Hack Day Pitches

On April 10th to 12th, the Berkman Center, in collaboration with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, co-hosted a conference on Open Educational Resources (OER) in Cambridge, MA.  After two days of discussion, debate, and design-oriented activities, this conference culminated in a Hack Day on Friday, April 13th that attracted designers, developers, and educational innovators from around the world.  This post shares the ideas and descriptions of minimum viable prototypes that emerged from the Hack Day.

The Hack Day was co-organized by the Berkman Center and Andrew Magliozzi, SJ Klein, and Erhardt Graeff, who also organize a Boston-based educational technology practitioner meetup. The goal of The Hack Day was to give a chance for local technologists and educational technology enthusiasts to engage with likeminded OER conference attendees and push some of the conference’s ideas toward concrete products. A similar event was organized by the group in December to try to use a design thinking approach to solving problems in education. Erhardt Graeff acted as facilitator, on both occasions.

The Hack Day started with a rapid brainstorming session splitting participants randomly into groups to come up with project ideas, and then folding the groups together in order to winnow down the field of ideas. Participants then pitched their favorite ideas to each other, which led to the formation of interest-based teams to work on the projects themselves. The majority of the afternoon was given to developing the ideas, mocking up interface designs, or coding minimum viable products, but strict timelines dominated the process start to finish. At 3:30pm, each team pitched the fruit of their labor to a panel of judges that included a local high school student and teacher. The judges, impressed by all the projects, failed to select a single winner and awarded both FreePencils and the OER Annual Awards Ceremony prizes of free attendance at this year’s Open Education Conference (courtesy of participant David Wiley).

We’d like to thank all the participants who traveled from near and far to help pool their expertise and energy and make the Hack Day a success. For participants’ reflections on hacking education, see blog posts from SJ Klein of OLPC/the Wikimedia Foundation and Rebecca Nesson of PRX.

1.  Draft Design for Octocat

We utilized the collective/collaborative authoring engine within GitHub (a web-based hosting service for software development projects with networking functionality, e.g. feeds, followers, etc.) to see if it could be used as an academic authoring tool for OER material.

We downloaded OER material from Open University’s LabSpace and placed it inside the Github, creating a project space.  We then set about collaboratively editing a section.  We then accepted these changes collectively and subsequently placed the reversed open educational resources material back into LabSpace.

Rather than develop a single authoring tool, we envision something that would provide the same benefit’s as Github’s authoring functionality, which can be collective, community-driven, and collaborative.  For instance, imagine you are an English teacher or the head of the English department at a school.  You could ask your first-year teachers to collectively find and edit OER within a space like GitHub.  You could also work with fellow teachers from other schools, etc.

 2. FreePencils

Many states (48, including D.C. and two U.S. Territories) have adopted the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics. This is the first time in the history of U.S. public education that we will see common learning standards across so many states. Part of this effort is the development of a shared assessment platform that seeks to provide an open source adaptive assessment system that will support formative and summative assessment for classroom, school, district, and state-level use.

Building upon the success of the World Food Programme’s FreeRice.com site, we proposed to build a tool that would mimic the style of FreeRice’s educational and fundraising process: answer questions correctly and earn tokens that have real-world value for a local or national good cause. We called our effort “FreePencils”, and would use the pencil as a token similar to FreeRice’s 10 grains of rice per question. The tool would sit between the end user and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia’s (SBAC) adaptive testing engine, and use released items shared through that system. Schools would be able to localize this tool so that students earn pencils as they answer questions correctly. These pencils would have an equivalent real world value based on the school’s local fundraising efforts. For example, a school could get local sponsorships from families, local business, and others. These funds would be distributed to the school or any identified good cause based on correct answers to actual released items from the SBAC assessment engine. This would provide practice to students and at the same time, provide a method of fundraising.

In addition, the tool could be set up at a national level with national sponsorships. Funds from this effort could be directed to a national cause, educational or otherwise. To watch the pitch, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrPpXjn5B_w&feature=relmfu


3Capsule: A Digital Portfolio

Curation 1.0 is an unportfolio project in which high school students engage in an excavation of the artifacts of their learning in search of the story/stories these artifacts express when they are installed in one large visual representation (mural, installation, collage).  Students ungarage, unbin, unbox, unfile, unfolder and uncloud as much as they can and spread it out into a graphic timeline, engaging in a variety of questions and prompts along the way that help them to make connections between artifacts and to look for threads that express continuity between early childhood and high school.  We help these artifacts mean something to one another–to talk to one another; and we make ourselves present to that voice.

Curation 2.0 is a web-based application proposed as a way to scale Curation 1.0.  This capture, host and curate tool will help students and educators in and beyond early childhood scaffold the Curation process going forward (instead of backwards as above) so that these students do not have to engage in an excavation–an invaluable operation, but a rescue one we wouldn’t have to carry out if we started doing this from the beginning.

Curation 3.0 is an innovation on 2.0 that helps us use, integrate and recycle digitized multimedia artifacts and web media. This more dynamic digital storytelling tool will function as an application capable of hosting material, or as an add on for existing storage spaces like Dropbox or iCloud that would allow us to visualize the contents of these spaces attractively, datestamped along with web content referenced in those resources attractively integrated, as a multimedia timeline/gallery of content with p2p access and participatory learning functionality.  In either case, the collection becomes a documentary of your learning through the work you produced.  But also use it to create specific documentaries through and with selections from your work or to discover documentaries that were there all along and could help you find direction.  Use this as a presentation tool that incorporates web content and peer student work into your own multimedia presentations.  A fun phrase that came out of the OER day was “Zeega on top of Dropbox.” To watch the pitch, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXyfUL2BmsU&list=UUuLGmD72gJDBwmLw06X58SA&index=6&feature=plpp_video

4.  OER WikiProject

We created a wiki page to start the planning for an effort to improve articles relating to open educational resources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Education/Open_education_project

The idea is to help various people interested and knowledgeable in OER and related areas to learn to improve Wikipedia content, while simultaneously engaging existing Wikipedians to help in that process. The project is founded in a deep respect for, and knowledge of, Wikipedia’s values and policies; it will be conducted in a transparent way; participants will be trained in distinguishing between advocacy and neutral, verifiable information, and leaving any advocacy efforts out of their work on Wikipedia content.

Between now and the end of June, we will be in an exploratory, planning phase. We are going to start off with an exploration of existing Wikipedia content that is possibly related.  We are hoping to put something together that will engage a number of people in learning how to edit Wikipedia in ways that honor its policies and vision. To watch the pitch, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XK3b5eE4QJQ&list=UUuLGmD72gJDBwmLw06X58SA&index=5&feature=plpp_video

5. OER Annual Awards

For an extended description, see: http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/sj/2012/04/30/oer-awards-celebration-of-free-knowledge/

This ceremony will celebrate the world’s best educational materials — where ‘best’ includes openness, accessibility, and flexibility. Right now it seems the focus will be on materials that are:

Open and accessible

  • open and gratis: available for anyone to use, online or offline, at no charge
  • educational: useful for both K-12 students and autodidacts of all ages
  • repurposable:  licensed to allow use and reuse as widely as possible
  • accessible: available in many formats and languages, usable by all sorts of learners

Modular and editable

  • modular: available as collections / libraries, with sections and components marked for easy remixing
  • annotated: with tags and categories, structured data and metadata.
  • clustered: with links to similar works and information on how it has been used or modified
  • editable: published and maintained in a way that makes it easy for users to share revisions and variants.


The awards will allow for direct nomination of great materials by curators in each category, but this year aims mainly to bring greater attention to existing contests in narrow fields, and to recognize the curatorial work they do.  So many entries will be the finalists and winners from those existing contests.   Some of the free knowledge awards and events we mean to ask to participate are: Open Game Art’s Liberated Pixel Cup — recognizing the best free + open “game art”, and the best games made with such art; Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Year; Wikimedia Deutschland’s Zedler Preis für Freies Wissen.


There are a variety of formats and a variety of topical fields to consider. We will have a limited set of categories for the contest, and map the intersections of formats & fields onto them.  This year we may not distinguish text and physical media from software and digital media in the categories.  We are aiming for enough cross-discipline competition to be valuable without making judging impossible.


We are still discussing where and how to hold a ceremony honoring the winners, or perhaps a number of small events recognizing the year’s most excellent work at other major gatherings honoring developments in education, knowledge, and collaboration.

6.  PokOER: All-in for education

Because education is the first multiplayer game we are all required to play, PokOER is an educational curriculum designed around the traditional game of poker.  In addition to mathematics and statistics, the game of poker is a game of emotion and skill.  By training teachers and librarians with open educational resources for the teaching of poker, they can pass the same instruction to students.  Using poker as a lens to explore emotions, empathy, and meta-cognitive awareness, PokeOER teaches that even if you’re dealt a bad hand, you can still win.  For more information on the virtues of PokOER, see Charlie Nesson discuss the topic on the Colbert Report: http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/148413/january-24-2008/charles-nesson. To watch the pitch, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mURnv0crXkY&feature=relmfu