On April 13th PRX sent me to represent at the Berkman Center Open Education Resources hack day.  The hack day was a one-day event on the final day of a three-day conference about Open Education Resources among the Hewlett OER grantees.  SJ Klein and Erhardt Graeff led a crew of ~60 OER enthusiasts--perhaps only 10-15% of whom were coders--through a process of generating and winnowing ideas, planning, execution, and an ultimate two-minute presentation to a panel of judges.  Although I'm no expert on hackdays, the relatively low ratio of coders seemed notable to me.  It resulted in a selection of hacks that mostly did not involve running code but comprised a set of projects with potential for real future value in the OER community.

SJ and Erhardt divided us into four groups and asked us to winnow the big list of ideas brainstormed the night before down to our top ten, adding any new ones we had on the way.  Once we'd done this we combined with another group and did another round of winnowing.  Then we joined all together and did two rounds of straw polls on the remaining projects to help us self-select into working teams.  I'm not sure I can recall every project, but here's my best stab:

* Revising the Wikipedia page about OER.

* Designing a Webby- or Oscar-like awards contest for the best OER of the year.

* Designing software to help present a personal gallery/portfolio of OER accomplishments.

* Creating an online course to teach strategic thinking using Poker

* Using git as the basis for a collaborative OER repository

* Creating an open-source web application that works like Free Rice but can be implemented with local standardized test questions and local sponsorships

The open-source Free Rice project was an idea I contributed in the first round.  It's an idea that my father and I have been interested in for years and it seemed like a good fit for the day.  I was happy to see it progress through the rounds of winnowing.  Ultimately Matthew Battles of Metalab and Jeff Mao of the Maine Department of Education chose to work on it with me.  We spent some time discussing how we could make the project into something that school systems would be able to use and decided that ideally the system would be able to hook into an API provided by the testing company with which a school system contracts.  While Matthew and Jeff worked on ideas about the API and a presentation of the idea, I started to hack.  The time for actual hacking was short: about two and a half hours.  So I was happy to have gotten enough up and running just to do a short demo.  You can see the results of that here:  http://freepencils.herokuapp.com.  Jeff and Matthew did an excellent presentation while I clicked around the app on the big screen behind them.  And lo and behold we were selected as winners of the day along with the Academy Awards for OER project.

The hack day organizers are working on a write-up of the day for the conference blog that will give more information about all the projects.  In preparation for that Jeff wrote up a short text version of our pitch.  Here it is:

Many states (48 including DC and 2 US Territories) have adopted the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics. This is the first time in the history of US Public Education that we will see common learning standards across so many States. Part of this effort is the development of a shared assessment platform that seeks to provide an open source adaptive assessment system that will support formative and summative assessment for classroom, school, district, and state-level use.

Building upon the success of the World Food Programme's FreeRice.com site, we proposed to build a tool that would mimic the style of FreeRice's educational and fundraising process. Answer questions correctly, and earn tokens that would have real-world value toward a local or national good cause. We called our effort "FreePencils", and would use the pencil as a token similar to FreeRice's 10 grains of rice per question. The tool would sit between the end user and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consoritia (SBAC) adaptive testing engine, and use released items shared through that system. Schools would be able to localize this tool so that as students answered questions correctly, they earned pencils. These pencils would have an equivalent real world value based on the school's local fundraising efforts. For example, a school could get local sponsorships from families, local business, and others. These funds would be distributed to the school or any identified good cause based on correct answers to actual released items from the SBAC assessment engine. This would provide practice to students and at the same time, provide a method of fundraising.
In addition, the tool could be set up at a national level with national sponsorships. Funds from this effort could be directed to a national cause, educational or otherwise.