A great, low-tech hack for teaching high-tech skills

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So, having replaced all the verbs in the English language, “hack” is poised to take on the nouns too?

This overuse of “hack” has been bugging me for some time. Also, on another forum dedicated to cannabis, every single little variation in process is called Tec, Tech or Tek.

Such as: “Did you check out that new q-tip tek that Bob invented?”
Translation: Have you tried cleaning your nail with a q-tip after each dab?

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Hack as a noun isn’t new. I’ve been commenting things as // terrible hack but shut up it works for many years now.

Using “hack” to describe things that are not related to computer security or programming though, is a kludge.


A woman I know teaches Organic Chemistry at our local college, which has a strong pre-med program. She told me that what has revolutionized the way they teach is these new clickers they give out to students. Throughout lecture they pause to do a little question and answer, with answers coming in via clicker. If a lot of the answers are wrong, she’ll take more time with that material. If everyone is getting it, they move on.


All programming is a kluge, because we can’t speak atomic XNOR.


I taught at Dev Bootcamp, and we’ve been using a similar system for while. It works very well.

(and any student who’d finished)

This part ^ is the essential part. Peer to peer learning is made a first class citizen, particularly when you have classes at different levels sharing a space. “Older” students have been known to circulate collecting stickys from “younger” students like Chewbacca-style sticky bandoliers. And generally, a struggling student is able to answer many questions from the class behind them. It’s a small but powerful affirmation for students doing to long, slow work of learning a difficult trade.


That’s cool. I like that style, especially the street cred that people can accumulate in real time.

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That’s a great idea!
I have to find a way to efficiently adapt it for my classes.

Hack has long been a noun:
1 A rough cut, blow, or stroke
1.1 (In sport) a kick or a stroke with a stick inflicted on another player.
1.2 A notch cut in the ice, or a peg inserted, to steady the foot when delivering a stone in curling.
1.3 A tool for rough striking or cutting, e.g. a mattock or a miner’s pick.
1.4 archaic A gash or wound.
2 informal An act of computer hacking: the challenge of the hack itself
2.1 A piece of computer code providing a quick or inelegant solution to a particular problem: this hack doesn’t work on machines that have a firewall

Oh, and consider the reverse process…


Can’t… or won’t?


This sounds like an invitation. Put that on and I will start practicing my voice commands. @shaddack, can you write a verbal atomic XNOR interpreter for us? Thanks!

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That sounds like Scientology. Just coincidence?

I wasn’t trying to say it shouldn’t be a noun. It’s just becoming so prevalent, the word has shed almost all of its meaning. Soon it will be almost 20% of all words.

Yes, completely. My thought is that in some cases people are shortening the word “Technique” and in other they are shortening the word “Technology” but mostly people just grab phonetic shortcut that they have seen others use and so the distinction is lost. The world of processing is still new to me so maybe the origin is well known. It always sounds to me like they are trying to talk in cyber punk lingo to make simple things sound bad ass. :smirk:

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One of my high school math teachers encouraged students to work together on homework, or call each other and talk it over after school, as long as you’re actually helping and not just sharing the answers. I suppose part of it is that you’re not going to stop that kind of cheating no matter what you do, but he said that explaining something helps you work it through and understand it better. It benefits the kid who needs help and the one who’s helping.

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I hack this.

HACK. A hackney coach. The term hack is
also frequently applied by women to any article of dress, as a bonnet,
shawl, &c., which is kept for every day use. (Bartlett, “Dictionary
of Americanisms”, 1848)

Also a tool for chopping, a person hired to do work, a prostitute, and a cough. So why can’t it also be synonymous with “trick” as language evolves?

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That’s a case of what was old coming back again. When I was an undergraduate in the early 1990s, several lecture halls at my university had desks with buttons on them. They didn’t do anything at the time, so I asked a professor about them. Apparently in the 1960s they used to have in-lecture quizzes with the students buzzing in. But eventually that fell out of favor for some reason.

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I don’t see a problem with using hack in this context.

I do think it’s meaning is subtly different from “trick” but I can’t exactly say how.

I think trick is actually more applicable in this story, my definition of a hack is (mis)using something for another purpose from it’s intended use. But you could say that works in this case too, since colored post-its were never intended as a learning progress signaler.