Communes, commonism and co-ops: rethinking the university as a hackerspace

My abstract for the British HCI conference 2015 at the University of Lincoln. I’m on the ‘HCI, politics and activism‘ panel.

In this talk I reflect on the history of hacking and its origins in the ‘commune’ of the academy (Winn, 2013). I then discuss the role of Copyleft licenses (Stallman, 2010) as “the practical manifestation of a social structure” (Weber, 2004, 85; Winn, 2015); a form of administration for the production of ‘commonism’ (Dyer-Witheford, 2007; Neary and Winn, 2012). Finally, I argue that the emerging form of ‘open co-operative’ can be understood as a latent material response to Stallman’s original predicament when Venture Capitalism took over his ‘Garden of Eden’: mutual ownership and control of knowledge production. Significantly, the “crucial innovation” for an emerging form of ‘open co-operative’ (Bauwens, 2014) is a further adaptation of Copyleft called Commons-Based Reciprocity Licenses, or ‘Copyfarleft’ (Kleiner, 2007), thereby uniting co-operative legal structures with subversive licensing contracts. To what extent can we reconstitute higher education and the idea of the university along the lines of an open co-operative, so that academic science can continue to contribute to the common good? (Winn, 2015) All Power to the Communes!

A Short History of Hacking: Values and principles for co-operative higher education

My keynote talk for Newcastle College’s Student as Producer conference, March 27th 2015. 

Thank you for inviting me here today to contribute to your student conference. It’s a real privilege and luxury to be able to spend the day with you and to learn about all the great work you’re doing. Last year, my friend Prof. Mike Neary spoke at your ‘Student as Producer’ conference. Mike and I have worked together and with many other colleagues on Student as Producer for a number of years now and within our own institution and elsewhere, such as Newcastle College, the core ideas of Student as Producer are interpreted in new ways and take on new forms.

Student-as-Producer

At Lincoln, since our original HEA-funded project ended, Student as Producer has developed into a substantial programme of ‘student engagement‘ led by Dan Derricott, an ex-Vice President of our Student Union. At the University of Warwick, the Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning funds Student as Producer projects relating to research, collaboration or performance. At Vanderbilt University in the USA, 2014 was themed the year of Student as Producer. At the University of British Columbia in Canada, funding has been made available for the redesign of 100 courses, affecting around 34,000 student enrolments.  These are just some of the examples of Student as Producer being put into practice, expressed in words like ‘engagement’, ‘collaboration’ and ‘partnership’. I know that Newcastle College has a new ‘HE Partnership Strategy’ based on the ideas of Student as Producer. I want to introduce, or rather recover, another word that is essential to my own understanding of Student as Producer and that is: ‘co-operation’. I’ll explain what I specifically mean by this in a minute.

First though, the title of my talk today probably requires some explanation: ‘A short history of hacking: Values and principles for co-operative higher education.’ The first part of the title refers to work I did on Student as Producer during 2009-2014. The second part refers to my current work, which I see as a development of Student as Producer, while remaining true to its original principles.

What has ‘hacking’ got to do with Student as Producer? When you hear the word ‘hacking’ or ‘hack’, many of you may think of something malicious and illegal, such as ‘someone’s hacked into my Facebook account’, or ‘the News of the World has been accused of phone-hacking’.

The Tech Model Railroad Club

However, an earlier meaning of ‘hacking’ was first used in the late 1950s by teachers and students belonging to the Tech Model Railroad Club at the world renown Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Even today MIT maintains a ‘Hack Gallery‘ which records various audacious and creative pranks undertaken around campus over the decades. In 1959, ‘hack’ at MIT referred to “something done without constructive end” and, according to records kept at that time, a year later a ‘hack’ specifically referred to “an article or project without constructive end.” It was, “a term for an unconventional or unorthodox application of technology, typically deprecated for engineering reasons.” A ‘hacker’ of course, is someone who hacks, but more specifically, “a hacker avoids the standard solution.” Since the early 1960s, the terms hack, hacker and hacking have taken on a variety of related and nuanced meanings and among computer scientists, electronics enthusiasts and software developers it’s still regarded as an honorary term for someone who is clever, creative, has unusual expertise and enthusiasm for their work and are defacto members of a global community of hackers who collaborate through the Internet.

In my own work on Student as Producer at Lincoln, I originally focused on the research and development of institutional  technology with students and our recent graduates. We mainly worked on projects relating to the infrastructure of the university: things like a research data management system, web publishing systems, identification and authentication protocols and curriculum data anlaysis. Throughout these projects, I referred to our work as ‘hacking the university‘ (actually, I was never creative nor clever enough to be a hacker, but some of the students I worked with truly were). During this time, we were trying to re-think and ultimately re-engineer the fabric of the university around the idea of ‘openness’: Open technologies, open data, open ways of doing research and teaching and learning.

DevXS

In 2011, we held a national student ‘hackathon‘ where nearly 200 students worked around the clock on developing prototypes for new university services. Student as Producer formed the basis and justification for all this work and in particular, a quote from the writer Walter Benjamin, who inspired Mike Neary’s early formulation of Student as Producer:

“[For]… the author who has reflected deeply on the conditions of present day production … His work will never be merely work on products but always, at the same time, work on the means of production. In other words his products must have, over and above their character as works, an organising function.” (Benjamin 1934: 777)

Our work on the technological infrastructure of the university was an attempt to “reflect deeply on the conditions of present day production” in higher education, and “at the same time, work on the means of [knowledge] production.”

The point being, that Student as Producer is not simply about partnership, engagement, and collaboration – although it is all those things. It’s about confronting the idea of higher education and the institutional form that it takes so that as we produce new knowledge, which is what distinguishes a higher education, we reflect deeply on the means of knowledge production itself.

What I’m leading to is that, as you know, Student as Producer is much more than research-engaged teaching and learning. It is a pedagogical framework but one that is intended for rebuilding or re-engineering knowledge production itself. It’s anticipated that the institutional form reflects the pedagogic principles rather than the other way around. At Lincoln, it’s “the central pedagogical principle that informs other aspects of the University’s strategic planning” articulated currently in a major initiative to involve students in the running of the university.

This brings me to the second half of my talk where I want to look forward rather than backwards and think about how Student as Producer can be developed further.

Tools

One of the exciting and sometimes frustrating things about working with hackers is that they are always retooling. By this, I mean that they are always looking for ways to improve the tools they are working with and in doing so, the process of production itself. It reflects the fact that software developers often have the ability to author or improve the software tools that will help them develop new software products, a bit like a carpenter who can fashion a better carpentry tool so as to improve their cabinetmaking. This reflects the deep level of knowledge about the process of software production that hackers have. When they run into problems in the development process, hackers often have the knowledge required to address the problem, whether it’s an irritating bug or an inefficiency in the system. Furthermore, they often have the autonomy to make that intervention, because the tools they use are open source and can be freely modified. And because they’re open source there is a community of other hackers they can co-operate with on the problem at hand, if they themselves aren’t quite sure how to fix it.

Code Swarm
A VISUALISATION OF OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT

Knowledge, autonomy, openness, community, co-operation are all required if we are to “work on the means of [knowledge] production”.  And when we are able to genuinely work on the means of knowledge production, through the principles of openness, autonomy and co-operation, it can have a ‘recursive‘ effect on our understanding of the world around us and embolden us to desire and demand these principles in other aspects of our social lives.

The point I want to underline here is not the simple assertion that students should be recognised and included as part of the research activities of higher education – of course they should – but that if we remain true to that objective, the fabric of the institution, or the ‘means of production’, has to change too, including the way the institution is governed. Which is where I come back to the idea and practice of ‘co-operation’.

Student as Producer has always had a radically democratic agenda, valuing critique, speculative thinking, openness and a form of learning that aims to transform the social context so that students become the subjects rather than objects of history – individuals who make history and personify knowledge. Student as Producer is not simply a project to transform and improve the ‘student experience’ but aspires to a paradigm shift in how knowledge is produced.

Co-ops Work

For me, Student as Producer has always been more about how students, academics,  professional staff, cleaners, caterers – the whole college community –  can democratically and co-operatively govern their institutions. At first, I approached this through the idea and practice of ‘openness’, enabled by research and development into new institutional technologies, but at the heart of this was an attempt to intervene in the way we worked with each other. I draw inspiration for this not only from Student as Producer, which from its original articulation referred to ‘co-operation’, but also from the international co-operative movement which has its own set of values and principles. The values are those of

“self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.”

The co-operative principles are: Voluntary and Open Membership; Democratic Member Control; Member Economic Participation; Autonomy and Independence; Education, Training and Information; Co-operation among Co-operatives; and Concern for Community.

As you can see, education is one of the key principles for the international co-operative movement, but I want to draw your attention to the other principles of open membership, democratic control, autonomy, co-operation among co-operatives, and concern for community.

Co-operation or Barbarism

The choice of these values and principles has been discussed, debated and refined over the 170 year history of the international co-operative movement and last agreed in 1995. This combination of values and principles does not take a single institutional form (as you know, co-ops are multivarious in the forms they take) but like Student as Producer, I think they offer a framework for re-engineering the governance of higher education and the production of knowledge in our so-called ‘knowledge economy’, enabling teachers, students, administrators, cleaners, caterers… to democratically control our institutions.

Newcastle College should be commended for recognising the need to involve students in the governance of your institution. In your own HE Partnership Strategy you state that “meaningful partnership working is reliant upon the equal distribution of democratic power.” You argue rightly that this isn’t just achieved by listening to the so-called ‘student voice’ but by “empowering students to drive and implement change.” And “this will involve redistributing power across our HE communities up to and including HE Academic Board through engaging students in all stages of the decision making process.” My question to you is how do you intend to constitute this form of democracy. You say that you will embed it “throughout all aspects of the HE learning experience” but what constitutional form will that take and how will you hold each other to account? These are not questions unique to your own stated objectives, but are being asked all the time by people who desire democracy in their work as they do in their politics.

The question I am interested in then, is what steps might we take to reconstitute and transform our institutions into member-run, democratically controlled co-operatives? Institutions that enable us to reflect deeply on the conditions of present day knowledge production and truly put Student as Producer into practice?

Co-operation, Learning and Co-operative Values

Since 2011, academics and individuals within the co-operative movement have been discussing this question, partly inspired by the way 800 schools in the UK have recently become co-operatives. We are writing about co-operative higher education for journals and books, talking about it at conferences like this one, and thinking of ways that colleges and universities can become actual co-operatives or at least more like co-operatives. The suggestions range from converting the whole institution into a co-operative, constitutionally and legally, to running parts of the institution co-operatively, such as courses, research groups, committees and the various services that operate with and within colleges and universities. Staff and students could also be encouraged and supported to create their own co-operatives both inside and outside the university, setting up housing co-ops, food co-ops, technology co-ops, and even community-run education co-ops, joining a growing federation of student co-ops in the UK.

students coop

In the course of this process of transformation, as we learn how to practice democracy, autonomy, openness and solidarity, I expect that the ‘recursive’ effect will begin to take effect and we’ll want to assert these principles in other areas of our lives, too, demanding a similar transformation in the social world we are part of. That’s what Student as Producer is all about.

Angelus Novus
THIS STORM IS WHAT WE CALL PROGRESS

The university as a hackerspace (‘Friction’ conference)

A paper for Friction: An interdisciplinary conference on technology & resistance‘, University of Nottingham, Thursday 8th May & Friday 9th May.

In a paper published last year, I argued for a different way of understanding the emergence of hacker culture. (Winn 2013) In doing so, I outlined an account of ‘the university’ as an institution that provided the material and subsequent intellectual conditions that early hackers were drawn to and in which they worked.

The key point I tried to make was that hacking was originally a form of academic labour that emerged out of the intensification and valorisation of scientific research within the institutional context of the university. The reproduction of hacking as a form of academic labour took place over many decades as academics and their institutions shifted from an ideal of unproductive, communal science to a more productive, entrepreneurial approach to the production of knowledge.

As such, I view hacking as a peculiar, historically situated form of labour that arose out of friction in the academy: vocation vs. profession; teaching vs. research; basic vs. applied research; research vs. development; private vs. public; war vs. peace; institutional autonomy vs. state dependence; scientific communalism vs. intellectual property; individualism vs. co-operation.

A question I have for you today is whether hacking in the university is still a possibility? Can a university contain (i.e. intellectually, politically, practically) a hackerspace? Can a university be a hackerspace? If so, what does it look like? How would it work? I am trying to work through these questions at the moment with colleagues at the University of Lincoln. The name I have given to this emerging project is ‘The university as a hackerspace’ and it has grown out of an existing pedagogical and political project called ‘Student as Producer.’ 1 It is also one of four agreed areas of work in a new ‘digital education’ strategy at Lincoln. 2

More broadly, our project asks “how do we reproduce the university as a critical, social project?”

STUDENT AS PRODUCER

Student as Producer is the University of Lincoln’s teaching and learning strategy and is in part derived from the work of avant-garde Marxists like Lev Vygotsky, and Walter Benjamin, who gave a lecture in 1934 known as ‘The Author as Producer’. Benjamin was concerned with the relationship between authors and their readers and how to actively intervene in “the living context of social relations” so as to create progressive social transformation:

“[For]… the author who has reflected deeply on the conditions of present day production … His work will never be merely work on products but always, at the same time, work on the means of production. In other words his products must have, over and above their character as works, an organising function.” (Benjamin 2005: 777)

Student as Producer was also an HEA-funded project that we completed recently, led by my colleague Prof. Mike Neary, who was the Dean of Teaching and Learning from 2007-14. Last year, the QAA commended the university for Student as Producer. Mike Neary and another colleague, Sam Williams, came to talk about Student as Producer here at the University of Nottingham just a couple of weeks ago and I’m told it was very well received.

Student as Producer at Lincoln is a university-wide initiative, which aims to construct a productive and progressive pedagogical framework through a re-engineering of the relationship between research and teaching and a reappraisal of the relationship between academics and students. Research-engaged teaching and learning is now “an institutional priority at the University of Lincoln, making it the dominant paradigm for all aspects of curriculum design and delivery, and the central pedagogical principle that informs other aspects of the University’s strategic planning.” (HEA 2010)

In an early book chapter setting out the rationale for Student as Producer, Mike and I argued that:

“The idea of student as producer encourages the development of collaborative relations between student and academic for the production of knowledge. However, if this idea is to connect to the project of refashioning in fundamental ways the nature of the university, then further attention needs to be paid to the framework by which the student as producer contributes towards mass intellectuality. This requires academics and students to do more than simply redesign their curricula, but go further and redesign the organizing principle, (i.e. private property and wage labour), through which academic knowledge is currently being produced.” (Neary & Winn, 2009, 137)

Central to Student as Producer is an attempt to reconfigure the dysfunctional relationship between teaching and research in higher education and a conviction that this can be best achieved by rethinking the relationship between student and academic.

The argument for Student as Producer has been developed through a number of publications 3 which assert that students can and should be producers of their social world by being collaborators in the processes of research, teaching and learning. Student as Producer has a radically democratic agenda, valuing critique, speculative thinking, openness and a form of learning that aims to transform the social context so that students become the subjects rather than objects of history – individuals who make history and personify knowledge. Student as Producer is not simply a project to transform and improve the ‘student experience’ but aspires to a paradigm shift in how knowledge is produced, where the traditional student and teacher roles are ‘interrupted’ through close collaboration, recognizing that both teachers and students have much to learn from each other. Student as Producer aims to ensure that theory and practice are understood as praxis, what Paulo Freire referred to as a process of “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.” (Freire 2000, 51).

A critical, social and historical understanding of the university and the roles of researcher, teacher and student inform these aspirations and objectives. They draw on radical moments in the history of the university as well as looking forward to possibilities of what the university can become. I think that one such radical moment could be the “software wars” that Richard Stallman has described when he tried desperately to hold together his “commune” in the “Garden of Eden” that was the AI Lab in MIT during the late 1970s. That moment was the genesis of the Free Software movement and the creation of the GPL license, and a time when hacking formally ‘escaped’ the confines of the university. 4

Student as Producer recognizes that the higher education sector is in a state of crisis, which is reflective of a more general social crisis. At a time when the higher education sector is being privatized and students are expected to assume the role of consumer, Student as Producer aims to provide students with a more critical, more historically and socially informed, experience of university life which extends beyond their formal studies to engage with the role of the university, and therefore their own role, in society. Pedagogically, this is through the idea of ‘excess’ where students are anticipated to become more than just student-consumers during their course of research and study (Neary & Hagyard, 2010). The idea of ‘excess’ is suggestive of a state of abundance (Kay and Mott, 1982), of conditions of non-reciprocity: “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs.” You will have experienced moments of such abundance and non-reciprocity in your own lives: with your lovers, your children, and in the culture of sharing on the web.

Our aim is that through this ‘pedagogy of excess’, the organising principle of university life is redressed, creating a teaching, learning and research environment which promotes the values of experimentation, openness and creativity, engenders equity at the level of academic and student labour and thereby offers an opportunity to reconstruct the student as producer and academic as collaborator. In an anticipated environment where knowledge is free (as in ‘freedom’, if not as in ‘beer’), the roles of the educator and the institution necessarily change. The educator is no longer a delivery vehicle and the institution becomes a landscape for the production and construction of a mass intellect in commons, a porous, networked space of abundance, offering an experience that is in excess of what students might find elsewhere.

In our 2009 book chapter, we specifically drew on the activities of the Free Culture movement as an exemplary model for how the disconnect between research and teaching and the work of academics and students, might be overcome and reorganized around a different conception of work and property, ideas central to the meaning of ‘openness’ or, rather, an ‘academic commons’.

LNCD IS NOT A CENTRAL DEVELOPMENT GROUP

One of the reasons I have come to think about ‘the university as a hackerspace’ is due to what I regard as a failure of my earlier work. It depends on how you regard ‘failure’ – we learned a lot, attracted lots of research funding, and the work was interesting and seemed to interest other people – but it didn’t fully have the effect on the institution that I was hoping for. Between 2009 and 2013, I ran ten grant-funded projects, each of which focused on the theme of ‘openness’ or as I prefer, the ‘academic commons’. This work was consolidated under a group that we called LNCD. LNCD is a recursive acronym and stands for ‘LNCD is Not a Central Development Group’. 5 It was intended to be an open, inclusive group run according to the principles of Student as Producer and open to students and staff from across the university.

With the LNCD group, I acknowledged that the origins of much of our work was in the hacker culture that grew out of MIT, Carnegie Mellon University and University of California, Berkeley in the 1970 and 1980s; the academic culture that developed much of the key technology of today’s Internet.” (Winn and Lockwood 2013) I think that the Free Culture movement in general owes much to its academic origins and can be understood as an exemplar alternative organizing principle that is proliferating in universities in the form of open, networked collaborative initiatives such as Open Access and Open Educational Resources. (Neary and Winn 2009)

“When understood from this point of view, LNCD, as a Student as Producer initiative, is attempting to develop a culture for staff and students based on the key academic values that motivated the early academic hacker culture: autonomy, the sharing of knowledge and creative output, transparency through peer-review, and peer-recognition based on merit.” (Winn and Lockwood 2013)

During this period, we also ran a national student hackathon called DevXS when 180 students from around the country came to Lincoln for two days to “challenge and positively disrupt the research, teaching and learning landscapes of further and higher education.” 6 I’ve written about some of the projects and the hackathon elsewhere (Winn 2012; Winn and Lockwood 2013).

I was always mindful that LNCD should contribute towards the greater strategic priority of Student as Producer. It would do this by helping re-configure the nature of teaching and learning in higher education by encouraging students to become part of the academic project of the University and collaborators with academics in the production of knowledge and meaning. To recall Benjamin’s lecture: for me, LNCD was an attempt to “reflect deeply on the conditions of present day production” in higher education, and “at the same time, work on the means of [knowledge] production” with students and other members of staff.

AN ANTI-DISCIPLINARY RESEARCH DEGREE

The problem with LNCD is that we became regarded as just another research group and did not become the ‘skunkworks’ group for the institution that I hope we would. When JISC, the funder of our projects, ceased to advertise funding calls, there was nothing to fall back on. I was pretty burnt out by that point, too.

As an alternative to what I tried to do through LNCD, we are now working towards the validation in 2015 of a new post-graduate research degree, provisionally titled ‘The university as a hackerspace’. My hope is that as an academic programme with students, it will be more reflective of, and tightly integrated into, the core function and purpose of the university: research-based teaching and learning. I hope this will make it more sustainable and that staff will understand its objectives better than they did LNCD.

It is intended to be Lincoln’s first cross-university, ‘anti-disciplinary’ academic programme. It is intended to act as a focal point for teaching, learning, research and development of new technologies and technology culture. It is not intended to be a degree about ‘educational technology’, but rather a creative, critical research programme that seeks to understand and contribute to the role of technology in education through its wider role in society and culture.

The idea for this Master’s level research programme, is influenced by the rapidly emerging ‘makerspaces’ 7 and ‘hackerspaces’. 8 The programme will seek to learn from, emulate and contribute to what we see happening in hacker/maker/DIY culture: e.g. ‘fablabs’, 9 ‘hacklabs’, 10 and ‘open science’. 11 Research and development outputs from the programme are expected to formally feed back and inform the way that the university invests in, supports and promotes the use of technology for education and research. In this way, the research programme is intended to act, in part, as a ‘skunkworks’ 12 group for the whole institution.

The programme will combine inter-disciplinary research and development, teaching, learning and enterprise, but recognises that those activities are evolving and that hackers, makers and entrepreneurs are developing an alternative educational model that is replacing these functions of the university: the opportunities for learning, collaboration, reputation building/accreditation and access to cheap hardware and software for prototyping ideas, can and are taking place outside universities. However, university culture remains a place where the ‘hacker ethic’ (i.e. collaboration, sharing, respect for good ideas, meritocracy, autonomy, curiosity, fixing things, anti-technological determinism, peer review, perpetual learning, etc.) remains relevant and respected and resources are widespread. (Levy 1984; Himanen 2001)

The degree will be a flexible, research-based, postgraduate programme that is truly interdisciplinary and always experimental in its form and content: A space for learning, critique and innovation, engaging academics and students in the sciences, arts, media and humanities to think deeply about the way technology is used for research, teaching, learning and the wider social good. The programme will create a supportive space for students with different disciplinary backgrounds and interests to work together under the mentorship of university staff. The programme will recognise that both staff and students have much to learn from each other.

QUESTIONS NEEDING ANSWERS

We’re still in the early stages of thinking this through and as you can imagine, it’s throwing up a number of questions.

  • Can a university contain (intellectually, politically, practically) a hackerspace?
  • Are the two organisational and educational forms compatible?
  • Who owns an ‘antidisciplinary’ programme?
  • Who benefits from it? How?
  • Why would a student enrol?
  • How can we involve the local community?
  • What is the final award?
  • How are contributions (staff time, Schools’ facilities) acknowledged?
  • How is the degree structured?
  • How many students are required to make this work (i.e. what is the critical size of the ‘collective’)
  • What are the administrative constraints and regulatory obligations?

I welcome comments on what we are trying to do and whether you think it is feasible or even desirable. If you know of similar efforts elsewhere, please share them. Thank you.

FURTHER READING

Special Issue of Journal of Peer Production

http://peerproduction.net/issues/issue-2/peer-reviewed-papers/

Hackerspaces: The Beginning (book)

http://blog.hackerspaces.org/2011/08/31/hackerspaces-the-beginning-the-book/

Benjamin, Walter (2005) Walter Benjamin: 1931-1934 v. 2, Pt. 2: Selected Writings, Harvard University Press.

Friere, Paulo (2000) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, London: Continuum.

HEA (2010) Student as Producer: Research Engaged Teaching and Learning-An Institutional Strategy http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/projects/detail/ntfs/ntfsprojects_Lincoln10

Himanen, Pekka. 2001. The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age. Vintage.

Kay, Geoffrey and Mott, James (1982) Political Order and the Law of Labour. The MacMillan Press, London.

Levy, Steven.1984. Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Penguin Books.

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2009) The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In: The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience. Continuum, London, pp. 192-210.

Neary, M. and Hagyard, A. (2010) ‘PedagogyofExcess: AnAlternativePoliticalEconomyofStudentLife’. In: The Marketisation of Higher Education and the Student as Consumer, Routledge, Abingdon, 209-224.

Schrock, Andrew Richard (2014) “Education in Disguise”: Culture of a Hacker and Maker Space http://escholarship.org/uc/item/0js1n1qg

Winn, Joss (2012) Hacking the university. Lincoln’s approach to openness. http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/topics/opentechnologies/openeducation/lincoln-university-summary.aspx

Winn, Joss and Lockwood, Dean (2013) Student as Producer is hacking the university. In: Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age . Routledge.

Winn, Joss (2013) Hacking in the university: contesting the valorisation of academic labour. Triple C : Communication, Capitalism and Critique, 11 (2). pp. 486-503.

Hacking in the University: Contesting the Valorisation of Academic Labour

In this article I argue for a different way of understanding the emergence of hacker culture. In doing so, I outline an account of ‘the university’ as an institution that provided the material and subsequent intellectual conditions that early hackers were drawn to and in which they worked. I argue that hacking was originally a form of academic labour that emerged out of the intensification and valorisation of scientific research within the institutional context of the university. The reproduction of hacking as a form of academic labour took place over many decades as academics and their institutions shifted from an ideal of unproductive, communal science to a more productive, entrepreneurial approach to the production of knowledge.  As such, I view hacking as a peculiar, historically situated form of labour that arose out of the contradictions of the academy: vocation vs. profession; teaching vs. research; basic vs. applied research; research vs. development; private vs. public; war vs. peace; institutional autonomy vs. state dependence; scientific communalism vs. intellectual property.

Download the full article from tripleC

Student as Producer is hacking the university

With Dean Lockwood

This chapter discusses the Student as Producer project at the University of Lincoln and provides two case studies of how Student as Producer is infiltrating quite different areas of university life. The first discusses Student as Producer in the context of Deleuze and rhizomatic curriculum design, while the second looks at how the project is being applied to the development of an open institutional infrastructure, in which Computer Science students are redesigning and developing the tools used for research, teaching and learning.

Published in Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age

Contact me about this chapter. It is partly based on a case study I wrote for JISC.

Hacking the Academy

By Joss Winn and Mike Neary

Did you notice anything strange about the ongoing ‘phone hacking’ scandal involving the News of the World? There are no hackers involved. This is the latest example of hacking’s troubled history with the mainstream media, which confuses the “playful cleverness” of expert computer programmers with the malicious meddling of computer crackers and criminal journalists. With the repeated confusion of Hackers with Crackers and old Hacks, the rich and fruitful history of the true Hackers is diminished and a thriving intellectual culture focused on problem solving, self-directed learning and the free exchange of knowledge is undermined.

Much has been written about hackers and hacking, but rarely is it contextualised as part of the scholarly tradition. Yet careful reading of the history of hacking reveals that it is very much a part of the work and values of universities and that the ‘hacker ethic’ is shared, in part at least, by most academics working today.

We can trace the history of hacking back to MIT University in the early 1960s and greater access to shared computers. At the core of hacking is the academic practice of ‘peer review’: the opportunity for academics to closely examine, modify and use other people’s work. Hackers extended this through the creation of legal licenses that allow the copyright holder of software to grant anyone the ability to use, modify and re-distribute their work providing the modified version is licensed under the same terms. The great MIT hacker, Richard Stallman called this hack ‘Copyleft’ and his General Public License (GPL) has become the most popular open source software license in use today. In 2001, Stanford Law Professor, Lawrence Lessig founded Creative Commons, an organisation that borrowed much from these ‘free software’ licenses to create a set of similar licenses for other types of creative works. The activity of hackers have provided academics and their institutions with the legal basis upon which to overcome the traditional restrictions of copyright and permit the public use, modification and redistribution of research articles, research data and teaching materials.

Out of this novel reconfiguration of property rights, hackers have collaboratively developed the basic infrastructure of the Internet; not only a technological achievement but, for some, a progressive political project based on the common values of autonomy in choosing one’s work, an enthusiasm for problem-solving that borders on play, a reverence of peer-review, expertise as the basis of meritocracy, and the defence of access to information.

This ‘hacker ethic’ can similarly be seen among academics today who fight for Open Access to peer-reviewed articles and those teachers who form the growing Open Educational Resources movement, dedicated to providing teaching and learning materials for free, worldwide public use. Not surprisingly, both the Open Access and Open Education movements owe much to Stallman and other pioneering hackers who developed the GPL and similar ‘open source’ licenses. Unquestionably, the history of Open Access and Open Education is deeply indebted to the culture of hacking, yet we should not forget that the history of hacking is deeply rooted in the culture of the university.

At the University of Lincoln, the values of hacking are embedded within Student as Producer, an institution-wide project for curriculum development where students are regarded as part of the academic project of the university. We are keen to reclaim and reconnect the values of openness and collaboration that hackers are well regarded for with the values of the academy and are doing so by bringing students into the research project of the university itself. At Lincoln, undergraduate student hackers have been working on real research and development projects with university staff and contributing to the development of a culture of openness and innovation.

To further recognise this and encourage collaboration with student developers in the design of university life, we have been working with the DevCSI project at the University of Bath to organise DevXS, a free national student developer conference to be held at the University of Lincoln in November 2011.

We are expecting 150 undergraduates from across the country will attend DevXS to develop prototype open source web applications using open data provided by the University of Lincoln and other universities working on an anticipated data.ac.uk initiative. DevXS is intended to be a disruptive learning experience, a pedagogical intervention for students who want to hack and build useful things that enrich academic life. Students from across the UK and beyond are invited to compete against each other and the clock to create new web applications in a unique student developer ‘hackathon’. Working in teams, they will be provided with high-speed Internet, refreshments and tools to play with. They will break only to eat, sleep and take in encouragement from more experienced hackers. Prizes will be awarded for the most imaginative and useful new applications. Promising prototypes could ultimately be refined into fully-fledged services.

It is the latest example of how the University of Lincoln has embraced the different themes of openness, such as open source, open data, open education and open access, and we are mindful that this contributes towards a greater strategic priority of re-configuring the nature of teaching and learning in higher education and encouraging students to become part of the academic project of the University and collaborators with academics in the production of knowledge and meaning.

Further reading:

  • Graham, Paul. 2004. Hackers and Painters. O’Reilly.
  • Himanen, Pekka. 2001. The Hacker Ethic. Vintage.
  • Jordan, Tim. 2008. Hacking. Polity Press.
  • Levy, Steven. 1984. Hackers. Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Penguin Books.
  • Raymond, Eric. 1996. The New Hacker’s Dictionary. MIT Press.
  • Soderberg, Johan. 2008. Hacking Capitalism. The Free and Open Source Software Movement. Routledge.
  • Thomas, Douglas. 2002. Hacker Culture. University of Minnesota Press.
  • Wark, McKenzie. 2004. A Hacker Manifesto. Harvard University Press.

A version of this post with minor edits was first published in the Guardian