Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

Hacking Education in a Digital Age: Teacher Education, Curriculum, and Literacies

reviewed by Tamara Sniad - March 01, 2019

coverTitle: Hacking Education in a Digital Age: Teacher Education, Curriculum, and Literacies
Author(s): Bryan Smith, Nicholas Ng-A-Fook, Linda Radford, & Sarah Smitherman Pratt (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1641132000, Pages: 202, Year: 2018
Search for book at Amazon.com

As explained in the introduction to Hacking Education in a Digital Age: Teacher Education, Curriculum, and Literacies, the origin of the word “hacking” is quite pedagogical in nature. Coined by a group of train enthusiasts at MIT, “hacking” initially referred to the act of deconstructing and constructing with the intention of learning more about the world(s) in which we live. Determined to return to these “hacking” roots, editors Bryan Smith, Nicolas Ng-A-Fook, Linda Radford, and Sara Smitherman Pratt bring together a collection of works that approach hacking “both as an intrusion [and] as a creative response to the constraints of education in the context structured by the reach of digital technologies” (p. xi). In contrast to today’s popular use of the term to describe nefarious acts, in this volume, the authors “hack” neoliberal approaches to education and current uses of technology to reveal and reimagine the ways students and teachers are accessing and interacting with information and conceptualizing, performing, and resisting identity construction in the process.


In essence, each chapter addresses one or more of the following questions:

How do we, as educators, hack beyond the constraints of our current schooling system that so tightly regulates the ways students are exposed to, value, and use information and knowledge?

How are individuals (already) hacking the norms, expectations and limitations they encounter in existing technology and education system(s)?

How might a raised (hacked) consciousness inform our teaching practices?


A common thread among Chapters One, Two, and Seven is the critique of approaches to education that focus on the product (i.e., objectives and benchmarks) rather than the process (i.e., intellectual adventures that are “informed by the love of learning” [p. xiv]). In Chapter One, “An Existential Hack of Neoliberal Discourses in Education,” Wiebe challenges readers to conduct a self-hack through which we break from cultural assumptions and deep-rooted ideologies that position education as a means to an economic end. In Chapter Two, “Hacking Minds: Curriculum Mentis, Noosphere, Internet, Matrix, Web,” Lee and Petrina take readers through the evolution of curriculum mentis (the exercise or extension of the mind) to curriculum (an externally structured course of study) to the complex interplay between technology and the mind. The latter, they suggest, might be a return to curriculum mentis as “the things through which the mind is exercised [are]… the things through which the mind is hacked” (p. 29). Similarly, using the metaphor of crossing a threshold, in Chapter Seven, “New Literacy Threshold Concepts as a ‘Life Hack,’” Altass and Wiebe urge educators to deconstruct prior assumptions and approaches to teaching literacy. Once they cross over, so to speak, literacy teachers (and their students) will never see or use data, genres, audience, and agency the same way again.


Chapters Three, Four, and Six draw readers’ attention to hacks in progress. In Chapter Three, “‘If the Stars Are Spotlights, I Wanted the Sun’: Hacking Children’s Literature in Raziel Reid’s When Everything Feels Like the Movies,” Radford explores how one children’s book successfully hacks our collective ideas about the ways children are represented in texts created by adults for young readers. Eaton, in Chapter Four, “Curricula of Identity-Subjectivity in Distributed Social Media Spaces,” reveals the savvy ways in which college students work with and around the limitations they encounter on various social media platforms (e.g., the gender categories offered on Facebook). In Chapter Six, “Cyborg Politics: Body-Data Assemblages and the Limits of Institutional Resistance,” Grant and Rogers examine “the ways power, histories of interaction, and context inflect the methods of assembly and marking processes of territoriality of cyborg bodies” (p. 95). Using the “I, too, am Harvard” Tumblr campaign and response, the authors examine the affordances and limitations of social media platforms in the ways students construct, represent, and refute their “cyborg” identities.


The remaining chapters (Five, Eight, Nine, and Ten) turn readers’ attention to instructional leaders, predominantly at the college level. Chapter Eight, “Hacking Structures: Educational Technology Programs, Evaluation, and Transformation,” presents one university’s effort to “hack” their own program by redesigning a course to focus on relationship-building and personal growth, rather than on grades and predetermined outcomes. In Chapter Nine, “Digital Learning as Aesthetic Experience: A Call for a Meaning-Full Curriculum,” Hoyt and Jilka argue that the concept of “curriculum” has erroneously evolved into an externally structured pathway for acquiring predetermined (target) skills and ways of thinking. Incorporating Pinar’s concept of currere, they reflect on their efforts to afford students “meaning-full” learning experiences with digital art.

In Chapter Ten, “Hacking My Way Through Digital Discomforts as a Literacy Teacher Educator,” Johnson relays her efforts to learn to use technology to lead a teacher education class and her realization(s) that these efforts were not only futile at times, but also contributing to the existing binary categories that limit our view of ourselves and others.

The chapter that most resonated with me was perhaps Chapter Five, “Hacking ‘The Matrix’: Teacher Ontology at the Abyss of the Žižekian Real.” By providing a candid reflection on his philosophy of education and identity as a “radical educator” (p. 77), Gilbert challenges his readers, who may be teachers themselves, to “hack” their role in perpetuating the illusion of the “real.” Current educational structures position teachers as the designers and deliverers of knowledge and the structures in and through which students engage with that knowledge. Gilbert suggests that students’ resistance to being told what to think and how to behave must be appreciated as informative, rather than corrected. He argues that it is our (teachers’) behavior and egos that needs adjusting so that we not only allow for but value ambiguity, contradictions, and paradox over obedient acceptance of our set beliefs.

When my tech-savvy 12-year-old son saw the cover of this book, he asked suspiciously why I was reading a book on hacking. As I explained the premise, I realized how much it had truly influenced my attitudes towards students, my approach to teaching, and my perception of my role as a teacher educator. I have found myself questioning the structure of my courses (Am I keeping students from meaning-full learning?), my focus on students’ future careers (Am I perpetuating neoliberal discourses in education?), and my emotional responses to reluctant students in my courses (Am I being narcissistic as Gilbert suggests?). While in the past I might have been frustrated, wanting answers (and solutions) to these questions, I am finding myself surprisingly enjoying my current state of uncertainty. All this to say, through this volume of thought-provoking and at times discomforting chapters, I have most certainly been professionally, existentially, and gratifyingly hacked.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 01, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22695, Date Accessed: 1/23/2022 3:45:44 PM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Article Tools
Related Articles

Related Discussion
Post a Comment | Read All

About the Author
  • Tamara Sniad
    Temple University
    E-mail Author
    TAMARA SNIAD is an associate professor of teaching English as a second language (TESOL) with the College of Education at Temple University. Dr. Sniad’s 20+ years of experience in TESOL and urban education include administration, teaching and program development for college access, second language acquisition, out-of-school learning, and teacher preparation. She has published research on classroom discourse in work readiness education as well as in-service and pre-service teacher professional development. Dr. Sniad is also a recipient of multiple teaching awards, including Temple University’s prestigious Lindback Award for teaching excellence and originality. Her BA and MA in Linguistics are from the University of Florida and her PhD in Educational Linguistics is from the University of Pennsylvania.
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue