I’ve just returned home from attending NCTE in Chicago. This year, the most powerful learning experience I participated in while at NCTE wasn’t a formal workshop, keynote speaker, or session. It was a hackjam hosted by the National Writing Project and organized by an intrepid doctoral student named Andrea Zellner. I left the hackjam feeling incredibly energized, inspired, and full of ideas. As I flew home, I wondered why participating in the hackjam felt so different from the other more “traditional” sessions that I attended? After reading my notes from the day’s events, here’s what I came up with.
1. The Space
I found out about the hackjam via Twitter just a few hours before it was to begin. I’d spent the morning in the stuffy, wallpapered, and windowless conference rooms of the Chicago Hilton (where most people didn’t have projectors or screens, and where you couldn’t get free w-ifi), so when I read that the hackjam would take place at a nearby cozy corner bakery (with free wi-fi), I was sold. Plus, attending an “unsanctioned” event outside an “institutional” space made it feel slightly subversive—this was grassroots professional development!
Other than Andrea’s instructions to “hop onto hackasauras, and open up another window for the New York Times”, there were no formal directions, no slideshow, no rubric, and no handouts. Rather than listening to someone give a talk, we were required to learn by experimenting with hackasaurus and by collaborating with each other along the way. Both the power (in terms of decision-making) and the cognition were equally distributed among all of the participants. And this redistribution of the teaching load really energized people because it allowed them to share their knowledge based on the specific questions and needs of others. In the hour I was there, I not only learned about hackasaurus, I was also shown how to create a screen capture on Jing, how students can use flip phones to create their own documentaries, and how to start my own YouTube channel (!).
3. Documenting both Process and Product
From what I gathered along the way, our final “product” was to remix a webpage and publish it on Twitter. But, participants also documented the learning process by tweeting throughout the event. For example, nooccar tweeted “Wishing corner bakery wifi wasn’t dead.” AWhite 100 tweeted, “Having fun with Hackasaurus. Thinking edu possibilities” and so on. We also didn’t wait until everyone was finished to share our products. Once someone created a hack, they shared it via Twitter. This allowed people who arrived later (or those like me who worked a little more slowly) to see other finished products along the way. Later that night, I whipped out my phone to show my roommate (who isn’t on Twitter) my project. I loved having an actual product to share with her to better help explain what exactly I’d been doing at a hackjam.
4. Immediate Feedback from Multiple Sources
Since we were all sitting so closely to each other, it was easy to glance at each other’s screen and make comments on each others’ work. So even though I quickly realized that I was surrounded by people far more tech-savvy than I, they were interested in what I was remixing and asked me questions about what I was doing. For example, when I changed the headline of the New York Times page from “Occupy Wall Street” to “Occupy NCTE on Monroe Street,” my neighbor asked, “Now are you going to change the picture?” I thought about it for a minute. I could see what he was saying; it might be funny to include a picture of us all at our laptops, but I actually thought it would be interesting to have this rather violent image of police force juxtaposed with the text of English teachers—usually a pretty calm and well-behaved group.
|My remixed page|
While these were more informal comments, there was also the more formal feedback available once we published our remixed page on Twitter. People favorited, retweeted, and commented on the hacks. In this way, you had a fairly good idea about how much of an impact your “message” had made.