Hacker Ethics and Higher Learning: The Moral Clash Determining the Future of Education ~ Praxis Habitus - On Race Religion & Culture

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hacker Ethics and Higher Learning: The Moral Clash Determining the Future of Education

Special thanks to Joe Creech and the good people of the Lilly Fellows Program for an enjoyable time of conversation on the nature of "place" in our professional lives as scholars in higher education. 

I'm just recovering from a very full conference schedule with the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts annual conference held this year at Valparaiso University.  My warm thanks are extended to the many new friends and colleagues I met over several meals and dozens of conversations.

It was an honor to be invited to give a keynote address along with two other notable scholars.

Seal of Valparaiso UniversityImage via Wikipedia
The conference revolved on the notion of "place" in higher education and, appropriately, there was a scholar of art and architecture, a theologian working on issues of globalization, and myself, a sociologist who pays attention to religion and social change. I focused on the transformation of higher learning welling-up from the cumulative transformations in digital connectivity.

My talk revolved around two moral orientations, two moral "codes" if you will, that are clashing (rather than converging) in higher education today.  The first code is the formative retreat ethic that stresses the moral imperative of creating a cloistered space of education that works toward discipline and even piety. Our institutions of higher education have an underlying moral orientation: a formative retreat for the cultivation of virtuous adults. I speculate that the stronger the religious orientation of the college, the stronger the formative moral imperative of the institution.

On the other hand is a new ethic, a Hacker Ethic, that emphasizes openness, free access, and utter playfulness. The Hacker Code, Hacker Ethics, and Hacker Culture – these are terms I use heuristically to describe a nascent, overarching ethos that has fueled the development of our increasingly “connected” (I mean digitally, online, networked connected) lives from the 1950s until now. Various principles are involved (I give several lists and descriptions in my talk), and much of it centers on digital connectivity.

What I stressed to this esteemed group of scholars and administrators is that higher education is caught in a larger transition. Banks, phone companies, and our local and federal governments are all firmly committed to open internet connectivity. For example, the federal government just announced at the end of September that while we can still physically mail our returns, more people are e-filing and, as a cost cutting measure, the federal government will no longer mail tax forms, but we must access them online. Examples could be multiplied many times over.

Our schools are dominated by this connectivity as well – Barry Wellman on twitter recently wrote, “Student finds it impossible to go cold turkey off the grid because official announcements & research materials are only online.” The internet is not just a tool of knowledge and business but has become something much more.

Hacker Culture logoImage via Wikipedia

We submit grades online, our students register for courses online, use electronic course reserves (72% of professors use course management systems), answer questions, set calendar appointments, distribute departmental information and committee reports, and even submit journal articles and whole book manuscripts. Increasingly we post syllabi and study content, we skype into meetings, we blog and tweet (about one-third of professors as far as I can find a statistic) our results.  Administrators are pushing internet connectivity to solve certain problems and scholars are using internet connectivity to solve others.

It took me a while… but I soon saw that there was a new set of ideals being promoted. What fuels the development of these new digital realms is not just clever innovation but a new morality, what’s been called the Hacker Ethic. Hackers represent those who were taking advantage of the new spaces and new possibilities opened by the creation of new structures. It’s an entire moral orientation.

Although you can't see the Power Point slides emphasizing different points, here's part 2 of 4 parts of the keynote available on YouTube:

More on the "Hacker Ethic" can be found in part 3.

I'm grateful for the time at Valpo and a new set of conversations.  Certainly there are many others who understand these dynamics far better than I do and can speak far more articulately about them.  But this was my chance to package my best understanding of the things that affect my life and work everyday.  And I'm convinced they are propelling more substantial changes that threaten our traditional understandings of higher education in unanticipated ways.


Dena said...

Hi Dr. Marti,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on hacker/cloister ethos in academia. I recently graduated from a hybrid program (online+low-residency) with an MA in Communication and Leadership Studies from Gonzaga University.

This delivery format provides one avenue to merge the ethos you described. For instance, I found that online education improved my space to reflect, research, and write as I had to present myself and my ideas in the text, to which professors and peers responded in kind. Work stations as often individualized and not collaborative suggest that they, too, responded in retreat yet engaged via computer mediated communication technology. I found this model to be highly intensive and beneficial; I write more here at my blog Text and Pixel Reflections:


Additionally, you may be interested in submitting to/attending the National Communication Association's http://www.natcom.org/convention/ panel on Master's Education (due 2/19/11 730 EST). I plan to submit building from my ideas in my post:

Master's Education Section
Planner: Jimmie Manning, Communication, Northern Kentucky University, Science & Technology 386, Highland Heights, KY 41099; 859-572-1329; E-mail: manningj1@nku.edu

The Master's Education Section encourages work that highlights Master's education pedagogy as well as quality scholarship conducted by Master's students. We will accept individual papers, paper sessions, panel discussions, Scholar-to-Scholar presentations and, submissions related to the conference theme. Possible topics might include unique approaches to Master's education, the use of new technologies and online curricula, exit options for Master's students, different career paths for students with Master's degrees, outstanding research conducted by Master's students, or other unique issues related to Master's programs in communication studies.

We anticipate hosting a panel of top quality work by Master's students and awarding a Top Paper award to the best paper submitted by a Master's student. To submit work to be considered for the Top Paper panel, papers must be clearly marked "Master's Student." Students (and any co-authors) submitting work to be considered for this panel must not have received a Master's degree in a communication discipline before February 2010; but they may have presented at earlier conferences or conventions.

Papers should not exceed 25 pages in length (excluding title page, references, figures, and tables) for quantitative or rhetorical work and should not exceed 35 pages in length for qualitative projects (when typed double spaced using 12-point font). Papers will be evaluated based on their clarity, completeness, relevance to the section's purposes, quality of scholarship, and significance to the discipline. Paper sessions, panel discussions, and other submissions will be evaluated for feasibility and appeal in addition to the above criteria.

Additional Paper Submission Guidelines:

* All submissions should be in Word, WordPerfect, PDF, or RTF.
* Before uploading a paper for review, remove title page sections and any other material that identifies the author(s).
* Clearly identify Master's Student authored papers on the submission itself and also by typing "Master's Student Authored Paper" into the Comments section when you upload your paper.
* Please be sure to include information on ALL co-authors and indicate the "presenting" author when completing electronic submission forms.


michael- said...

hack on sir, hack on...

great blog