Hacking the Academy, by Dan Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt: a review

This is a short book, compiled by editors Cohen and Scheinfeldt, consisting of about 50 essays and fragments exploring the shortcomings and future of the modern university. The authors have a special concern about the impacts of new technologies. It’s well worth your time to read.

About half of the material recasts discussions which began decades ago. These include considerations of the structure of academic curricula, interdisciplinary scholarship, the value of the liberal arts, the nature of teaching, and the nature of the academic institution. Other parts resemble Government 2.0 discussions about ways to interact and what interactions are appropriate. A handful of chapters cover topics which come more directly from current academic concerns about the role of technology in education and research. Some of these chapters summarize the current state of the discussion; a few move it along.

The book’s quality is generally high. This is primarily an effort from the humanities wing of the academy; the hard sciences and other disciplines seem to have had no participants, though it’s likely they have similar concerns. (This likely reflects the editors’ networks, not their interests.) There’s no discussion of the ways these essayists’ concerns might differently impact various sizes and types of schools, nor about the different issues which might be faced by private and public institutions. Nonetheless, the best contributions are excellent, and justify the work.

Evidently there’s a paper version of this book in the works, but at this time it’s available only in electronic formats. An online HTML version is available here, while epub/mobi/PDF versions are available here. And there’s a website–which you really ought to investigate.

A good discussion. If you’re interested in the future of academia, you should read this. And pitch in.

This review has also been published on LibraryThing.

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