Hacking is not thought of as a good thing in the computer world these days, but that’s not always the way it was.
In fact, it’s almost as if someone “hacked” the term itself.
Timberline teacher Tyler Couture says, originally, hacking referred to using coding and technology to problem-solve and come up with fun, creative solutions. Only later, did the term become synonymous with shady, underworld computer activities.
The school has a program called Digital Hackerspace and through it educators and students are trying to reclaim hacking.
“There’s an original sense of the term, which is where we got ‘Hackerspace’ from, to kind of re-appropriate it back to its initial meaning, which is ‘fun and awesome,’” he says.
The program was originally overseen by teacher Dave Coad, but Couture took over when Coad retired, and he, two other teachers and the students have taken up the mission and pushed Hackerspace’s evolution.
Hackerspace is a school-community operated workspace where students with common interests in computers, technology, and digital art and music, can meet, socialize and collaborate. Hackerspace’s goal is to create hackers according to the original sense of the term: students who can use technical knowledge and creativity to overcome problems with playful cleverness.
There are courses that cover 3D computer modelling and animation, computer programming, digital art and design, digital photography and game programming design, though often students will work on projects across the different disciplines. The classes run through a customized online learning platform, which the school created. It is now being used at Carihi Secondary, which has its own version.
“It kind of started with an off-the-shelf system that was too limited,” Couture says. “Because we had the expertise in-house, we basically just took it and expanded it to work for us.”
The program is aimed both at students interested in going into computer science and engineering but also at those who want to go into the arts using new media, often for commercial applications. The courses for Timberline’s Digital Hackerspace courses are taught in a teacher-guided, self-directed manner using free, open-source software with all the assignments online.
“They can do them at their own pace, and there’s a lot of options of which ones they choose,” Couture says. “It’s not linear. There are all sorts of different paths, and there are multiple ways of getting to different assignments and projects.”
Digital Hackerspace has grown from six class blocks up to 10, including two blocks for Grade 9 students and eight for students through grades 10 and 12.
“It’s almost becoming a department,” Couture says. “There’s three teachers who work in there now.”