The first annual Hackboard embraces openness and gives the community a chance to be creative

Christina Gómez
13/07/17
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Charles Town, West Virginia, United States

A hackathon is a sports-like event for coders, where they compete to create the best software or application with a specific goal in mind. Hackathons always have a purpose that needs to be met, such as improving existing software, building an app, enhancing design, or meeting educational needs. Blackboard’s first-ever Hackathon is focused on the latter, as it is intended to improve the teaching and learning experience, overall.

Blackboard is constantly innovating in order to provide clients with the highest-quality tools to enable student success. As part of this mission, Blackboard decided to launch a competition that challenges developers and college students in the United States to create a unique, user-friendly and impactful application that will integrate with the Blackboard Learn learning management system (LMS) to improve the teaching and learning experience.

The man behind Blackboard’s hackathon is Scott Hurrey, better known at Blackboard as the ‘Code Poet.’ His main goal at Blackboard is to foster Blackboard’s coding community, and he came up with the Hackboard as a way to build that community, as well as introduce Blackboard Learn REST API’s. Blackboard supports a number of integration frameworks that allow customers and partners to integrate with and extend Blackboard Learn. They include Java-based “Building Block” APIs, SOAP web services, and a Partner Cloud service that provides access to educational resources from publishing and educational partners.

Scott Hurrey at Charles Town USA. Photo: AFP Tasos Katopodis.
Scott Hurrey at Charles Town USA. Photo: AFP Tasos Katopodis.

Last year, Blackboard added support for REST APIs. After REST was integrated, Scott started looking at raising support in order to make the hackathon a reality. With REST API’s, everything lives outside of Blackboard and any coding language can be used. By requiring all Hackathon entries to interact with Blackboard REST APIs, all the applications will have the ability to be incorporated into Blackboard or other LMS’s that support interoperability, such as Moodlerooms, Sakai and others. All contest entries for the hackathon will be open source, giving a kick start to the open source community around the REST Applications.

All hackathons search for an innovative idea that will contribute to the hosting company, as well as the individual who creates it. Those who enter and have the possibility of winning greatly benefit from the personal growth they undergo when creating something of value for a great cause, such as teaching and learning. Another great aspect about Blackboard’s hackathon, which may be appealing to applicants, is that there are no limitations as to the type of problem that they may solve. Entrants can think about anything related to teaching and learning that might have a solution, an issue they experienced in school or something that could be improved, and provide a solution to that problem. “There is a lot of opportunity for personal growth, personal satisfaction and exposure to make a name for yourself”, Scott explains.

From Blackboard’s perspective, the company also benefits a great deal with these contests. First, getting education community members to take advantage of REST API’s strengthens the API’s themselves, as the more people that use them, the more they can learn about how to improve them. Also, the more Blackboard apps that use REST API, the easier it will be for all programmers who might have good ideas but who find it difficult to develop them in Building Blocks. Ultimately, the main objective of the Hackboard is to unleash participants’ creativity and provide them with a barrier-free environment so they may create something that helps others learn.

Ultimately, the main objective of the Hackboard is to unleash participants’ creativity and provide them with a barrier-free environment so they may create something that helps others learn.

Openness has been a focus of Blackboard’s for some time now. The company advocates for a “no-barriers” approach to teaching and learning, and they want the whole community to pitch in and help improve education globally. They understand that everyone may have some type of solution in mind and that if we can all truly collaborate to think about what could be better in education, and share our thoughts and solutions, Blackboard could have an even stronger worldwide impact on teachers and students. With Moodlerooms, also a part of the Blackboard solutions toolkit and internationally renowned for being an open source solution that anyone can modify, and now with the adoption of REST API’s, there is a true calling to give the community a chance to contribute their ideas and solutions.

Aside from organizing the Hackboard, Scott also organizes DevCon, the Developers Conference that Blackboard hosts right before its annual BbWorld user conference. DevCon is where coders meet for a chance to see new innovations, listen to different speakers on the advances of technology, and see what the community has been working on. There, the winners of the Hackboard will get a chance to be introduced to the community and to present their winning project.

When looking through application entries, Scott will be hoping to find applicants that address education concerns and what they perceive to be the gaps in the teaching and learning experience, with really innovative ideas. He is particularly interested in tools that help personalizing learning and student pathways.

His hope is to open up the Hackboard to the global community in the next year, as well as to Moodlerooms clients. Certainly, it will be very interesting to see what highly creative people come up with, in order to create solutions for teachers and students that enhance education and change the learners around the world.

Scott Hurrey, Blackboard Code Poet / Senior Software Engineer
Photo: AFP Tasos Katopodis

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