Hack your learning: The way it works now.

Hack your learning: The way it works now.

I didn’t know that there was a giant subculture of 12-16 year olds hacking their iPod Touches.

I didn’t know that a community of kids existed that were helping each other to troubleshoot, adapt code, or discuss best practices for making the Touch do what they wanted it to.

I didn’t know that my entire idea of what it means to be a nerdy kid who is interested in computers and gadgets had shifted to include kids who just wanted to be able to have something they were recognized for being good at.

I didn’t know these things because I never asked. I never had a reason to.

This lack of knowledge really is making me think. It makes me think about what we are not asking our students. It makes me wonder what other supportive communities exist that are underground learning environments. Why doesn’t the whole world know about the kind of learning that is going on here? Why aren’t we in awe of the building blocks of critical thinking being laid. Is it because we are simply too busy trying to force our own ideas of community and learning upon them? Is it because we can’t come to grips with the fact that they may not actually need what we have to offer sometimes?

So, this blog post is an attempt to call attention to this community. It is an attempt to shine a light on the collaboration and ingenuity that is increasing with every search for a new way of doing things, with every creation of a new hack, with every question of how something works.

I purchased my iPod touch last Monday for my upcoming birthday (03/15). I did not purchase it because of what it could do out of the box. I purchased it for what I thought it could do if I bent it to my will. You see, I had been doing a little research earlier that morning on YouTube. A simple search for the terms “ipod touch” at that fine repository of videos will yeild quite a few videos with the word “jailbreak” in the title. This meant nothing to me when I first came across it, but after a few videos it because abundantly clear that I would have to spend some time hacking my iPod if I wanted to use it for anything that wasn’t created by apple (upon much research I learned that this is in no way illegal but I will void your warranty, but I have been voiding warranties since I was a kid so I was not afraid.)

However, I started noticing a pattern in many of these videos. The age of the creators was startlingly low:

It is hard for me to say that these kids are not providing valuable information. Their videos have an audience of thousands and they receive huge numbers of comments, spurring them to create more. The most surprising element of this community is that this is a genre of text that most kids do not engage in of their free will. My students groan each and every time they have to provide a step by step process for a written prompt. They run away from instructions on nearly every piece of paper or blog post. So, what makes these instructions so engaging? Why do they flock to these tutorials as a means of expression?To me, it is about purpose. The purpose they have is to create useful learning for others. I believe more surely than ever that each of us has an innate need to teach others what we know. Most of the time, however, we all know similar things or we are being asked to learn similar things. This does not provide many people with the ability to teach something new. It allows for learning together, but not learning from one another.

This community exists only for the purpose of information sharing and learning. It is what we should be modeling our schools and classrooms after (without all of the swearing in the comments hopefully).

My personal Journey with the iPod Touch:

So, if you believe in the idea that everyone not only needs to learn but also needs to teach, I must now teach you all of I have learned about the iPod Touch:

After much searching and looking for ways to get 3rd-party programs onto my iPod (a function that Apple will not make available until June), I found a few helpful programs:

ZiPhone – A jailbreaking program for mac and PC.

iJailbreak – A jailbreaking program for Mac. (The blog is incredibly helpful as well)

independence – A jailbreaking and unlocking program for Mac that also allows you to add wallpapers, ebooks, files, etc. manually from your computer.

However, because I have the latest version of the iPod Touch, none of these programs worked for what I wanted to do (although they may now because most of them have had a few updates within just the last few days). I used this amazing tutorial for figuring out the inner workings of my iPod. (Not to geek out too much, but I really like knowing how things work rather than just pushing a button and having it “do its thing.”)

After I set up my iPod to accept 3rd-party programs, I decided to actually install a few and try them out. Here are a few of the ones that I have kept:

  1. Books – Allows you to read eBooks on your iPod.
  2. MxTube – Allows you to download Youtube videos to view later.
  3. VNSea – Allows you to view and control your home computer remotely (mouse, hard drive, etc.) from any remote location with a wifi connection.
  4. WeDict – Open source dictionaries and encyclopedias.
  5. Mobile Scrobbler – Listen to great internet radio thanks to Last FM.
  6. Sketches – Use your iPod Touch like an etch-a-sketch (my 17 month old loves it)
  7. iStudy – Use flashcards.
  8. Homework – Keep track of homework assignments
  9. Photoboard – Play with your photos like they do in Minority Report.
  10. DashBuster – Update your Blockbuster Queue (I always forget to do this and get terrible movie choices in my mailbox)

Please let me know if you have found anything else that is useful for the iPhone or iPod Touch. I will be writing more about the pedagogical implications of many of these tools soon.


  1. I watched a younf co-worker a few years ago and was fascinated by the way he learned. He was a programmer and software designer and he was good. He was also up to the minute with everything he did because he was plugged into the communities you described above. I felt like a dinosaur in his presence as he used words and processes that were exotic to me. I began to reach out to external, online communities due to his influence. The very word “Hacking” is scary to institution because it implies rule breaking which in a time of revoluton might be the first order of business.

  2. GingerTPLC

    In January, one of my students (a 6th grader) sat down with Wes Fryer showed him the hacks he’d done to his iPod Touch. The kid really doesn’t know who Wes is; he was just delighted to share the info he now knows. Seeking, Learning, Sharing, Seeking, in an endless circle, or rather, spiral.

    And you’re right: those english-class “musts” happen when the kids seek a purpose for the technical writing.

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