A Course Design ‘Sprint’: My Experience in an Education Hackathon

This past Saturday, February 23, I participated in my first hackathon event; not a coding event as typical of computer programmers, but an education hackathon—a “Course Sprint” where a group of fourteen individuals [educators, open science advocates, community members and students] collaborated to design and build an open, online course, An Introduction to Open Science and Data for the School of Open on P2PU. Creative Commons hosted the event at their office in Mountain View, California and invited both face-to-face and remote participants, of which I was one of four remote. The event was held in support of Open Data Day to raise awareness and involve communities worldwide in exploring how to liberate, promote and publish open data.

HiResIn this post I’ll review the Course Sprint experience—how it worked, what worked and didn’t, the results, which ended up being not a complete course, but a solid framework for the course which is ready to be incorporated into the platform on P2PU. To clarify, we were not starting from scratch, an outline of the course was already started. This experience was more of a contribution to the course design including finding and embedding open content within the course. In my next post I’ll explore the Course Sprint format as an instructional design model to consider for aspects of online course development going forward.

I wanted to participate in the Course Sprint event for two reasons, first to contribute to the design of an online course that is open, without barriers to enrollment, and secondly to design a course that explores non-traditional course design strategies. I’m looking to explore alternatives to the structured course design model(s) I have used for several years which primarily focuses on instructional course design for college-level, credit courses. The Course Sprint format is an innovative and fresh perspective on course design for online learning.

Logo by Greg Emmerich / CC-BY-SA

Invitation to Course ‘Sprint Style’
The invitation piqued my interest. Below an excerpt as featured on the Creative Commons website,

An Education Sprint
The future of Open is a dynamic landscape, ripe with opportunities to increase civic engagement, literacy, and innovation. Towards this goal, the Science Program at Creative Commons is teaming up with the Open Knowledge Foundation and members of the Open Science Community to facilitate the building of an open online course, an Introduction to Open Science. The actual build will take place during a hackathon-style “sprint” event on Open Data Day on Saturday, February 23rd …

Want to Help us Build This?
The course will be open in its entirety, the building process and content all available to be worked on, all to help people learn about Open Science. Do you know a thing or two about Open Access? Are you a researcher who’s practicing Open Research? Do you have experience in instructional or visual design? This is an all-hands event and will be facilitated by representatives at CC [Creative Commons], OKFN, [Open Knowledge Foundation] and others in the Community. Open Science enthusiasts in the Bay Area are invited to the CC Headquarters in Mountain View for the live event. Remote participants will also be able to join and contribute online via Google Hangout. [creativecommons.org]

I admit after I signed up I was unsure of how remote participation would work, or how I’d be contributing. Yet it was not for lack of resources, since organizer Billy Meinke from CC, provided several documents including the Open Science Course Sprint Welcome. I had a hard time getting my head around the concept. However, the experience was productive, an example of effective collaboration, and provided me with ideas for a course design model.

The Day of the Course Sprint
Billy provided us with access to the Google docs for the event the day before, including the day’s agenda and a doc with links for the Google hangout breakout sessions. We also had access to the module development document. Documents in the public folder included a topic outline for the course, which focuses on three areas, Open Access, Open Research and Open Data.

calendar and clockThe day started at 10:00 am with a Google Hangout, with ten participants at the CC office and four remote. As a remote participant, our view in the hangout was of the classroom at the CC office, with its participants, though not all visible, and whiteboard. After a group introductions and an overview, we broke into groups of three, each group working on discussing one of the three areas of focus. I chose to be in the Open Access group, and we started with a brainstorming session, then moved to finding applicable open resources to use as content sources. With a list of resources to start, we selected those that were applicable to Open Access, and sourced more on the Web during our discussion. This was worthwhile, as each of us approached the topic from a different perspective and the resources we contributed were a reflection of the differing viewpoints. We collaborated within the Google doc in real-time during the Hangout.

The afternoon session was similar, though the focus was to create learning activities for students that prompted the learners to do something with the content [application], create an artifact or interact within an online community . Each group was to follow these guidelines, as listed on the Google doc:

For each subtopic “lesson,” the same basic format can be used:

  1. Introduce the topic to the learner.  This can be done with text, images, video, or a combination of all three.  The main thing to do is use Open Content to explain the importance (the “why”) of the topic.
  2. Give learners a task. This is the what and how of a challenge.  For example, a task could be “Go to an Open Access publisher’s website and find a journal article on Bioinformatics, then identify the copyright restrictions (use, remix, share) for that article.
  3. Share the knowledge. Learners become more invested in the topic when they engage with others, so we should suggest ways of commenting on or adding to the work of other students.  This will happen gradually as more students work through the course but is important to keep in mind when brainstorming the content and activities in the modules.  Showing mastery of the topic will require some direct engagement with others in the Open Science community, which we can think up as we go. [Public Documents – P2PU – Open Science Course Sprint]

Our group had an interesting discussion about what activities the learners were to do. We agreed on some key points, but struggled with point number three. First we discussed and tried to identify what the purpose of the activity was. How did it matter to the student? It would be easier to frame the activity for the learner when we could answer this question. Another consideration, how could we get students to engage with others when essentially it is an asynchronous, self-study course? We also discussed the challenge of motivating learners to find a community of interest, as each will have a unique area of interest. The other barrier could be technical skills—students may not have the skill level required to search and find an active Open Science community [one with an active member community], or know how to contribute. We worked for two hours, and came up with activities to address point number one and two, though we needed more time to flesh out number three. Our discussion was constructive, and the points we touched on highlight the challenges when designing online learning for a broad and open audience.

I can see great potential in this Course Sprint format, and the idea of an Education Hackathon. How powerful it could be with a group of educators, students and community members working to create an educational experience around a specific topic. Though as I write this, I’m realizing that this is what a cMOOC looks like, what it is— learners collaborating to build knowledge. Obviously, this Sprint format as an instructional design model needs to be examined further, which I’ll attempt in my next post. Though this experience reinforced the significant and unique challenges with open, when trying to create a structured learning experience as with this Open Science course.

The organizers did a tremendous job in making this Course Sprint successful, Billy Meinke from CC and Liz Flavall from PLOS. A resource for readers interested in hosting their own hackathon event, is the Open Data Hackathon, How-to Guide, created by Kevin McArthur, Herb Lainchbury and Donna Horn.

Further Reading: