Schools are generally tooled for management and control. A hackathon can be a great way to harness internal capacities, dampen management structures and spark bottom top up change.
Why run a hackathon?
A hackathon is an event where groups collaboratively develop new ideas, products or solutions through a rapid creative process. In the past it has typically applied to software and hardware development but it is in fact a fantastic way for any organisation to leverage its internal capacities.
It's also a key way to build community, vertical and horizontal collaboration and give agency to individuals who's voice may otherwise not be heard.
What does it look like?
Typically running on a single day, teachers meet around common areas of interest and then develop ideas or solutions to address them. They finish the day by pitching their idea to a committee who approves or rejects the concept.
You can see some examples from HACK SIS below:
How do you organise it?
1. Convince your administrators
The hardest part of running a hackathon will be convincing your administrators to approve it. From their point of view it could appear threatening, chaotic and judgemental of the school. It some ways it may be, but don't tell them that.
You'll need a solid elevator pitch that explains exactly 'why' the school would benefit from a hackathon. This becomes your mantra when speaking about the event and allows others to easily do the same too. Typically 1-3 sentences long it could look some like this:
"A hackathon will empower our community, boost collaboration between departments and tap into the collective talents of our staff".
Just like that, but perhaps a bit less dramatic.
But most importantly, invite your head of school to be involved in endorsing hacks as part of the 'Shark Tank' (see success conditions later). This will assist in alleviating concerns around misaligned or uniformed ideas being approved.
2. Garner interest
The key to a successful hackathon is engaging all members of your community. To ensure you get a good representation, try strategies that garner involvement in different ways.
3. Identify a design framework
While hackathons may appear wild and chaotic from the outside they generally stick to a design framework that guides the creative process.
There are many of these frameworks around however we chose Design Thinking for its immediate recognition in the educational landscape. See Notosh's work for strategies that align to each stage of Design Thinking.
4. Identify your core 'hacks'
Prior to the event, it's worthwhile identifying and grouping the main 'hacks' so you can highlight these to all involved. This way participants can quickly align with a particular hack or reposition a new one on the day.
5. Choose a venue
This is critical. You need a large open venue where all the groups can come together to work. Lots of tables, chairs, butchers paper, post-its, wifi and coffee.
We made the mistake of kicking off our event like this, but then letting groups find their own space. Keep them together. The energy for the hackathon will be generated and spurned along by those in the room. Harness it.
6. Create your success conditions
At the end of the hackathon, each team will need to pitch their idea to a committee, 'Shark Tank' or similar for approval. Our Shark Tank was representative of the wider community and included the head of school, a student, a parent, a teacher, an administrator and local business representative.
This proved extremely interesting, with some of the most poignant and direct questions coming from the student. It was awesome.
7. Create an online presence for your event
This will provide teams with a reference point for all key information and also give external parties insight into the creative work that is occurring.
Facilitating the big day
Once you're ready to go the main question is how much time are you going to spend 'organising and training' versus 'hacking' on the day.
You'll probably need to dedicate time to organising teams, reviewing your design framework and sharing the requirements for the pitch. Any work you can do to front load these components will give teams more time to work on their actual hacks.
We also chose to give each team a 'hackers toolbox' full of brainstorming materials, design strategies, candy and cash to aid their project. Any spending had to be tracked and accompanied with receipts.
Most importantly, don't provide any judgement during the process. You may stifle an idea or approach just because it is only partially developed. Stay out and let the teams weave their magic.
What is the end result?
We saw 40% of the hacks approved which was more than expected. Others were knocked back only to be approved later. You can see a full overview of them on www.hacksis.strikingly.com. Ultimately we saw an increase in staff agency and a greater sense of ownership and involvement in the school community.
#SISrocks and #ISSedu are both planning future hackathons in 15/16.
Hack your hackathon?
Also, a group in my #Learning2 extended workshop even suggested 'hacking' the name hackathon to make it less confronting. Nice touch.
If you are planning on running a hackathon in your school be sure to share the process. I'm already hearing murmurings of #hackUWCSEA, #hackWAB and #hackCDNIS which is awesome!
It's a worthwhile endeavour that will truly activate your community and bring great ideas to life.