Developing New Ideas for Technology to Improve Schools
The word hackathon is a portmanteau of the words hack and marathon, where hack is used in the sense of playful, exploratory programming, not its alternate meaning as a reference to computer crime. –Wikipedia
Rapid change brought on by technology advancement presents challenges in preparing for future educational, societal and workforce needs. From robotics to artificial intelligence, computing will transform ways we interact with our world – our schools, homes, transportation systems, and each other. Both the near and far horizons include new technologies and jobs we haven’t even imagined. Technology is ubiquitous – and will become even more integral to our lives and work.
The COE has been leading technology innovation in education since the mid-90s with its Technology and Learning Center (TLC), a resource for technology and human support for future educators; and most recently, with the ED Collabitat, a place for professional educators to focus on intentional collaborating for solving problems. Collaboration here is driven by an interplay among perspectives informed by people from diverse disciplines and sectors, both in and outside of traditional educational institutions and the learning sciences, to include art and design, innovators and businesses.
“Problem solving in education does not always include a technology component,” said ED Collabitat’s Phyllis Balcerzak, senior program producer for professional learning and innovation. “But we always consider the possibility that a technology or software solution might be part of a successful outcome. One of the exciting things that we encourage in the ED Collabitat is for entrepreneurs to come to us with a new innovation, often a new technology, and ask us as educators, to help in imagining how their innovation can improve the learning environment. It was this approach that launched a partnership between the COE and Clearent LLC and the HackEDU hackathon we held last summer.”
Hackathons provide a venue for self-expression and creativity through technology. People with technical backgrounds come together, form teams around a problem or idea, and collaboratively code a unique solution from scratch — these generally take shape in the form of websites, mobile apps, and robots.
HackEDU 16, brought together four teams to brainstorm around the use of Bluetooth technology using the Raspberry Pi 3 and beacons that are used to track and locate things like your keys or your phone. The challenge for the teams was to come up with coding (programming) for these devices to provide solutions that help educators and students engage with their physical location.
Clayton-based Clearent LLC, a software development company led the way by providing training and assistance to the participants before and throughout the event. Two of the College’s endowed professors were instrumental in organizing and leading the effort: Carl Hoagland, Emerson Electric Endowed Professor in Technology and Learning and Keith Miller, Orthwein Endowed Professor for Lifelong Learning in the Sciences.
HackEDU 16 was a team effort. Two teams were comprised of technology educators, and individuals from the local technology community, one team was a group of UMSL computer science students, and an IT group from Fontbonne. An education team from the College of Education that included faculty, leaders and experts from the ED Collabitat and the Technology and Learning Center helped teams to connect solutions to the real world of educational solutions.
Their challenge was to program Raspberry Pi 3’s with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Beacons to help educators and students engage with their physical location. Teams in the 48-hour event were presented with several challenges related to getting students to and from school, recording who is present and where students spend their time in school, whether they are participating in after school programs, and transitioning students between districts.
“We seriously considered issues of privacy in using tracking devices for children in schools,” Balcerzak said. “But those issues became immaterial and lessened our concerns when we imagined all of the ways these technologies can be used to improve the safety of children and provide richer, more personal interactions between teachers and their students.”
New Technologies to Address School Safety, Productivity
The teams were presented with a number of scenarios that could be addressed with the technology. For instance, taking attendance digitally might allow teachers to eliminate that task in the classroom and reduce record keeping time for schools. Tracking students to and from school can help ensure that students board the school bus and arrive safely home. Digitally following students on hall passes could allow teachers to stay more focused in class without being distracted with tracking a student’s time out of class. Participants also considered other challenges like student transfers, and more creatively, how to add gamification strategies to student learning activities.
“Currently, student transcripts travel with the student from school to school,” Balcerzak said. “But what if we could include a student’s outside interests, learning styles, what subjects have they done extra credit work on or outside projects they have brought to school for show and tell, favorite books, or what clubs or sports teams or other extracurricular activities they have enjoyed? That kind of personalized information helps transfer students feel more welcome and included and provides teachers with important information to help those students transition into their new learning environment.”
Winners of the HackEDU hackathon developed a Digital Hall Pass. Members of the winning team were UMSL computer science students Matthew Lane, Brian Koehler, Kyu Cho, John Brandenburg and Nathan Schremp. They split a $2,000 cash prize, won Raspberry Pi 3s for each team member, and received free tickets to the million dollar Global Hack VI event held in St. Louis last month.
Coding for K-12
Computer coding is a growing activity for K-12 learning and the ED Collabitat has been building resources for practicing educators to include coding as part of their regular curriculum.
Coding is interdisciplinary and can be integrated into other subjects. Mitch Resnick of the popular Scratch community says that you can “code to learn“, meaning that as you learn computational ideas through coding, you also learn strategies for solving problems, designing projects, and communicating ideas. These skills are useful not just for computer scientists but for everyone, regardless of age, background, interests, or occupation.
“We don’t expect all kids who learn the basics of coding to become computer programmers,” said Keith Miller. “But certainly early, simple exposure to computer science will allow many children to realize that they might have talent or interest in pursuing it further.”
Hour of Code
The Hour of Code is a one-hour introduction to coding that is meant to demystify computer science with lots of activities geared specifically to elementary-age students. One goal of the activities is to dispel stereotypes about who can do computer science right from a young age.
The ED Collabitat has resources and support for practicing educators to improve and learn more about teaching computer science and other STEM subjects. We are encouraging all educators to try an Hour of Code as part of Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek) Dec. 5-11. The Collabitat has planned support for the event for any educators who are interested in trying it:
On Thursday afternoon, Dec. 1 (one week before the CSEdWeek), ED Collabitat will hold a basic coding event for teachers called EduCode from 4:30-6:30 — one week before the CSEdWeek. The Dec 1 event will assist any teachers interested in getting help with the Hour of Code project or interested in coding, generally. If you have questions or if you are interested in participating in EduCode, please contact Phyllis Balcerzak by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 314.516.5778
Certificate or MEd in Educational Technology
For educators interested in a formalized educational technology program in the College offers a Chancellor’s certificate or Master’s degree in Educational Technology. For more information on these programs, please contact Carl Hoagland, Emerson Electric Endowed Professor of Technology and Learning and the Director of the E. Desmond Lee Technology and Learning Center at email@example.com
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