Questions and insights on (education) hack days/hackathons

A few weeks ago, inspired by @sthcrft, I speculated around the idea of having a eduhack session at ASCILITE’2012. There was some interest and I had other tasks, but now it’s time to think a bit more about it.

The following is :

  1. an attempt to generate a list of questions to answer/ponder;,
  2. a summary of some material I’ve found so far, and
  3. an attempt to generate suggestions from others.


  • Can a hackathon idea work with the mix of people at ASCILITE’12?
    The crowd will be most education focused folk – educational developers (aka curriculum/instructional designers, academic staff developers etc.), managers, and academics – with a sprinkling of technical people. Hackathons are traditionally very focused on producing a prototype typically through software development. Will this work with the ASCILITE crowd?
  • What type of “prototypes” would an ASCILITE’12 hackathon produce?
    Some would be software, but what other types? Training resources? Plans? Policies? What prototypes/outcomes that will be useful, that will spark on-going work.
  • Are we talking about a hackathon that isn’t really about software developers (having some around would be nice) and what does that mean for how it will work?
  • How to generate the ideas to put to people?
    The aim should be to work on interesting and so far unsolved (unthought of?) needs.
  • How to organise the event to get the collaboration, cross-fertilization, and community building going?
    These are not easy things to do.
  • How long should it be/when should it run?
    Hackathons are typically marathons lasting much longer than the typical conference workshop. Can you push the ASCILITE crowd into something like that? Can it be resourced? Do you stick with the typical 3/4 hour workshop sessions?
  • Can a session like this be resourced?
    It needs really good net access and a more casual/collaborative environment than typical of conference workshops. Are there spaces that might suit?
  • What about online?
    I know there will be folk who want to participate, but can’t make it to the conference. Can this work as a “dual-mode” offering? How?

The resources

Let’s start with the Wikipedia page for Hackathon. It has an overview of the origins, purpose, and how such events are often run.

Remaining resources divided into categories


Education Hack Day held in late 2011 at a US high school. 80 or so software developers and designers were given crowdsourced ideas from teachers and had a day to respond and compete to win prizes mostly aimed at enabling a company to work on the idea.

Random Hacks of Kindness – Hacking for humanity a “global community of innovators building practical open technology to make the world a better place”. Lots of support, large, global. Apparently focused on disaster management and crisis response.


I like to build on what has gone before, so some ad hoc Google Scholar searches reveal.

Wheatley, P, Middleton, B, Double, J, Jackson, A and McGuinness, R People Mashing: Agile digital preservation and the AQuA Project. In: IPRES 2011: 8th International Conference on Preservation of Digital Objects, 1-4 November 2011, Singapore

From the abstract (emphasis added)

Two AQuA Mashup events brought together digital preservation practitioners, collection curators and technical experts to present problematic digital collections, articulate requirements for their assessment, and then apply tools to automate the detection and identification of the content issues. By breaking down the barriers between technical and nontechnical practitioners, the events enabled grass-roots digital preservation collaboration. This paper describes the AQuA Project’s novel approach to agile preservation problem solving and discusses the incidental benefits and community building that this strategy facilitated.

Steven Leckart, The hackaton is on: Pitching and programming the next killer app.

The obligatory Wired story on Hackathons.

Mark Headd, Open Government hackathons matter

Blog post delving into the apparently thriving culture of civic hackathons. Some comments about the results not being long term, but also an argument that it’s more than just the product.

The 2006 NESCent Phyloinformatics Hackathon: A Field Report Evolutionary Bioinformatics

Gives some background rationale and process of organising a hackathon for phyloinformatics.

Lisa Petrides and Cynthia Jimes (2008), Building Open Educational Resources from the Ground Up: South Africa’s Free High School Science Texts, JIME.

Hackathons were one of the successful methods used in getting OER content written as part of a broader project.

A guide to organising a successful hackathon for social good – post giving tips. And another set of tips

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