Back in November 2021, 2227 brains across the globe took part in 53 DigiEduHack challenges across the globe, trying to come up with the most innovative ideas to solve pending digital education issues: While at one challenge in Yaoundé (Cameroon), participants were developing their digital education solutions to tackle hate speech, a group of kindergarten pupils in (Brussels) spent two days thinking how they can reduce the use of paper in class. In the meantime, IRCAI hosted the DigiEduHack main stage event, aiming to gather the participants from the many challenges worldwide in the one and same place. Then, after two days of intensive brainstorming and coding, the 53 “challenge owners” designated a challenge winner each, which has been assessed by the DigiEduHack steering group. Next, the steering group picked 12 finalists and put them up for a public online vote – and the three DigiEduHack 2021 Global Award Winners (the three finalists with the most votes) have finally been revealed: The award went to Hachi by 11Chips (an online visualization tool that enhances creative and critical thinking), Beesmart (a beekeeping assistant app), and GoGreen (an app that accelerates the transition to paperless schools).
Hachi: A visualization tool to enhance creative and critical thinking
Meanwhile, the masterminds behind Hachi are five students from the University of Trento (Italy): Giulia Paludo and Teresa Rizzi are currently pursuing a degree in cognitive psychology, while Martina Vincoli, Francesco Coppola, and Ricardo Carretta study computer science. Implementing the knowledge the students have gathered from their respective degrees, they came up with their own visualization tool aimed at fostering creative and critical thinking.
Hachi is a mobile app based on augmented reality (AR), allowing children to visualize and manipulate abstract concepts to come up with new, creative ideas. While using the app, children get to connect physical cards (Figure 2) that are sorted by categories (objects, actions, and values), which, once scanned by means of the AR code on each card, will show a visual interaction between the cards’ elements. To showcase how these cards work, the team takes the example of their local FabLab: The object cards would thereby represent the components and materials found in the lab, the action cards would stand for the available machines, and the value cards denote the specific crafting features.
While trying to come up with the solution, the team members identified a gap in education technology: There is a lack of tools destined for developing creative reasoning skills and critical thinking. This is why the students implement a problem-based approach to their educational tool: By giving students a problem and the necessary tools to solve it, but without providing any specific instructions along with it, learners are stimulated to solve the problem on their own – by trial and error.
The AR technology is particularly useful as it makes the educational content more applicable to the learners’ local context and community. The team members emphasize that, up until now, AR technologies have not quite penetrated the market yet: “At the moment, the majority of the few educational technologies with a specific use of augmented reality are focused only on some topics or subjects like chemistry”, they note.
The team also paid particular attention to children with special needs whilst they were developing their solution: To make that the visualization tool is as inclusive as possible, they designed it in a way that students experiencing difficulties with visual memory, for example, can better participate in the learning activities and feel more comfortable contributing to discussions with their peers.
The team members acknowledge that, if they are to scale up their product, they will have to expand their team. As such, they will be looking to take on board a whole range of new partners, including developers (front-end, back-end, dev-ops), designers, psychologists (specialized in learning disabilities), a social manager, an analytics manager, and a CEO. Moreover, to develop a more eco-friendly edition of their cards (Figure 2), a printer to print on wood would come in handy, as noted by the team.
Beesmart: Everything a beekeeper needs
Beesmart’s team consists of two members, Franci Klavž (a young web and app developer) and Urška Šmajs (an Environmental Health student and software designer). Having signed up for the DigiEduHack challenge in Ljubljana (Slovenia), they came up with an “attractive and simple solution solving modern problems”: An app featuring everything a beekeeper could possibly need.
The app creators note that currently, the only way millennials can learn the basics of beekeeping is to read “some boring books or PDFs” or have older generations transfer the knowledge to them. They figured that they could make learning resources more accessible and more interactive, by developing an app. With no such innovation, Franci and Urška note that the beekeeping industry simply will not be able to sustain itself: “The beekeepers won’t be able to keep up with the demand”, they argue.
Trying to describe their solution, they present the app as a “loyal friend of the beekeeper”: The mobile app provides the beekeeper with a whole lot of useful information and interactive educational content. As such, the app features a reminder functionality to keep the beekeepers up to date with their monthly tasks, as well as an educational program consisting of a series of tutorials and quizzes. Moreover, as an app user, you can also activate push notifications, allowing you to find out about any ongoing bee brood diseases within a radius of 10 kilometers. Finally, the app also features a blog, where beekeepers get to share any relevant information with each other. Having designed the app in a neat and compact way, the solution is also highly transferable: If they were to modify a couple of settings, the creators note that Beesmart’s educational platform could also serve other purposes in the agricultural sector, for example.
The two young Slovenians share that their award is definitely also a result of their good team spirit. The communication was “very smooth and without many conflicts”, they emphasize. However, since they are planning to scale up their app in the near future, they acknowledge that they will have to expand their team to speed up their process: Aiming to gather as many beekeepers as possible, the developers’ initial target is having 10% of all Slovenian beekeepers download their app, which would amount to approximately 1000 users. Once the app will have entrenched itself well into the local beekeeping scene, the creators plan to upgrade the app another bit: New features will be added such as a community support platform, where beekeepers will be able to assist each other, as well as a functionality helping beekeepers find the products they need in their proximity.
GoGreen: accelerating the transition towards a paperless education
GoGreen is the result of a joint effort between a group of entrepreneurs, pedagogical mentors, technology executives, app developers, and four teachers from Israel. Aiming to convince educators to shift from paper to solutions based on digital tools and gamification elements, the team developed an app as well.
To this day, there is a “massive use of paper in our classrooms and school administration”, emphasize the team members. By creating the app, they, therefore, hope to contribute their part to climate education by “activating people to tackle climate change”. In its initial phase, the aim of the app is to digitize primarily questionnaires and forms distributed by the school administration. Next, the app will target educators and help them move away from paper-based activities. In the final phase, however, the main challenge will be to stimulate students to shift to digital solutions themselves.
While describing their solution, the team explains their app as follows: First, the app users submit evidence of the activities they have performed (while using digital tools instead of papers). Then, for every approved activity, the users get to “decorate a specific tree” – and for every bundle of newly decorated leaves, the users get a gift. Gifts can include a WhatsApp sticker or a template for an Instagram story, for example. Then, the app will count how many activities have been submitted and how many users took part in the challenge. Eventually, different entities (classes, schools, cities) can compete against each other, as a way to encourage each other to digitize their activities. Besides that, the app features further functionalities such as forms and questionnaires destined to enable any correspondence between school, students, and parents.
Thinking about how their app could be used for other purposes as well, the creators note that the solution could very much be applied to stimulate the reduction of other consumptions, e.g. the consumption of plastic, gas, fuel or textile. Moreover, the solution could also be applicable to workplaces, besides schools.
As opposed to the team behind Hachi for example, the creators of GoGreen did not know each other before the DigiEduHack challenge was held. Nonetheless, having “worked as a united team, with the utmost respect for one another”, they note that the time they have spent developing the product has been a time well spent.
The three DigiEduHack 2021 Global Award-winning teams were granted 5000€ each – and the team members will be nominated DigiEduHack Global Ambassadors for the upcoming year. On the 9th of June, they will receive their award and pitch their solution – this time to Mariya Gabriel (European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth).
More information is available on DigiEduHack’s website: https://digieduhack.com/en/stories-insights/digieduhack-2021-global-award-winners