An eon ago in Twitter time–that is, yesterday–the online and open-access version of Hacking the Academy, edited by Dan Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt, was released through the University of Michigan Press’s DigitalCultureBooks imprint. The final version will be release in print in 2012. A somewhat different version of the text has been, and will continue to be, available on the original website for the project, but as Cohen and Scheinfeldt explain, the goal is both to reach audiences beyond the social media echo chamber and to show how “scholarly and educational content can exist in multiple forms for multiple audiences.”
Originally promoted as a “One Week, One Book” experiment somewhat akin to One Week / One Tool,” Hacking the Academy is an energetic look at ways “the academy might be beneficially reformed using digital media and technology,” a project dear to the heart of this site. (And, indeed, several of the contributors are either ProfHacker writers or guests.) With sections on “Hacking Scholarship,” “Hacking Teaching,” and “Hacking Institutions,” and with multiple contributions that comment directly on one another, Hacking the Academy provides an excellent thumbnail introduction to some of the most interesting questions, challenges, and opportunities posed by the intersection of digital and academic ways of being. The compressed nature of its composition–with only one week to author submissions, many of which were repurposed from other formats–means that the book is necessarily fragmentary and suggestive than comprehensive.
This is, I think, the volume’s real strength: Lots of academic writing, especially in the humanities, claims that it wants to open a conversation about a topic, but it is often delivered in a form that wards off readers rather than welcomes them, and in a fashion that is anything but timely. If poetry is news that stays new, the timeframes and incentives of academic publishing often mean that academic work is news that doesn’t want to be new. The format of Hacking the Academy works as a goad to conversation, one that explicitly invites writing and thinking back. As Cohen wrote yesterday:
it’s not ideal for some academic cases, and speed is not necessarily of the essence. But for “state of the field” volumes, vibrant debates about new ideas, and books that would benefit from blended genres, it seems like an improvement upon the staid “you have two years to get me 8,000 words for a chapter” model of the edited book.
I think this is exactly right. As a snapshot of current thinking in a particular arena, the format of Hacking the Academy seems invaluable.
Hopefully, the book’s re-appearance in slightly new guise will help its ideas gain an even wider audience. The questions it addresses are pressing, and are ones that need to be thought through with some care given the current sustained attack on the public funding of higher education.