obstacles, enthusiasms, and curiosities encountered along the way (including the panelists’ own skepticism about the current ubiquity of “hacking”). Since the conference, the panelists revised their presentations into this collection of multimodal pieces, designed and edited by Jentery Sayers, with co-designing by Virginia Kuhn and co-editing by Mary Hocks. The eight pieces included here not only demonstrate how hacking is variously imagined and received across disciplines; they also give everyone involved a sense of possible next steps toward institutional critique and a feeling of camaraderie during the transition.

The immediate context for this current piece comes from Hacking the Academy, an edited, crowdsourced collection resulting from a call for contributions submitted within one week at the end of May 2010. Although an edited version appeared in 2013 from University of Michigan Press, the inspirational models continue to be available at the original Hacking the Academy site, which offers a flurry of manifestos and best practices for hacking academic institutional structures, scholarship, and teaching practices. Similarly, this collection is inspired by THATCamp, the rapidly growing cluster of unconferences for humanities and technologies in which conference agendas are created, developed, and enacted by participants more or less on the fly.

Hacking the academy through unconferences and unconventional scholarly communications fosters possibility and camaraderie while also subverting certain expectations of work and learning in the academy. In this collection, understandings of hacking emerged from earlier subversions, too. For example, Kuhn and Vitanza’s “From Gallery to Webtext” (which offers a curated session of synchronous new media projects) subverted the traditional conference presentation and later appeared in a manifesto issue of the journal, Kairos: Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. Another manifesto—A Manifesto for Critical Media, by Eric Faden—called practitioners to teach media studies and production “by critically engaging film, video, and new media on their own ground and with new media’s own tools, techniques, and technologies.” Elsewhere, in 2004, Anne Wysocki simply re-defined new media in a theory-pedagogy context as attending to its own materiality and means of production. All of these inspirational statements and manifestos exemplify some of hacking’s core values: constructivist collaboration, collective learning, critique enacted through media, and an emphasis on the situated relevance of learning moments. Indeed, the crucial need for adaptable means that allow practitioners to move critically inside and out of academic structures created the kairos for this collection of classroom hacks.

Each contribution included here creates and enacts a type of hacking practice while highlighting or reflecting on its own materiality and construction. Hacking spaces—the physical, digital, and personal spaces of classrooms—and deconstructing normative assumptions about those spaces are constant themes across these eight pieces. The contributions also hack the act of writing—as code, as soundscape, as remix, as process log, as video, as image. The referenced assignments hack popular understandings of literacy by emphasizing multiple semiotic modes, production over products, context over content, and reflective awareness over expertise. Scholarly products and content expertise are often the primary expectations of academic literacies. In response, this collection of classroom hacks encourages forms of intensive learning conducive to tinkering, experimenting, iteration, and productive discomfort.

“Hacking the Classroom: Eight Perspectives” offers numerous ideas for reflexive teaching and pedagogical practice. These contributions also complicate the concept of hacking, and in particular Kuhn, Losh, and Yergeau offer provocative lists of norms and assumptions about hacking. However, the authors do not expect these eight perspectives to cohere, and the collection does not suggest that hacking classrooms should be understood uniformly across settings. On the contrary, the authors hope readers will note the discontinuities and overlaps across the eight pieces, prompting further dialogue about the culture, materials, and construction of classrooms in the near future.

Table of Contents
Eight pieces, plus an introduction (open access), appear in “Hacking the Classroom.”

  • “The Year of Computational Thinking,” by James J. Brown, Jr. (open access)
  • “Sonic Literacy: Resonance and Reflection,” by Mary Hocks (open access)
  • “We Need to Talk,” by Aimée Knight (open access)
  • “Hacking My Head,” by Virginia Kuhn (open access)
  • “Remixing Spaces and Texts,” by Viola Lasmana (open access)
  • “Ten Principles for a Hacktivist Pedagogy,” by Elizabeth Losh (open access)
  • “git commit -m ‘The Classroom,’” by Jentery Sayers (open access)
  • “Disability Hacktivism,” by M. Remi Yergeau (open access)

Featured image of a glitched SNES game care of Jon Johnson. Main image of tools and 3D printer parts care of the MLab. Both used with permission. This page was created on 8 August 2019 and last updated on 12 July 2021.