Hacking Composition

Hacking, rhetoric and writing share unique histories that have overlapped a number of times throughout the history of American academia, as I’ve written about here. This semester, one of my Writing Studies II courses (a standard 2nd-term first year-composition iteration) tackles hacking and its relationship to writing, venturing a course theme I’m excited to call Hacking the Curriculum.

I’ll attach the syllabus here, but I’d like to draw attention to four important components of the course. They are:

  • The course theme description, in which I present the course’s central argument to students.
  • The course’s research paper component, which asks students to interrogate jailbreaking, play and meritocracy, which I argue are core values that can inform composition instruction and higher eduction in general.
  • A new “Hacker Autobiography” assignment, the first in our sequence of five major writing assignments.
  • A new final “remix” assignment, an updated variation of the UnEssay social web project I implemented last semester and have written about here and here.

First, the course theme:

In this course, we will utilize the theme of “Hacking the Curriculum” in an effort to more deeply connect writing and language with the practices of internet communities. We will eschew conventional notions of right and wrong in relation to the college classroom and college educational practices, and we’ll probe how hacker values (ie. subversion of authority, non-hierarchical organization, meritocracy and play) can positively benefit our writing as well as our educational curriculums. We’ll ask questions such as “how might we jailbreak in order to improve?”, “how can play benefit society, learning and behavior?” and “how can we redefine what is meant by a quality education?”

Second, the research paper:

Composition Project #3 is a research essay. The first draft will contain at least 4 pages of well-researched, well-written and well-thought out argumentation surrounding a central thesis statement. The second draft will contain at least 7 pages of quality writing. The third draft will contain at least 10 pages of top-notch exposition as well as 7 properly-documented scholarly sources.  Your project will answer one of three questions:

(A) Hacker culture likes to “jailbreak” devices such as smartphones, computer applications and video game software. Jailbreaking opens previously unavailable doors to new utilities, abilities, competencies and capabilities by subverting official authority. On the other hand, jailbreaking is also inherently performed by amateurs and is oftentimes illegal. Argue one area of American life that could benefit from a full or partial “jailbreaking” and suggest specific impacts this “jailbreaking” might have.

(B) Hacker culture places high value on play. Argue one instance of American life that incorrectly rejects “fun and games” and would instead benefit from increased consideration of the advantages play can have for learning, behavior and social functioning. 

(C) Hacker culture tends to favor meritocracy (status based on ability and talent) rather than elitism, nepotism or oligarchy (status based on inheritance, social connections, seniority, formal degrees, age, experience, gender, race). Argue one area of American life that could benefit from incorporating a greater emphasis on meritocracy into how it heirachizes (ranks) its members, and explain the effects this might have.

Thirdly, a hacker autobiography assignment, the first in our sequence of five major writing assignments this semester:

Composition Project #1 is an education autobiography. You will identify an important moment, scene, time, person, place, hobby or habit in which you, similar to “hackers,” were forced to subvert authority (ie. disobey authority) to piece together a solution to a problem you were facing in your education, whether in high school, college or in some outside space. You will then argue how this specific moment/scene served as a building block for your education, utilizing skills learned in the class’ opening weeks (descriptive writing, vivid nouns, working verbs, zesty adjectives, strong sentence economy, thoughtful diction, etc.) to do so.

Lastly, this Spring 2018 iteration of the activist UnEssay project will feature a number of  changes based upon last semester’s results, but will still feature the same primary components: Students remixing their capstone research paper into either a YouTube video or a Twitter/Facebook/Instagram account, reformatting and reconcieving it to fit the various demands of this new space. One UnEssay rendition from last semester, titled Stand Up!, is available here.

Introducing: Writing Studies II: Hacking the Curriculum. More to come.

What do you all think?

And good news– I’ll be a PhD student next fall!

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