Article May 29, 2014

Education + Hackathons = Innovation

In the second of a five part series leading up to EduHack, US hackathon extraordinaire John Baldo gives his view on how hackathons can drive innovation in education


EduHack is Australia’s

first education focussed hackathon.

Find out more here.

Typically, when you ask someone what makes a successful hackathon, they’ll start talking about food quality, prizes, power strips, access to caffeine, etc. Those are of course important logistical components of a hackathon, but they don’t fully capture the magic.

For the uninitiated, Hackathons are….

My job is to help people organize weekend hackathons that are more than just hackathons. In fact, we prefer to take a breath, stick out our pinky finger and call them “experiential learning events” because we want people to remember more than the pizza. We’re aiming to build communities where everyone feels empowered to create solutions for education.

So how can an event be a launchpad for education innovation? Good question. Here are some thoughts…

A variety of perspectives and skills

A balance of perspectives makes great teams possible. Groups with a variety of skills, backgrounds, and experience levels are more likely to generate a great solution and execute on it.  That’s a controversial statement in education. Many are wary of outsiders trying to solve their problems. Skepticism is healthy, but I would bet on a diverse team with humility and respect for all opinions over a team with uniform skills and experiences.

Uncommon connections and empathy building

When you gather a variety of perspectives, uncommon connections form.  Financial analysts collaborating with engineers. School administrators working with operations specialists. Creative solutions and lasting relationships may form, but something even more exciting is likely to happen: empathy building. It’s easier to understand someone’s role and frustrations after working alongside them and hearing their story, even if they’re in a completely different industry. This is especially important for outsiders looking to help innovate in education.

A safe place to experiment (and fail)

Failure is a dirty word in education and stakes are high. A safe setting allows people to escape their usual risk-averse environment and experiment with ideas they’ve had hidden away out of fear. Hopefully they will succeed, but if they don’t… they can always Etch A Sketch erase the project into oblivion and learn from it. Failure without shame becomes possible.

Urgency and energy

Many of us drag things out when given a lot of time. An event creates urgency by asking people to accomplish something ambitious with less time than they’re comfortable with. Urgency creates a bias towards action and forces ruthless prioritization and rapid decision-making. This is especially powerful in education where problems are urgent but solutions are often slow moving.

 Registrations now open for EduHack 2014 – apply here

An opportunity to learn and try a new role

Are you a developer? Try designing a user interface. Educator? Try writing a few lines of code. Always center stage? Try sitting back and trusting someone else to run the show. Since failure is an acceptable outcome, people try on hats they normally wouldn’t wear and see what happens. Often people discover they are capable of much more than they thought.

A network of support

A great event creates a community and a way to stay connected.  When someone needs help moving forward with a project, they have a network of people to reach out to. People they trust and respect because they’ve seen them in action.  Without support or a gentle push, many projects might stall or never even get started.

Could this be you? Check out EduHack, the first education hackathon in Australia. Registrations are now open for the Melbourne 20-22 June hackathon!

This is a guest-contribution by Startup Weekend Education‘s John Baldo. He tweets at @johnbaldo