Friday, February 24, 2012

CESI Meet 2012: An 'Education Hack Day' for Ireland?

If you're visiting the blog while attending CESI Meet in Portlaoise this evening then you're very welcome. If you're not, please join the discussion anyway!

This evening in Portlaoise I am giving a mini  presentation (7 minutes) to a group of similarly minded technophile teachers at CESI Meet 2012, a Teach Meet style "anti-conference" which will formally kick off the CESI (Computers in Education Society of Ireland) Annual Conference. I am really looking forward to the event as this is my first CESI Meet and, by all accounts, they are incredibly enjoyable evenings that inspire, educate and motivate. I'm looking forward to hearing new ideas for incorporating technology in to my classroom / teaching and on how to get more from the technology I already use. 

My own short talk is about plugging an idea - a first 'Education Hack Day' for Ireland. Let me explain. 

What's a Hack? 
A hack is a solution to a problem, not always the most eloquent solution but, more often than not, the cleverest. Think of a problem (let's say poor attendance) - now think of a solution (maybe a simple app which texts parents instantly when a student is marked absent).

What's a Hack Day? 
A Hack Day is a meeting of minds - people with ideas and people with know how. It's about sharing information with other experts in order to make cool and most importantly useful things!! They are generally free to attend (people don't get paid to attend either) and typically last between 24 and 48 hours. Hack Days bring together individuals from a range of fields - scientists, politicians, educators, engineers, programmers, designers, web developers, people with ideas and "makers" etc. and usually have a central theme (There have been "Government Hack Days", "Science Hack Days" (the Irish Robotics Club have organised Science Hack Day Dublin this March) and "Music Hack Days"). The purpose of the events are to think of real life issues related to the theme and develop effective solutions during an intense 24 / 48 hour period. There are normally prizes at the end of the event for the teams that come up with the best solutions to their problem. Everything happens at the event - idea, design, production even things like marketing and funding are discussed. There are usually a number of speakers and workshops organised to kick start the event.

An Education Hack Day?
Why not? We all have ideas for making our jobs easier - both in terms of teaching and administration. We can all identify problems with the tools we currently use but may not have the technological ability to find the solution ourselves. At the moment many educational tools / software are being developed without sufficient input from the people who will ultimately use them. 

As far as I am aware, the one and only Education Hack Day took place last November in Baltimore (the US not West Cork). There is another planned for New York but no date has been set. Some of the ideas that became reality that day include an iPad app that allowed students in the class to browse specific websites relevant to the lesson but no others, a browser extension which allowed a teacher highlight a specific section of a website while making the rest invisible, a tool to help make parent / teacher meetings easier to schedule, an image-to-speech application for autistic pupils, a checklist tool for students and a homework tracker for teachers. Individual teachers are being asked to submit their own ideas too - here's a list of what's come in so far.

The possibilities are endless - think of the ideas YOU have for web apps, mobile apps, widgets, online games, websites, IWB tools, software, hardware, social networking tools for teachers / students or assessment for learning tools? Now think of being able to put those to software developers and designers and seeing them turned in to reality in a day!

What's next?
I want a number of things to emerge from my presentation / post this evening. Firstly, I would like this post (or the Twitter Hashtag #EDHACKIRL) to act as a discussion forum to hear what other teachers think of the idea. Secondly, I would like it to serve as a platform for discussion on what "hacks" you would like for problems you currently have. What ideas would you like turned in to reality? Thirdly, if you are a designer, software developer, maker, doer, programmer etc and you would like to get involved - leave your name below! Finally, if there is an agreement that an Education Hack Day would be worthwhile attempting, I want someone to make the idea a reality. I don't personally believe I have the skills, contacts or time to put such an event together but I know there is someone out there who could. Maybe CESI might want to bring the concept to fruition? Maybe another organisation? Of course I would love to help and will be the first person to sign up - guaranteed!

That's my lot - let me know what you think. 


  1. I think that #EdHackIrl is a great idea.

    Something similar happened in Canada, where teachers wanted to get across the idea that teaching is more than a "9 to 3" job and in order to do so, they held a "Mark-in" at a local shopping centre for all to see what's involved.
    Here's a link to it:

    Not exactly a hack, but when I heard your initial idea, it reminded me of this.

    Looking forward to hearing the other ideas, wherever they appear, so will be following #EDHACKIRL on Twitter with interest.


  2. In the Literacy focused era, and in trying to incorporate useful ICT into the classroom, I would love to see weekly spelling tests generated from pupils' spellchecked errors in e.g. MS Word.

    I am open to solutions.

    One option may be: The software would compile their personal spelling list for the following week. The software would speak the spellings through the pupils' headphones and they would enter the appropriate answers. Marking results would be emailed to the teacher.

    Background - I will have a class of 10 3rd to 6th class pupils next year and will have a laptop for each of them.

  3. I think we need lots of ways to allow children to easily express their creativity - something like an all-in-one child-friendly Tumblr where children can blog, podcast, videocast, etc. in a safe environment. Maybe this exists already?

  4. Thanks for the comments folks - keep em coming. (Simon - internet safety is always somewhere improvements can be made)

  5. Very much enjoyed your talk, and I share the desire to enable / help people to work collaboratively. And I share your enthusiasm for technology.

    I fear hack-days are a bit like "Belling The Cat". They are a good idea, but finding someone to make them happen is the hard part.

    I don't have experience of 'hack days', but do know about hackathons. These are where people who are already collaborating on-line come together for a day to hack together. It's a different concept, but related, and 'easier' to organise. It might be a way to bootstrap to a hack day.