Some Thoughts on the Hacking the Academy Process and Model

I’m delighted that the edited version of Hacking the Academy is now available on the University of Michigan’s DigitalCultureBooks site. Here are some of my quick thoughts on the process of putting the book together. (For more, please read the preface Tom Scheinfeldt and I wrote.)

1) Be careful what you wish for. Although we heavily promoted the submission process for HTA, Tom and I had no idea we would receive over 300 contributions from nearly 200 authors. This put an enormous, unexpected burden on us; it obviously takes a long time to read through that many submissions. Tom and I had to set up a collaborative spreadsheet for assessing the contributions, and it took several months to slog through the mass. We also had to make tough decisions about what kind of work to include, since we were not overly prescriptive about what we were looking for. A large number of well-written, compelling pieces (including many from friends of ours) had to be left out of the volume, unfortunately, because they didn’t quite match our evolving criteria, or didn’t fit with other pieces in the same chapter.

2) Set aside dedicated time and people. Other projects that have crowdsourced volumes, such as Longshot Magazine, have well-defined crunch times for putting everything together, using an expanded staff and a lot of coffee. I think it’s fair to say (and I hope not haughty to say) that Tom and I are incredibly busy people and we had to do the assembly and editing in bits and pieces. I wish we could have gotten it done much sooner to sustain the energy of the initial week. We probably could have included others in the editing process, although I think we have good editorial consistency and smooth transitions because of the more limited control.

3) Get the permissions set from the beginning. One of the delays on the edited volume was making sure we had the rights to all of the materials. HTA has made us appreciate even more the importance of pushing for Creative Commons licenses (especially the simple CC-BY) in academia; many of our contributors are dedicated to open access and already had licensed their materials under a permissive reproduction license, but we had to annoy everyone else (and by “we,” I mean the extraordinary helpful and capable Shana Kimball at MPublishing). This made the HTA process a little more like a standard publication, where the press has to hound contributors for sign-offs, adding friction along the way.

4) Let the writing dictate the form, not vice versa. I think one of the real breakthroughs that Tom and I had in this process is realizing that we didn’t need to adhere to a standard edited-volume format of same-size chapters. After reading through odd-sized submissions and thinking about form, we came up with an array of “short, medium, long” genres that could fit together on a particular theme. Yes, some of the good longer pieces could stand as more-or-less standard essays, but others could be paired together or set into dialogues. It was liberating to borrow some conventions from, e.g., magazines and the way they handle shorter pieces. In some cases we also got rather aggressive about editing down articles so that they would fit into useful spaces.

5) This is a model that can be repeated. Sure, 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.

12 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on the Hacking the Academy Process and Model

  1. John Maxwell

    Would love to hear some details on the production process… did you get submissions as Word docs, or did was it all born online? How was the editorial process handled (by whom, and in what environments)? In general, what were the ‘material’ constraints on producing a thing like this?

    Congrats on what is clearly an amazing volume.

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  3. Derek Bruff

    I’m incredibly impressed at the editing work you’ve done on this volume. Given how many submissions you had, the work that you and Tom Scheinfeldt have done is amazing.

    That said, I’ll admit I was frustrated to see that, as innovative as this project was, you didn’t find a way to include audio and video contributions in the edited volume, even though such contributions were requested. I know that audio and video pieces are in the “unedited” volume, but I would have liked to have seen a couple of digital humanists come up with a creative way to include them in the edited volume, as well.

    Also, it seems that most of the pieces in the edited volume are from people in the humanities. I understand that given the nature of the call for submissions (via Twitter accounts and blogs run by humanists), this is to be expected. But there was nothing in the project description (at least, that I noticed) that limited contributions to those in coming from the humanities. You have some important voices from outside the humanities (Wesch, Jarvis, Junco, and others), but it’s still a very humanities-centered volume.

    I don’t want these critiques to detract from the great work you’ve done here. It really is amazing what you were able to pull off in terms of contributions and the editing process. And I hope that what you’ve done will inspire others to take on similarly inventive projects, perhaps ones that can respond to the criticisms I’ve made here.

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  12. David Bley

    I was wondering if there was any interest on your part in getting input from laypersons?

    I am thinking that the educational system is at a crossroads that is being driven by all the changes that are soon to take place in the world. We are moving from an economy of subsistence to one of plenty. It is possible to produce all we need without much work on our part. We will all need to be better educated, not to be a cog in the machine, but to be able to live in the increasingly complex and technical world in which we live. Lifelong learning will need to become a reality and the current structure of scholarship will need to be redesigned. The result of scholarship should not just be publication, but action to put into practice theoretical concepts to test their validity. MOOC’s are just the current educational model, packaged on a website.

    Education should be a two way interaction between the student and the teacher, where the teacher helps the student to explore their latent ability and then to fulfill their potential. All of our systems are wasting huge amounts of human potential ability. Education and scholarship needs to leave the tower and live amongst the rest of us.

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