A (Love) Letter to Hackademics

Kära nordiska adjunkt – dear you who are working at the university as an “adjunct lecturer”, “lecturer” or “university teacher”: this is a letter for you. NordMedia Network wants to thank you for the hard work you’ve been doing in teaching, as it is widely known that you seldom receive letters of admiration at the end of the academic year.

We know you’ve been working hard, especially this past year when you have been responsible for adjusting your teaching according to shifting restrictions and recommendations, planning courses parallel in virtual, physical and hybrid form, answering students’ unending questions, negotiating with colleagues with diverging views on how the courses should be conducted, and juggling between different systems of administration. You do this every academic term, but you hardly get any special acknowledgement for it – it’s just something that has to be done.

At the same time, researchers at your institution are raking in special recognitions for best papers. They have their publication lists and merits, which are frequently assessed by different committees and groups of peers, growing with every step they take, while you are holding the same course for the 15th time, without hardly anyone noticing.

Faculty leaders talk about research excellence, quality, impact. In comparison, there’s much less discourse on the quality of classroom interaction, student assessment or pedagogical development.

We understand your frustration.

The motley crew

University lecturers known as “adjuncts” in Scandinavia and “university teachers” in Finland form a diverse group – according to Michael Bromley, a motley crew – of teaching staff with professional backgrounds. They are particularly important in journalism education study programs, where students must be guided into the practical work.

“Hackademics” – professional practitioners turned into university workers – typically have vast professional experience and can best socialize newcomers into the values and cultures of journalism. This also applies to other professionally oriented study programs in the media and communication fielde, such as the education of photographers and photojournalists, filmmakers, as well as PR officers and marketers.

The professionally oriented staff plays a pivotal role in making many academic study programs happen.

The professionally oriented staff plays a pivotal role in making many academic study programs happen. Tony Harcup argues that hackademics perform a balancing act between practice and theory. The marriage of practice and theory, for its part, has been found to be the success factor of academic study programs. Without proper education in practice, students wouldn’t be able to do an internship or achieve the employability that many Nordic journalism programs can currently be proud of.

Nevertheless, many hackademics are still experiencing a lower rank within the academic community that is characterized by the pursuit of research excellence. Not only are the local academic cultures compartmentalized – hackademics and academics sitting at different lunch tables and meetings, having their own conferences and courses – but teachers typically find it difficult to enter research projects and, besides, they often aren’t even actively encouraged to do so. Differences in national academic cultures vary, but at a general level, it may not be as easy to couple researching with the daily pedagogical toil, in the way researchers are expected to lecture and teach in connection to their research work.

In many countries, universities have started establishing teachers’ academies that would acknowledge “excellent teachers” from different fields. In many cases, these academies have, however, been criticized for becoming halls of fame for the few, without any wider impact on the development of discipline-specific teaching and pedagogy.

The recent formalization and development of university pedagogy at many universities has often been regarded by hackademics as more directed to lecturing researchers than academic teachers not involved in research. In particular, in study programs such as journalism, the methods and approaches employed are less attached to lecturing than to simulation of work practices and learning by doing.

Last but not least, teaching staff typically feel that it is very hard to find time and motivation for embarking on research. Teaching-free periods, which could be dedicated to being involved in research or developing pedagogy by writing study materials, lesson plans and theorizing teaching practice, cannot be taken for granted. There is also the question of “why” – why should one do research?

Hackademy within academy

Despite all the structural challenges described above, we want to highlight that you are doing an important job and can go on vacation with high satisfaction. Sure, you know it from your students; but it’s important that this recognition also comes from the employer’s side, as well.

You don’t have to think that you need to do research to become a fully-acknowledged member of the academic community. However, what you should do, as part of the regular development of your daily work, is to think about what kind of possibilities there are to elaborate disciplinary pedagogical thought and practice beyond your own course. There are perhaps not that many forums and channels yet, but the existing structures of associations, conference divisions and networks would benefit from your increased contribution. You should also highlight for your superiors how important it is to dedicate time to the reflexivity and theoretical inquiry enhancing the routines of the pedagogical work so that they can make space for that.

There’s probably not a quick fix, but you should know that you are making a difference in students’ lives. They will remember your lessons, turn to your advice, and maybe even keep in contact with you during their entire career, which you have been an enabler for.

At NordMedia Network, we would like to include more of you. We think that hackademy should be part of the academy, to ensure the symbiotic connection between theory and practice. Just let us know how we can support your work and welcome you to this digital community in a way that can most fruitfully benefit your daily work.

Read More

Hackademy Studied

Bromley M. (2014). Field maturation in journalism: The role of hackademics as a ‘motley crew.’ International Journal of Cultural Studies, 17(1), 3–19.

Harcup, T. (2011a). Hackademics at the chalkface. To what extent have journalism teachers become journalism researchers? Journalism Practice, 5(1), 34–50.

Harcup, T. (2011b). Research and reflection: Supporting journalism educators in becoming scholars. Journalism Practice, 5(2), 161–176.
Hackademy Studied

Photo: Štefan Štefančík / Unsplash