Hackademia: Leveraging the Conflict Between Expertise and Innovation to Create Disruptive Technologies
Beth Kolko, University of Washington
Tuesday, January 24, 12:30 pm
Berkman Center, 23 Everett Street, second floor
This event will be webcast live at 12:30 pm ET and archived on our site shortly after.
This talk describes two projects that tackle the same issue: how and why do nonexperts contribute to innovation? The conflict between expertise and innovation sits uneasily in academia, where the enterprise hinges on doling out official credentials. But a lack of expertise can in fact drive people to create the kind of disruptive technologies that really are game-changers. In this presentation I'll present findings from a book-in-progress based on interviews with hackers and makers tentatively titled "Why Rulebreakers Will Rule the World." That book connects the hacking and making/DIY communities at the point of disruptive technologies, demonstrating how the lack of institutional affiliation and formal credentials within each community opens up the space for creative problem-solving approaches. The presentation will also discuss the results of a two-year experiment I've been running within the university entitled "Hackademia" which is an attempt to infect academic pursuits with a hacker ethos and challenge non-experts to see themselves as potentially significant contributors to innovative technologies. Hackademia is a semi-formal learning group that introduces mostly nontechnical students to basic technical skills and presents them with an open-ended challenge. There have been six iterations of the group so far, and each quarter new students join as we use a participant-observation model to explore how nontechnical adults gain technical skills. Hackademia is driven by a desire to create functional rather than accredited engineers, to position engineering literacy as a skill that's as important to an informed citizenry as science literacy, and to help individuals see themselves as creators rather than consumers.
Beth Kolko is a Professor in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington. Her academic history includes a background in rhetoric, cultural studies, and online communities. She began researching the Internet in the days of newsgroups and Lynx, and at that point focused on how people used the medium to communicate and interact. In 2000, she co-edited Race in Cyberspace which was the result of several years’ research into how issues of race and gender affected technology usage patterns. She then took those research questions to an international context, spending half a year on a Fulbright in Uzbekistan in 2000. She spent ten years tracking the emergence of information and communication technologies in Central Asia since then, and has worked in several other developing regions, including Cambodia, Kenya, Uganda, Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia. She runs the Design for Digital Inclusion (DDI) lab at UW. DDI researches diversity and technology from a design perspective, focusing on technology development for resource-constrained environments in order to counteract what could be called a failure of imagination in terms of how devices, software, and services are designed. The DDI group thinks about the other five billion potential users, about computing beyond the workplace or the desktop, and broadly about technologies that can help address the challenges of everyday life. Beth works closely with the change (change.washington.edu) group at UW, collaborating with colleagues in computer science on a variety of projects including a low-cost ultrasound system designed for midwives and a new, multi-year global health technology project.
Somewhere in the past several years she started spending time in hackerspaces, attending hacker cons, and diving into DIY and Maker culture. After a few years of that, and after several years marveling at the creativity of students, she started Hackademia in an attempt to bring the habits of mind of hackers and makers into the university setting. Beth is fascinated by creativity, innovation, and how a new perspective on an old problem can be a game changer. Hackademia is an attempt to create a cohort of *functional* rather than *accredited* engineers, to give a wide set of students basic engineering literacy and the tools to explore potential solutions by bringing the creative mindset of the nonexpert into the mix. It's also an attempt to bring the joy of exploration to center stage.