TechCamp Philadelphia got education stakeholders into a room and gave them a challenge: use technology to tackle a real, practical problem that affects local education.
The result? Nearly 20 projects that aim to do just that, built by the event’s 120 participants that included educators, parents, technologists, local government officials and School District management. Because attendees were split among technologists and educators, so solutions were some technical, some policy, some partnerships.
It was the first time the global unconference took place in the U.S. in a partnership between the U.S. State Department, the School District of Philadelphia and Technically Philly. The School District’s involvement, following its first open data release, could be seen as a way of declaring a commitment to technology and innovation in the education space. The two-day event, which included a side education hackathon, took place at Drexel University‘s URBN Center.
Below, a recap video of Day 1 of the TechCamp Philadelphia. Find photos from TechCamp here.
It was striking to see how the participants worked together, essentially giving each other crash courses in issues that affect the School District and in the technology tools — and the possibilities — that exist. This aspect of the event underlined the importance of bringing together so many different types of education stakeholders. The State Department’s Noel Dickover, who has been involved with TechCamps around the world, said he only experienced one other TechCamp where local government participated — a government focused effort in Moldova. Philadelphia’s Chief Data Officer Mark Headd, Director of Civic Technology Tim Wisniewski and even an employee from the Water Department participated in TechCamp.
While actionable projects came out of the effort, a broader impact could be seen, a week after a watershed data sharing effort was released by the city.
“One big action coming out of this event,” said budget visualization tool hackathon participant Christopher Brown, who is part of the StateRep.me team. “Could be the School District getting better at publishing its data in a format more friendly for developers than PDFs now that they see what can be done when it is.”
Each team demoed their projects on Sunday, not only presenting the proposed solution for a certain problem but also plans for follow up steps to make the project a reality.
TechCamp projects included:
- A way to make it easier for teachers to collect reliable contact information from parents since up to 23 percent of parent contact information is inaccurate, said a member of the School District’s IT team.
- A way to digitize “pink slips,” forms that are given out for minor disciplinary infractions, which would allow for data collection, a parent alert system and more.
- A way to build a community of student programmers across the city, since there’s neither a network for them to support each other nor an easy to way to find out what schools are teaching computer science.
- eMotecard.com, a website that allows teachers to track qualitative data about their students, instead of only focusing on grades.
Hackathon projects included:
- School District budget visualization tool: The School District specifically asked hackers to build a budget visualization tool, said team member Christopher Brown. The hackers scraped data from every public school’s budget PDFs (find the API here). They built some preliminary visualizations that allow users to compare budget data across various schools, as well as compare budget data and school performance, but nothing is live yet.
- An API for the School District’s recently-released data: Built by Chief Data Officer Mark Headd.
- Safest Way: A tool to find the safest walking routes built by developers from String Theory Schools. The team said it was hoping to incorporate more city data, like streetlight locations, into the tool.
- Summer Resources Wiki: An online database of after-school programs using Wikidelphia.