Hackathons: A Creative Approach to Developing Researchers and Solving Educational Challenges

Hackathons: A Creative Approach to Developing Researchers and Solving Educational Challenges

What do we expect from our education postgraduate research graduates in the 21st Century? The pace of society and its workplaces demands innovative, creative thinkers. This sits alongside all of the composite research skills they should acquire during their research degree (Ireland’s Nationals Skills Strategy 2025, DES; Doctoral Skills Statement, IUA).

During the slow burn of a research degree, it can be tricky to obtain fast-paced transversal skills, such as innovation, dynamism, and quick problem-solving. Events that allow research students to use strategies like design-based thinking (Razzouk & Shute, 2012) through challenge-based learning (CBL) tasks offer a way to do this. An example of one such event is a hackathon. A hackathon is a rapid, time-bound, pressurised problem-solving event.

Hackathons first emerged in the late 1990s. The ‘tech’ community broadly agrees that software programmers working on the export of cryptographic software in the OpenBSD project coined the phrase ‘hack’ to describe the exploratory work they were doing. Since then, Hackathons have been used widely in companies the world over; for example, they have led to the creation of many so-called ‘unicorn’ companies. More recently, their worth has been recognised in addressing worldwide challenges affecting climate and education

DCU Institute of Education held its own two-day virtual hackathon event called ‘Hack to Transform. This weekend event for postgraduate research students invited participants to solve/hack an education challenge for the 21st Century. In Hack to Transform, the focus was on one particular quadrant of The DCU IoE Postgraduate Researcher Development Framework: Personal Effectiveness Competencies. These intangible competencies include personal agility, teamwork, independence and creativity. Hack to Transform enabled research students to practise their creative problem-solving skills in order to create a pragmatic solution to the education challenge. The education challenge was broad enough to cover the range of research interests among the teams:

How can we ensure the most effective education experience for all in the 21st Century?

After one-minute pitches delivered by the students to their fellow participants on their proposed approaches, they voted on the five most workable solutions, using Tricider. They then formed five teams of three within which they could hack. The research students used the six stages of Design Thinking as a foundation for their approach to the challenge (Razzouk & Shute, 2012).  These are:

  1. Empathy – gaining an empathetic understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve. Setting aside your assumptions and gaining insight into users and their needs
  2. Define – stating users’ needs and problems. Defining the core needs and creating the problem statement.
  3. Ideate – challenging assumptions and creating ideas… thinking outside the box. Looking for alternative ways to solve the problem
  4. Prototype – creating some possible solutions
  5. Test – checking with key stakeholders regarding viability of prototype…seeing if solution meets stakeholders’ needs
  6. Launch – putting the solution out to ‘market’. This was not achievable in the short space of time on this event. 

Working in a new team was central to the event. Education research students can often operate in a workspace vacuum, working in a solitary independent manner on their research (Carpenter, 2012, Pyhalt Toom, Stubb, Lonka, 2012). Indeed, most of the students who participated in this event had never met one another. The feeling of togetherness (even virtually) generated in working towards a common goal intensively over the two days developed relationships among the students which didn’t exist previously. They relied on one another and pulled expertise from a wide-ranging pool of resources.

The teams of research students were each supported by a mentor from outside of the university and academic setting. This increased their awareness of differing audiences for their work and the importance of clarity in what they were suggesting as a solution.  Mentors were approached as they were experienced leaders in their fields. Some were international and some were from the tech industry, from where Hackathons are thought to have originally emerged 

Students were encouraged to present their solution to the assembled judging panel in an innovative way, so no slide decks! Some solutions included short films and interviews with key stakeholders. Judging criteria were provided in advance, and a scoring rubric was used by the five judges to pick the worthy winner: FUNdamential Education, which offered a novel approach to delivering education in the future.    

The experienced judging panel remarked on the “high standard and innovation of the student presentations despite the limited timeframe”. Both they and the mentors were impressed by the professionalism, creativity, and reflexivity exhibited by the first-time participants. Mentors observed the bi-directional learning that occurred between themselves and their team. Strong working relationships were built.  

Feedback from the students was also very positive, with many of them citing the “fun” they had and the opportunities they had to networkwith people with whom [they] otherwise would not be in contact” and “to work on creative ideas under pressure”. One student stated, “It has been fantastic to share this experience with people interested in solving big questions in education”. Many of the wider staff in the Faculty (including Management) attended the final presentations and prize-giving ceremony. Their presence and subsequent endorsement of the event, coupled with the positive feedback from participants, has ensured that Hack to Transform will be an annual fixture on the Faculty’s research events calendar into the future. 

This Nano CBL event provided an opportunity for the realisation of the vision for Doctoral study in the Institute of Education at DCU. That vision espouses the principle that postgraduate study does not operate within a blank space, but rather within a vibrant, dynamic, and interactive academic community. 

Dr Gillian Lake

Dr Gillian Lake

Assistant Professor in Early Childhood Education and Chair of Postgraduate Studies by Research at DCU Institute of Education

Gillian is an Assistant Professor in Early Childhood Education and Chair of Postgraduate Studies by Research at DCU Institute of Education. She is also a Fellow of Advance HE, (FHEA) in the UK.

She was a Primary Teacher in Ireland for many years before first undertaking an MSc in Child Development & Education (University of Oxford). She was then awarded the Elfrida Talbot Scholarship to undertake a Doctorate of Philosophy in Education at University of Oxford, focusing on language development and Early Childhood Education. She has continued to work in this area, both as a lecturer (DCU & Oxford Brookes University, UK) and a researcher.

Her current research projects in the area of Early Childhood Education have allowed her to collaborate with industry, the early childhood sector and international research partners. She was recently invited to join the review panel for the International Journal of Early Years Education and is a regular reviewer for the European Early Childhood Education Research Journal.

Gillian was shortlisted for both the DCU President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the DCU President’s Award for Engagement in 2021. She is DCU’s representative on the National Academic Integrity Network and has just secured SATLE Funding – €15, 000 (National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education) for a project which is investigating Awareness of Academic Integrity across all DCU stakeholders.

Profile DCU 

EERJ Special Issue: What is the ‘public’ in public education?

EERJ Special Issue: What is the ‘public’ in public education?

The European Educational Research Journal  (EERJ) was created by EERA to further the aims of the association and its members, educational researchers across Europe. It is a scientific journal interested in the changing landscape of education research across Europe. It publishes double-blind peer-reviewed papers in special issues and as individual articles. As part of the ongoing cooperation with EERJ, the EERA blog will share updates and information about upcoming and published special issues and articles alongside blog posts from EERJ contributors. 

What is the ‘public’ in public education? Mapping past, present and future educational imaginaries of Europe and beyond

Vol 21, Issue 1, 2022

First Published January 10, 2022, Editorial

This special issue explores past, present and potential future imaginaries of ‘public’ education in Europe and beyond. The special issue is set against a backdrop of political turmoil, including support for far-right forms of populism; it is also set against a historical background of several decades of significant change in the social, political and economic contexts of education, whereby schools and universities have been reimagined and reorganized in order to conform to the marketized and managerialist contours of the neoliberal imaginary; and it is set against the background of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to lockdowns and school closures in many countries and prompted many to question supposedly ‘normal’ ways of doing school and education in less turbulent times.

The term unprecedented has been used frequently to talk about current times. This is a time marked not only by a turn to right-wing populisms, often harking to neo-conservative, nostalgic notions of a glorious past and captured in slogans such as #MakeAmericaGreatAgain; #MakeChinaGreatAgain; #MakeBritainGreatAgain.  It is also a time of collective left-wing rage and resistance movements such as #decolonising education, #blacklivesmatter, #metoo, #democracy4HK, #precaritystories, and #occupy. Technological inventions and innovations, as well as extreme weather events brought about by climate change, such as the massive 2019 Australian bushfires, are challenging the very existence, form and future of homo sapiens, and other species on planet Earth. For all these reasons, the special issue is topical and timely.

With such a complex backdrop, the special issue insists on the importance of recognizing the multi-dimensional nature of the notion of the public. Rather than defaulting to a commonsense private-public binary, our multidimensional perspective encourages us to identify at least six overlapping domains in relation to which school provision varies within and across time and space. These include:

  • the purposes of education
  • questions of accountability
  • issues of funding
  • matters of governance
  • issues of professionalism
  • issues of access.

Looking at the papers in more detail, the first two contributions, Pedagogic Rights, Public Education and Democracy (Heimans, Singh, Kwok) and The marketization of education and the democratic deficit (Säfström and Månsson), draw on French philosopher Rancière’s work on democracy to think with and about the ideas of ‘the public’, ‘publics’ and ‘emergent publics’.

Mendel’s On the haunted “public” in public education in Poland draws on Derrida’s notion of ‘hauntology’ to identify the traces of the ‘public’ in Poland that are from a different historical period, are strange to the present, but nevertheless still impact upon it.

The paper by Clarke and Mills, “We have never been public”: Continuity and change in the policy production of ‘the public’ in education in England, offers a historic perspective on the notion of the public and its deployment, highlighting the shifting discourses and practices within which the idea of ‘the public’ has been mobilized and made meaningful over several centuries.

Wrigley’s paper, Learning in a time of cholera: Imagining a future for public education is concerned with how public schools could be other than they currently are. Drawing on Marxist theory and Wolfgang Klafki’s curriculum theory, he develops principles for constructing ‘the common school’.

Thompson, Mockler and Hogan’s contribution, Making work private: Autonomy, intensification and accountability, reports on a multi-jurisdictional study conducted in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and England that involved interviews with 130 school and system leaders, policymakers and union officials.

Finally, Verger, Fontdevila and Zancajo’s paper, The instrumentation of public subsidies for private schools: different regulatory models with concurrent equity implications, surveys the provision of education across OECD countries to explore the multi-faceted and vernacularised consequences of public funding for private education.

 

The papers in this special edition offer alternative narratives to the dominant neoliberal education policy discourses and practices. They are activist in the sense of questioning and challenging the ordering of the sensible in dominant narratives of education across the globe.

About EERJ

The European Educational Research Journal was been created by the European Educational Research Association (EERA) to further the aims of the association and its members, educational researchers across Europe.

Education research increasingly crosses the borders of the national through its subjects of study, scholarly collaborations and references. The EERJ publishes education research papers and special issues which include a reflection on how the European context and other related global or regional dynamics shape their educational research topics.

You can find more about the EERJ here and browse the archive here.

Professor Matthew Clarke

Professor Matthew Clarke

Professor of Education, York St John University, England

Matthew Clarke is Professor of Education at York St John University in England and has also worked in universities in Australia, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates. His research interests focus on education policy and politics, particularly their implications for teachers, and his work draws on psychoanalytic, political and social theories. Recent books include Teacher Education and the Political: The power of negative thinking (Routledge 2017), Lacan and education policy: The other side of education (Bloomsbury, 2019) and Education and the fantasies of neoliberalism: Policy, politics and psychoanalysis (Routledge 2022).

Turning a leaf: a new procedure for European Education Research Journal Special Issues

Turning a leaf: a new procedure for European Education Research Journal Special Issues

2020 has been a year like no other. On 31st of December 2019, the WHO China Country Office was informed of cases of ‘pneumonia of unknown etiology’. Less than a year later, the COVID-19 pandemic has shattered social life as we know it. The disease has taken tens of thousands of lives, whilst confining billions to their homes in worldwide ‘lockdowns’, in an effort to mitigate the spread of the lethal disease. In a matter of days, the global health emergency led to an education crisis, too. As country after country ordered school closures, education was suddenly faced with an extraordinary new reality: billions of children around the world became homebound, unable to go to school.

Yet, education did not stop. From nurseries to schools to higher education, we saw concerted and speedy adaptation efforts to create home-schooling and online education environments where students and teachers can interact. The extent to which these solutions are effective, or even available to all learners, will be studied in depth in months and years to come. What is certain is that, similar to all other social policy areas, the effects of the pandemic in education are disproportionately worse for those from more unstable and weaker economic and social backgrounds.

This challenging context was the one in which the European Educational Research Journal changed editors’ hands; after the hard work of its founding Editor-in-Chief Professor Martin Lawn, and a successful five years’ spell under the editorial leadership of Professors Maarten Simons and Eric Mangez that followed, EERJ has now become an established and scientifically recognised journal in the field of education research in Europe and beyond.

 

EERJ is interested in the changing education research horizons in Europe. It sees the field as one that crosses borders through its subjects of study, our scholarly collaborations and the increasing complexity of a fluid and interconnected world. We see our work as the new EERJ co-editors as one of further enhancing the European research identity of the journal. We believe that this will be achieved by following the footpath of our predecessors in promoting the peer review and publishing of robust empirical education research, as well as balancing the journal’s publication profile by moving to a greater parity of the journal’s share of special issues with issues that feature independent article submissions.

 

As many of you know, EERJ has been closely associated to the annual European Conference of Education Research (ECER); we take part in the early career researchers’ conference, giving publishing advice to younger scholars; we organise the conference’s MOOT, a discussion forum around a topic of current interest; and we publish the keynote lectures. The journal, for a long time now, through this productive relationship with ECER, encouraged strong conference panels to submit articles as special issue proposals. Although EERJ will continue to do this important work, it also has to be acknowledged that the journal would now benefit from turning over a new leaf and allowing equal space for the publication of independent research papers, too.

 

Further, it has also become apparent that this is not just an aspiration that relates to scholarship only but perhaps also to practicality: at the moment there is a list of special issues in the pipeline; although all of them are high-quality contributions to the field of education research, the current reality of the global pandemic further increases the need for the journal to be able to be responsive to its contemporary, highly demanding and fluid historical and political environment by publishing independent articles timely and proactively.

 

Therefore, following a recent editorial board meeting and the agreement of all its members, EERJ will follow a new process for special issue submissions. This will be as follows:

 

EERJ will introduce a new ‘Expression of interest’ form with a deadline of the end of September annually. This form will be used as a tool for the evaluation of the significance of the proposal in relation to its empirical and conceptual analysis, and its contribution to the aims and the scope of the journal.  At the end of this competitive process, only a certain number of special issue proposals will go forward. The successful candidates will be invited to submit full proposals by the end of December. Full proposals will be evaluated closely: we will retain the option of rejecting a proposal if they do not fulfil the specified criteria, although we will be giving feedback and helping authors submit strong contributions. Following this process, we hope that annually, by late January, we will have an outcome that will trigger the preparation of three special issues per year.

 

The context in which EERJ is working today is one in which the mobilizing discourses of the European Education Area, combined with other ‘borderless’ flows of internationalisation of programmes, public-private partnerships and university alliances, are re-shaping the milieu of research in education. Above all, the current global pandemic, with its catastrophic effects on European economies and societies, has had -and will continue to have- a direct impact on education research in Europe. Regardless of the detrimental effects of this crisis, education research in Europe is currently thriving: a recent EERJ call for papers for a special issue on ‘Education in the Pandemic’ drew almost 200 high-quality abstracts of empirical research. A continuous challenge for EERJ is to be able to reflect on our current education condition and respond to it by publishing reflexive, robust and innovative research. We hope that this shift in the journal’s profile will help EERJ continue to flourish and grow in an increasingly competitive academic publishing environment and a highly uncertain and unequal world.

 

Professor Sotiria Grek

Professor Sotiria Grek

Professor of European and Global Education Governance / University of Edinburgh

Sotiria Grek is Professor of European and Global Education Governance at the School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh. Sotiria’s work focuses on the field of quantification in global public policy, with a specialisation in the policy arenas of education and sustainable development. She has co-authored (with Martin Lawn) Europeanising Education: Governing A New Policy Space (Symposium, 2012) and co-edited (with Joakim Lindgren) Governing by Inspection (Routledge, 2015), as well as the World Yearbook in Education: Accountability and Datafication in Education (with Christian Maroy and Antoni Verger; Routledge, 2021). 

Paolo Landri

Paolo Landri

Senior Researcher of the Institute of Research on Population and Social Policies at National Research Council in Italy

Paolo Landri is a Senior Researcher of the Institute of Research on Population and Social Policies at National Research Council in Italy (CNR-IRPPS).  His main research interests concern educational organizations, digital governance and educational policies. His latest publication is: (2020) Educational Leadership, Management, and Administration through Actor Network Theory, London, Routledge.