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



Hack Day Reflections

PRXer Becca Nesson describes her experience and her group’s hack day idea on the PRX blog:

The open-source Free Rice project was an idea I contributed in the first round.  It’s an idea that my father and I have been interested in for years and it seemed like a good fit for the day.  I was happy to see it progress through the rounds of winnowing.  Ultimately Matthew Battles of Metalab and Jeff Mao of the Maine Department of Education chose to work on it with me.  We spent some time discussing how we could make the project into something that school systems would be able to use and decided that ideally the system would be able to hook into an API provided by the testing company with which a school system contracts.  While Matthew and Jeff worked on ideas about the API and a presentation of the idea, I started to hack.


EdTech Researcher Blogpost Roundup

Berkman Fellow Justin Reich liveblogged parts of the Hewlett OER 2012 Grantee Meeting over at EdTech Researcher, hosted by Education Week.

Researchers and Educators Gather at the Hewlett Open Educational Resources Grantee Meeting

I’m spending this week at the annual Hewlett Open Educational Resources Grantee Meeting, where a group of developers, educators, and researchers are gathering to discuss the advancement of Open Educational Resources or OER. Hewlett defines OER as “high-quality, openly licensed, online educational materials that offer an extraordinary opportunity for people everywhere to share, use, and reuse knowledge.” Quite a bit fits under that broad definition, from Khan Academy videos to CK-12’s free textbooks. There are schools, like the Open High School of Utah or Peer to Peer University that have entirely open curriculum, aggregators like the OER commons and National Science Digital library, and courses like those found on MIT’s OpenCourseWare.

Massive Online Courses Create Bragging Rights for Universities, and Other Insights From Hewlett’s OER Meeting

Vic Vuchic, Hewlett’s program officer, explained the significance of Massive Open Online Courses, like those being offered by Stanford and MITx. There are some fascinating features to these courses: the tens of thousands of enrollees, the automated grading, the rush of venture capital into the space. But here’s the big deal: elite universities have spent recent years bragging about how many students they turn away and how selective they are. Here is a moment where universities start bragging about how many learners they serve and how many people they reach. That has the potential to profoundly shift how elite institutions of higher education see their mission in the decades ahead. It’s not just about technology; it’s about shifting culture.

When Teachers Demand to Be Co-Creators, Not Consumers

And as these educators staked their claim to a seat at the design table (and another seat on behalf of their students) there were plenty of nods in the audience, because lots of folks in the OER community are already inviting teachers and learners into real partnerships. I had lunch with Alfred Solis of the Buck Institute of Education, who is using Hewlett Funding to do a massive scaling up of their online PD around Project Based Learning. They are going to design courses that present projects to teachers that are about 65% finished, to scaffold teacher development as project designers and managers. I also ate with Mike Marriner of RoadTripNation, who is working to help teachers and students construct their own local road trips where they explore the different pathways that life offers to success and fulfillment. These are folks building curriculum development and professional learning organizations that imagine teachers as partners rather than wholesalers.

My own contribution to the Hewlett Grantee Meeting was a talk entitled “When Open Encounters Different Classrooms,” which is part of my ongoing campaign to raise serious concerns about issues of equity and education technology.

(Much more detailed papers, videos, and other descriptions of this work can be found here)

Hacking Open Education

Speaker and hack day co-organizer SJ Klein reflects on his experience at the 2012 OER meeting and a short overview of projects worked on during the hack day.

Hacking Education with Hewlett’s OER Grantees

I spoke to the grantees about the needs of content Builders, along with Hal Abelson and Ahrash Bissell, and took part in a variety of brainstorming sessions. My favorite moment was a debate about whether free knowledge and educational resources are (as I maintain) civic infrastructure, worth investment by cities and locales the way roads and libraries and wiring are. An unresolved question there: how a local government would identify what part of that global problem is theirs to locally provide or fund.

Hacking Open Education, Take 2

The past two days had seen the development of two dozen project ideas, many of them hackable, by the Hewlett grantees. We spent the first hour condensing those and some new proposed hacks down to 10 that seemed compelling and doable. People self-selected into groups to tackle these (in hindsight: we should have set a max team size of ~6). 7 projects were attempted, and 6 produced a hack – a pitch or minimum product that could inspire others to move it forward. At the end of the day, everyone gave 2-minute pitches to a panel of judges (a schoolteacher, a highschool student, and two berkman staff) who reviewed the results for hackability and near-term usefulness for OER.

Collected Notes and Resources from the Hewlett OER 2012 Grantee Meeting

Last week, the Berkman Center hosted the annual meeting of the Hewlett Foundation’s Grant recipients. This conference generated a number of exciting ideas, captured in a wealth of notes, resources, and information for educators and academics involved in the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement. Below, please find a roadmap of those outputs with links to the appropriate resources.

We also have a condensed list of the takeaways from the entire conference, listed at the bottom of this post.

The conference started with a presentation of a Heat Map illustrating key ideas for innovation in OER, and based on pre-conference inputs from participants. The opening exercise is covered in our Storify in two parts:

This session was followed by remarks from Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow, and an introduction by the Hewlett team which provided an overview of the Hewlett Foundation’s vision, goals, and directions for the coming year.

Wednesday began with an insightful keynote from Joi Ito focusing on the new frameworks that digital culture fosters for learning, and also the challenges and disruption it can create for older, authority-oriented learning structures. Presentations from various OER stakeholder groups, including Learners, Facilitators, and Builders followed Joi’s keynote. Key takeaways from these sessions focused on the need to harness informal learning as a supplement to formal learning (Learners), emphasized innovation in terms of both technological and sociocultural factors (Facilitators), and underscored the importance of making OER easier to develop (Builders).

Next, John Palfrey led a synthesis discussion of the first segment meeting, encouraging participants to outline and weigh in on the ways in which potential OER intervention points should be prioritized. Detailed notes on the results of this synthesis can be found here as well as on our Storify page on the session.

Justin Reich then gave a lighting talk on his research into wikis and education. His research has indicated that wikis lead to deeper learning, but only in high income schools, producing a challenging dynamic in which usage data  overrepresents socio-economically advantaged learners; this can lead to the developent of tools are designed primarily to meet the needs of such learners. One take-away lesson for future action involves rethinking delivery systems to support the diverse practices, contexts and needs of those seeking to use OER.

Following this lightning talk, Sir John Daniels, Stamenka Uvalic-Trumbic, and Zeynep Vargolu each presented case studies of OER. Daniels and Uvalic-Trumbic focused on their work with The Commonwealth of Learning project, which seeks to survey and engage in the fora of governments of the Global South in order to facilitate OER implementation.  Vargolu’s presentation centered around the OER Congress, during which the data acquired by The Commonwealth of Learning becomes actionable by UNESCO.

Four more case studies were then presented to the attendees, each of which aimed to highlight distinct challenges, opportunities, and interventions that may be unique to that context. Synethesized versions of those talks are presented on our Storify platform.

Day Three of the meeting Thursday began with break-out sessions around specific contexts–formal and informal, international and domestic– into which participants self-selected, followed by a reconvening of the entire group to share the conversations within each break-out stream. Next, Carolina Rossini of the Research Group on Public Policy for Access to Information (GPOPAI) led an interactive discussion on the state of OER practice. Some of the important themes that emerged during this session were: the value of stakeholders, the importance of policy and investment, incentive structures, the measurement of needs and impacts, and the question of how to identify success in a way that perpetuates continued success.

Jonathan Zittrain kicked off the afternoon sessions with a presentation entitled “Textbooks, Casebooks and H20”. He outlined the opportunity that OpenCourseWare (OCW) provides for authors, particularly teachers, to collectively author casebooks.  This talk was followed by Cathy Casserly of Creative Commons, who presented a view of the pillars of the current OER ecosystem. A subsequent moderated discussion identified several important gaps and research needs, including: lack of policymaker knowledge about OER, a paucity of exemplary policies showcasing OER, and the need for compelling economic metrics.   Rich Baraniuk then discussed some of the challenges to scaling OER, with a particular emphasis on the lack of sustainable business models, the development of a scalable toolset, and a focus on resources.

The review and synthesis sessions began with an overview of the 3 parallel streams in OER that must be implemented for success. Breakout groups focused on High Quality Supply, Implementable Standards, and Supportive Policies dug deeper into these issues, grounded in participants remarks and presentations, and building on the work done already at the conference.

The final part of the day was spent in three sessions that attempted to help participants create meaningful and actionable steps to pursue in the broader OER space after the conference’s conclusion. In Joining the Streams, Bringing it All Together, and Moving Forward, participants and presenters went over some of the most effective ways to improve OER. The Joining Parallel Streams session in particular emphasized key ways to translate ideas into actions, presenting an updated Heat Map of possible OER interventions generated from each of the cluster groups in which participants took part throughout the event. Throughout these closing sessions, one of the most notable recurring points was the need for focal points in the OER ecosystem, such as specific products, policy objectives, and research cornerstones, and clearly articulated action items in the short, medium and long-term.

Ideas generated through cluster meetings were presented at the hack day, some of which turned into projects that groups worked on throughout the day. A full list of those ideas suggested by cluster groups can be found here.

For even more coverage of the meeting, see the conference through the eyes of its attendees and participants on Twitter with the hashtag #oer12hf or through OpenEtherPad. Also, the photographs captured throughout this gathering are now available on the Berkman Center’s Flickr feed.

And if you can’t find the resource you’re seeking, please see the condensed list below to access outputs from this meeting:

  1. Opening session Heat Map, based on pre-conference participant inputs, that illustrates ideas for innovation in OER
  2. Storify coverage of each session of the meeting
  3. Collaborative notes from John Palfrey’s Wednesday afternoon synthesis discussion
  4. Collaborative notes from Carolina Rossini’s Thursday morning moderated discussion, “Assessing the Current State of OER from a Practice Perspective”
  5. Closing session Heat Map, based on outputs from each of the cluster groups, that illustrates possible intervention points in the OER movement
  6. Photos of the meeting on the Berkman Flickr account
  7. Twitter feed (search for hashtag #oer12hf to access participant posts)
  8. OpenEtherPad notes compiled by participants throughout the meeting
  9. Hack Day project list – Ideas from cluster group meetings and those pitched at the hack day