Hack.Edu Introduction

From Gerald R. Lucas

This electronic book, or ebook, is began as a how-to manual of sorts for college students in the digital age. While there are plenty of resources already in print about writing, research, and college life, few of them address how to use digital technologies to augment education. That is the purpose of this book. It is a manual for everyday practices that leverage the power of digital technology and social media to hack traditional approaches to education. It’s a guide aimed specifically at today’s college students, but those who believe that education is not confined to the halls of academic institutions might also find something of value within.


HackEdu takes Richard Stallman’s definition of the hacker as its foundational figure. A “hacker” employs a playful cleverness to create and modify systems for particular purposes. Hackers are creative, unconventional, and disruptive. They strive to make their lives and the lives of their community better by hacking systems they use daily.

HackEdu’s goal is to identify educational hacks that we can practice to improve our teaching and learning in the digital age. We want to take advantage of these new, powerful tools to change education for the better and for everyone. HackEdu addresses topics from online research to the citing of digital documents; from writing strategies to using social media in the classroom. We live in a digital world and the challenges that presents us need to be addressed in our teaching and learning. Contemporary educators might also find some of these ideas valuable.

In Being Digital, Nicholas Negroponte argues that modern education hasn’t really changed since its beginnings.[2] If we were to take an educator from the nineteenth century and plop her into one of our classrooms, she would have no trouble finding her way around. Try that with a surgeon. While most contemporary professions have changed along with technology, education seems to be an exception. This doesn’t have to be the case.

Digital media offers both the educator and the student ways of hacking education. The traditional classroom conforms to a particular power structure: the teacher stands in front while the students sit quietly waiting to be filled with knowledge. The fact of digital devices challenges this traditional structure. With our smartphones, we now have access to any information the teacher does. Shouldn’t this fact alone prompt us to rethink how we teach and learn? Why not use this digital access to our advantage to hack education to work better for us? This book suggests ways we can do so.

The contents of HackEdu come from various blog posts made over the last few years as our culture has become more digitally saturated. These posts were designed to help college students in the liberal arts with some of the basics of writing in the Humanities. As this collection grew, I decided to publish an ebook to help with digestion. Lots of links to various web sites can get confusing, so I collected the essays all in this volume. That said, many of these posts are still online in their original forms, if you prefer to read them on the web.

Similar to teaching and learning, scholarship is also the product of a print paradigm. Since publishing a book — the major symbol of Western knowledge — was time consuming and expensive, years were often dedicated to a research project before it ever saw publication. However, the new digital tools at our disposal can also revolutionize the way that scholars (who, though we might not readily admit it, are just more advanced students) think communicate, and build their disciplines (or learning networks).

This ebook is an experiment in what I call “open-source scholarship” — borrowed from open-source software. The idea is to “release early, release often” in order to get the code out to as many eyes as possible for feedback and additions. Continue reading for more.

So grab a cup of coffee, lean back, and read at your leisure. Students might want to dive right into “How to Do Well in My Class,” while educators might continue reading below for some more background, or just begin to peruse the articles tagged with “Hack.Edu.” If you have questions or comments, I’d love to hear them. Reach me on Twitter and be sure to use the #HackEdu hashtag.


  1. This post was originally going to be the introduction of an ebook written for Inkling. I decided that my posts would be more accessible on the web. Originally written on June 8, 2016 for LitMUSE.
  2. Negroponte, Nicholas (1996). Being Digital. New York: Vintage. ISBN 0679762906.