How education got an upgrade

Last weekend, Startup Estonia together with the Education and Youth Authority held the Education Upgrade Hack 2020 - a hackathon looking for innovative ideas that could change the world of education and support distance learning. Within 48 hours, ideas were formed into prototypes by 21 participating teams.

Eventually, nine prizes were handed out to six best teams. Let’s jump right in!

Grand prize 5000 € from Education and Youth Authority: Taut. It's a new and faster way for teachers to leave feedback on student work with an additional peer-review feature to engage students. According to Taut's team lead Kalvis Petersons, they already had a great team beforehand. "We found an additional member in the education hackathon, and it was actually one of the best things that we could get from this event."

The Taut team plans to continue to reach out to more teachers and schools and find ways to make their application even better. "We're happy to talk to anyone in education who's interested in providing feedback faster and making it more meaningful. We have vast plans, but for now it is better to take a step-by-step approach. You will hear more about us in the future,” explained Kalvis Petersons.

Grand prize 3000 € from Education and Youth Authority: KG. The tool for schools and teachers to quickly find the best digital solutions that they need. KG maps out different study platforms, environments and tools and helps to compare what's suitable for a teacher's or school's specific requirements.

For the team lead Moonika Oll and their core team (school principal and two teachers) this hackathon was their first - sometimes stressful and intense, but overall an exciting and positive experience. “Thanks to the mentors, we were able to effectively deal with problems that occur while building a product.” Right now, team KG is talking with software companies who'd help them to proceed with building a real prototype. “Since it's a matter of money, our first step is to fill out possible financial support applications.”

Special prize: Direct ticket to Ajujaht TOP 100 and Startup Estonia’s mentoring programme: SmartBites. A platform for bringing together school children who need some learning assistance with qualified teachers. 

"The idea came to our team while participating in a business model innovation lecture by Juko-Mart Kõlar at TalTech master's programme. From there on we received many supporters to the idea,” said Anu Meier, the team lead of SmartBites.

"This hackathon required a lot more energy than we anticipated but also gave a realistic understanding of what's the work volume ahead. Both prizes will help us to improve our prototype on a whole new professional level. The positive feedback we've received inspires us to move further."

Special prizes 1000 € from Telia and Startup Estonia’s mentoring programme: Academics. It's self-management tool for students to support mental health with gamification elements.

“A study by Estonian Education Forum (Eesti Haridusfoorum) on distance learning period during spring showed clearly how students' self-management skills correlated with emotional well-being and learning outcomes. Our tool helps youngsters to develop their self-management know-how and how to cope with heavy feelings,” said the team lead Kristel Habicht-Spriit. She added that the hackathon worked very well for their team. “Defining the problem, finding an accurate solution, validating it with the target groups and creating a team that believes in it composes a good synergy that empowers and takes us to an awesome journey. We'll continue with the post-hackathon mentoring programme and see where does it take us."

Special prize: Startup Estonia’s two months-long mentoring programme (with the best mentors in the field to cover topics such as education field specifics, sales and marketing, technology and service design): Rich Kid. Offers children an app-based solution that teaches money wisdom and guides them to make informed decisions, i.e. a "counsellor" in their pocket.

“For four out of five of our team members, the hackathon was a first-time experience. Some people joined us temporarily for the hackathon, so now we're looking for additional members who'd help us to work on the project permanently and help to build an exciting functioning solution to children to learn about financial literacy,” shared Rich Kid's team lead Kairit Merman.

Team TEMU with the lead Marleen Soosaar also received a Startup Estonia's mentoring programme as a special prize. The team's winning idea is an Estonian Health Museum's personalized digital workbook to accompany a (virtual) museum. "I was the representative from the museum side and provided the necessary content. We also had two developers and a designer on the team. Hackathon brought us together, and luckily we found synergy among each other, motivation was high, and everyone contributed 100%,” said Marleen Soosaar. The team is now working on collaborating with target groups for further validation, and they hope to dig deeper into product development during the mentoring programme.

All team leads recommend trying out hackathon format as a place to develop your idea and product prototype. It depends more on one's openness to learning new things and a willingness to contribute a time instead of particular skills or previous experiences. Also, future participants in hackathons shouldn't be afraid if they don't have a team formed yet, when there's a great idea, there'll be great people who want to join in.

The biggest wish for Startup Estonia is that the teams keep working despite how they did in this hackathon. “We had only a few dropouts, it’s an outstanding result. Most ideas were well-thought-out, and our supporting mentors' line-up from fields of education, business, design and technology were impressive. Mentors guided the teams during hackathon through online checkpoint sessions in Zoom and via chat room on Eventornado platform. I applaud the event organisers at Miltton New Nordics, who did a very good job at putting together a seamless program while utilising both virtual and physical channels," commented Inga Kõue, organiser of the event and EdTech sector project lead at Startup Estonia.

The idea submission phase took place before the actual hackathon: 36 ideas were received, 30 got the invitation to the event, 23 pitched in the hackathon's opening event, and 21 made it to the hackathon's closing event. Each team had, on average, five members. Among teams, we had educational experts and technologists, teachers, entrepreneurs, business developers, programmes and designers etc.

The majority of the participants were based in Tallinn, Harjumaa. There were also people, for example, from Tartu, Riga and other smaller places in Estonia and abroad.

The hackathon itself took place in a hybrid format as the current times require. It's a combination of online and physical spaces, meaning that everything happened online for the participants; the opening and closing events were broadcasted from a specially built live-streaming studio, mentors could get together in a hub.

Big thanks to all contributors and mentors:

Business mentors: Ede Tamkivi, (Youth Movement Product Manager at Vabamu), Kadri Tuisk (Founder and CEO of Clanbeat), Katre Liiberg (Head of Sales and Customer Service at Telia), Marko Russiver (designer, startup founder and activist)

Education mentors: Kati Aus (Education psychologist, lecturer and research fellow at Tallinn University, School of Educational Sciences), Mari-Liis Sults (School principal at Tallinna Kunstigümnaasium), Martin Saar (Deputy Head at Tallinn Secondary School of Science)

Design mentors: Jana Kukk (Founder and manager of d.Lab, service design lab at TalTech), Laura-Lisethe Pankova (Head of Design in Digital Marketing agency IMPACT 80/20), Markko Karu (designer and consultant)

Technology mentors: Karel Kangro (Software Developer at Bigbank, Designer and Developer at Spiral Wave), Lauri Välja (Product developer at TransferWise), Martin Leppik (freelance software developer)

The Jury:

  • Martin Saar, The Secondary School of Science

Organisers, supporters & collaboration partners: Startup Estonia, Education and Youth Authority, Miltton, Ajujaht, Bolt, Workland Maakri, Gleb Maltsev, Maido Parv, Rain Hansen and Global Virtual Solutions.

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