Hacking Spaces: Place as Interface
Douglas M. Walls, Scott Schopieray, Danielle Nicole DeVoss. (2009). Computers and Composition 26(4), 269-287

“Students want flexible spaces, where tables and chairs can easily be arranged based on activity. Students want display screens, so work can easily be shown and shared among small groups. Students want laptop-friendly, wireless spaces where they can easily move around. Students want food, drink, and natural light” (270).

So, why don’t our writing spaces look like this?

In this article, the authors first take a hacktivist approach to analyzing instructional spaces. Taking their cues from the The New Hacker’s Dictionary, they deem a hacker – one who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations. They wish to provide the reader with tools for negotiation and disruption in order to make local arguments to hack instructional space design.

The article is very helpful in situating the issue of space analysis in the context of larger national conversations:

“The theme across these conversations is the goal of changing learning spaces from their static configurations – which typically promote a particular and limited type of interaction – to flexible, technology-friendly spaces that support a range of interaction types and encourage collaboration” (271)

The authors then narrow their gaze to reflect on how teachers and scholars in computers and writing have addressed issues of space: “We suspect at this particular moment in time that many campuses are tackling what our campus is addressing-fairly large-scale space renovations in the face of computer labs now 10-15 years old. This is a particularly powerful moment to change the institutional space and the intellectual space in which technology-rich writing instruction happens. Given that large-scale changes tend to unfold across committees, investments, time, and other elements, small potent gestures (an expression Cynthia Selfe first put into circulation) are what we address in this article. That is, we describe small yet powerful ways in which we can push back against the spaces in which we currently work” (270).

Finally, they offer a practical, five-fold analytical framework for assessing space-related issues based on 1) Movement, 2) Collaboration, 3) Sensory, 4) Leadership, 5) Functional/material. This framework offers teachers a way to “map the issues related to spaces in which they teach” (282). The authors see this framework as a useful tool to help teachers identify how spaces can be hacked to better support their pedagogical goals and values.

As an interested reader of the article, my one issue with this framework is that it focuses on types of restrictions.

“Students can’t easily move…” “Students can’t focus….” Students can’t see…” I would much rather see a framework oriented toward positive outcomes. “Students can see when….” Students can focus when…” For me, this is more than a subtle change in tone, but an important change in the spirit of the tool. When framed in the positive, focusing on what students can (and should) be doing, the tool feels more liberating and empowering. By shifting the focus to talk about what we believe and what we value, the tool can be used for both empowerment and provocation.

In addition to the five-part analytical framework, the authors give sage advice about knowing our local systems, people, and the methods themselves for actually proposing changes at our institutions. “What we have done, we hope, is call attention to some of the key complexities of space, and to the need for us to continually interrogate issues of space, especially the spaces-physical or virtual- that we occupy as teachers, researchers, and scholars.” (273).

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