Hackathon for educational technology 2012

Hackathon for educational technology 2012

Hackathon for educational technology 2012

In early September we – the Center for Educational Technology and MindCET, an incubator for technologies in education founded by CET – hosted the first hackathon in Israel in the field of education. The hackathon was also our first as organizers – the first time we have tried to bring together people from different disciplines and various areas of specialization, who did not know one another, and have them work together.

A hackathon – the word comes from hackers and marathon – is an event in which developers, ideas people, and designers come together and form ad hoc teams to jointly develop, within a short period of time, a prototype. Generally speaking, the aim is to develop a piece of software that has some utility, or to upgrade an existing program. Hackathons have become common in the United States since 2000, and a number of large companies were born out of hackathon projects (e.g., Skype, GroupMe).

What made our hackathon special was the unique, first-time encounter between educators and hi-tech people.

The hackathon, organized under the title “RUN EDU RUN – Hacking Education,” brought together, for the first time, members of the hi-tech community in Israel – developers, designers, user interface and user experience specialists, games developers, entrepreneurs, and product managers – and educators, in order to develop, within 32 hours, a product or prototype in the field of education. A total of about 100 participants took part in the hackathon.

The hackathon was launched by an opening lecture from Dr. Yossi Vardi, who noted the importance of the event and CET’s contribution to encouraging this industry, which had thus far grown from the grassroots level.

At the end of a short familiarization session, the participants suggested 26 (!) innovative ideas.

The presenters then moved to the next stage, when they had to market their ideas and recruit a team from among the participants. Following a short procedure, in which the participants examined the ideas and questioned the presenters, 13 mixed teams were formed. Our instructions were that each team had to include at least two developers, an educator, a designer, and a product manager or entrepreneur. The idea behind the mixed teams was that the gap between the different worlds would itself be an impetus for innovation and creativity.

The teams worked on their ideas on Friday till 2:00 pm, with breaks for beer, pizza, and refreshments, as is customary at such events, and a short sleeping break.

Forging a connection between people from such different worlds was, at the outset, not simple. There were differences in language and in the respective development cultures, in addition to the natural difficulty of working with complete strangers. There were moments of frustration. Nonetheless, the positive atmosphere and the motivation shown by the participants overcame these obstacles and fostered reciprocal inspiration, creativity, and appreciation for one another. Profound discussions developed within the teams, and these led to a clearer definition of the products and a structuring of the development processes.

If you were to ask us what the main difference is between a specialized hackathon encounter and our day-to-day work, we could probably point to three key differences: 1. The development of content and software took place in parallel and in collaboration; neither side was dominant in terms of the finished products. 2. Input from different fields of expertise meant that new points of view, needs, and solutions were raised. It has already been said that good ideas arise from the encounter between different fields of endeavor. At the hackathon, we saw this process being put into practice. 3. A departure from people’s comfort zones, in terms of both thinking patterns and working patterns. Challenging the obvious, such as linear development. Some of these insights have been adopted in the Pre-Seed program that we are setting up, and which is aimed specifically at technologies in education. We believe in a shared process, connections between people and fields of activity, and in moving out of the comfort  Het is één van de marktleiders van online casinos pellen en de meest bekende online casinos maken gebruik van deze software. zone.

For us, the organizing committee, it was a unique experience to walk around, among the teams, and see how a common language was taking shape, how each side explained its concerns and its position, and how they were together building a process, a solution, and a product. Educators who recognize the advantages of technology as a learning and teaching tool, are often frustrated by the difficulties that technology can cause in the classroom. We were surprised to learn that the hi-tech world has been warning that technology can produce isolation in the classroom, and has been trying to restore the traditional classroom format by means of technology (an application known as “Class”). We were impressed by how the contact with hi-tech people stimulated the content developers from CET, and we saw how the experience inspired them with numerous ideas about future development, even within their day-to-day work.

The following day, in the afternoon, all the teams and the judging panel gathered to see the products. The judging panel, which chose the winning team, was made up of Haim Teichholtz, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent Israel; Ohad Shperling from Carmel Ventures; Michal Eitan, director of the Master’s program in Industrial Design at Bezalel and formerly VP, Operations, at Checkpoint; Dov Alfon, former editor-in-chief of Haaretz, founder of Captain Internet and former editor for Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir; and Avi Warshavsky, director of MindCET and head of the Humanities and Social Sciences Division at CET.

The criteria for selection were originality (technological, pedagogical, commercial), technological feasibility, commercial feasibility, the use of the internet culture, and the overall impression.

The winning team developed the “Arsal” (“hammock”) application – an application for preparing a lesson plan in less than ten minutes, thus leaving time for the teacher to rest in a hammock.

Other interesting apps were developed during the hackathon. Among them we would like to mention the “I don’t understand” button, which allows students to mark passages that they don’t understand, and to obtain assistance from questions and answers on the same passages posted by others; and “Seeing the World” – an app for learning Geography and locating oneself in a spatial dimension (in the format of a “treasure hunt”). The hackathon was creative, interesting, and inspiring.

We have great expectations of the next hackathon, and a strong belief that interaction between education and technology can bring about changes in the learning process.


By Amalia Bryl