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Hackjam Provocations

Hackjam Provocations

Written by Chad Sansing
October 12, 2011

This piece is co-authored with Meenoo Rami.

We (Chad & Meenoo) want  to begin by thanking the NWP Hackjam development team for all the inspiring work its members have done in making this post possible. So, thank you Christina and Paul! We want to thank our participants, as well, for throwing themselves enthusiastically into the messy work of remaining schools and classrooms.

Though it’s taken us far too long to write more about the inaugural National Writing Project (NWP) hackjams, we’ve held on to their questions, conversations, and provocations in approaching our work this year.

At their shared, most fundamental level, both the NWP hackjam at #ISTE11 and the Central Virginia Writing Project hackjam invited participants to question schools’ systemic biases for adult control of classrooms and technology.

How do we share authority with students over learning (which can transform our schools), and how do our attitudes toward and uses of technology (which can transform our schools) help or hinder that communion? These are the most essential questions behind our hackjams.

There is also an essential understanding that should be developed in tandem by facilitators and participants over the course a hackjam: the conversation, rather than the answer, moves us forward.

Indeed, it would be a significant school hack if we acted as inspired from conversation rather than as required by mandate.

In hope of starting more conversations – and in hope of and better and more widely articulating the questions behind the work of NWP hackjams – we want to share out our provocations. Please use them as you see fit. We hope they help you in reflecting on our work or in planning a hackjam of your own. (We haven’t linked to many of our resources because we hope that you’ll find materials you can localize for your audience without undue influence on dependence on “old” news; feel free to write for more information on the resources we used).

NWP Hackjam Provocations

  1. How can we explain hacking?We asked groups of hackjam participants to inbox, set up, and play Monopoly according to rules made up and then kept or discarded by the group. After playing for a half hour or so, we talked about how playing this way was like “hacking” Monopoly.
  2. How can we bridge from hacking Monopoly to hacking schools?Next we talked about how schools are like and unlike monopolies. While black hat – or criminal – hacking is pretty clearly defined by its maliciousness and profiteering, monopoly busting – a kind of white hat hacking – gave us another way to consider the “good guys” and “bad guys” of hacking.
  3. What is hacking? Who are hackers?After debating schools’ monopolies and biases towards kids, adults, and their time, we paused to create and share portraits of hackers. As best able, we shared our portraits digitally on the tumblr dedicated to NWP hackjams. (I like to talk about Matthew Broderick’s characters in Wargames and Ferris Bueller to share how I see the connections between hacking and hacking school and/or learning.)
  4. How does the media portray hacking?To continue discussing and complicating hacking, we looked at current events in hacking. We looked at the work of Anonymous and Lulzsec, but also at the Suxnet virus – a weapon designed to incapacitate specific elements of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. We tried to use these media cases to further a conversation about the contextual nature of hacking and to imagine “good” and “bad” education hacks.
  5. How does the media portray youth, resistance, and technology?Then we looked at how the media portrays youths’ use of technology for organization. We watched and analyzed a flash mob that sparked police intervention, as well as a “we-are-not-a-flash-mob” youth gathering meant to question adult opposition to teens organizing teens. We talked about our schools’ attitudes towards students’ possession and use of technology on campus. We talked about our own attitudes. We wondered about the opportunity costs – to learning and leadership – of limiting youth’s use of technology at school. We wondered what it would take to accept and leverage the ways kids use technology into our classrooms.
  6. What is digital literacy?Out conversations about media led us to talk about digital literacy and how much students – and teachers – know and don’t know about technology. We talked about whether or not it’s true that we can either program or be programmed (see Douglas Rushkoff) by the technology we use. We talked about programming as composition and its place in schools and language arts classrooms.
  7. What are concrete applications for ethical hacking in the classroom?Penultimately, we explored Mozilla’s Hackasaurus tools so we could see how students and teachers could learn together about the web and how they can program it. The Hackasaurus tools let users see and “hack” the code of a webpage locally in their browser without changing or really hacking webpage itself. Users can print or screen capture their “hacks” to share and discuss as satire, or as analytical, creative, or persuasive writing.
  8. How does hacking give agency to our students?Our discussions around media knowledge of students and teachers led us into the discussions of what are the implications of having students who are very adept at consuming digital content but have little or knowledge of creating it. The overall consensus in the room was that students need more than one set of literacy skills and experiences like a hackjam could lead our students to develop a sense of ownership over their digital experience. If the old adage Knowledge is Power is true then there is no other way to give power to our students than to empower them with the knowledge of some introductory hacking skills. Not all students may go on to develop deep interest in this topic but we believe that it will lead to some rich discussion in your classes.
  9. Where do we go from here?We planned to end each hackjam by asking participants to create portraits of themselves as hackers; however, we didn’t get to that activity in either hackjam and instead ended in a series of rolling conversations about the how and why of hacking schools and classrooms. We didn’t want anyone to leave our hackjams feeling like he or she had to try out a lesson or piece of technology; we wanted everyone to leave our hackjams feeling like teachers and students could act and learn together to change their classrooms and schools for the better.

We hope this rudimentary walkthrough helps you think about the relationship between our schools, our classrooms, our students, us, and the work we’re asked to do. There is a world of new media out there that our schools, as a system, as busily disregarding in favor of the work of testing and intervention in math and reading. We often wonder how much more math and reading we would be doing alongside our students through interdisciplinary work that is permitted to go beyond what we buy at school.

Ultimately, schools and classrooms have their own codes and biases, and to challenge them effectively and ethically, we and our students need to do some programming – and some hacking – of our own.

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