Gates, Facebook Staging “Hackathons” on Education

By Sean Cavanagh — April 03, 2013 1 min read
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“Hackathons,” collaborative and often competitive events designed to challenge programmers and developers to come up with new technologies and ideas around specific goals or themes, have gained traction in the public and private sector as a way to bring fresh perspectives to K-12. Now, a pair of major players on the digital and social media scene are putting their support behind those brainstorming sessions.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Facebook are hosting a pair of hackathons this month at Facebook’s offices in California and England.

The first event will be held April 9 at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., and will invite teams to build prototypes of Facebook applications focused on three areas: college attendance, social learning, and out-of-school study.

The goal of the event is to “create more digital tools that use technology to target young people where they spend their time, and help many more students prepare for, get into, and succeed in postsecondary education,” the Gates foundation said in a statement.

A panel of judges will award three different prizes of $5,000 apiece for the best app in each of the three categories. It’s a daylong “hack,” lasting from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., according to the announcement, which recommends that participants wear comfortable clothing (jeans and t-shirts recommended), and tells them that Facebook employees will be on hand to help them with their apps.

A second event will be staged on April 24 at Facebook’s London office, in which the top three apps in the social-learning category will be awarded £$5,000, £3,000, and £1,000.

The hackathons build on an earlier competition staged by Gates and Facebook last year, HackEd, which was held in September and focused on college access and retention. (Disclosure: Education Week’s coverage of industry and innovation is supported by a grant from the Gates foundation.)

For another look at how competitions, including hackathons, are being used to encourage entrpreneurs to build useful tech tools for K-12, see our story from last year, which describes efforts in New York City and Virginia to bring together developers to come up with tech ideas that could benefit schools.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.