The Reimagination of Education Competition
“Isn’t it amazing to be a student today?”
Given the wealth of original ideas presented at the finals of the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) first-ever Learning Buildathon, held on 31 March 2017 as part of MOE’s ExCEL Fest, that thought is likely to have crossed the minds of many in the audience.
The finals was an exciting climax for the inaugural Buildathon, a collaboration between GovTech and MOE.
The hackathon segment of the Buildathon, held a week earlier, saw a diverse group of participants — including teachers, engineers, coders and designers — forming teams around shared interests, and storming their brains to come up with creative, tech-driven ways of encouraging students to learn.
Teams were guided by mentors from the teaching profession and the design and gaming industries—among them Mr Lauri Järvilehto, CEO of educational gaming startup Lightneer, and formerly part of the Rovio team that created Angry Birds.
Ten finalists were selected to pitch their ideas on 31 March to a panel of judges, composed of Dr Shirleen Chee, Divisional Director of MOE’s Educational Technology Division (ETD); Mr Tan Bee Teck, MOE’s Chief Information Officer; and Mr Leslie Loh, CEO of digital skills academy Lithan.
Permanent Secretary (Education Development) Mr Neo Kian Hong, the guest of honour at the event, said that the Buildathon and events like it would help nurture innovative communities that could tackle challenging problems.
“We’re moving from committees to communities,” he said.
“In the past, you’d take a course and learn innovation in the classroom. But if you take part in a buildathon and use data analytics, behavioral insights and design thinking, you’re a lot more motivated, because you have a purpose and a problem statement you’re trying to solve.”
“You bring people together to come up with new solutions.”
Fighting chance to win
And come together Team Kilat did.
The third place winner developed an app to encourage collaborative learning through competitive persuasion.
Students participate in the app’s virtual game space by answering a discussion question posed by their teacher. It then enters a “fight stage” where students defend their answers, and swipe to agree or disagree with each other.
To win, they must persuade others to join their team.
This format helps even the quietest students in the classroom have a voice, said Mr John Wu of Anglican High School, who presented the team’s pitch.
At the same time, the app also provides teachers with feedback on their questions, such as whether they were too easy or too difficult, or whether they generated discussion in the classroom.
By solving General Paper (GP) blues, Team Lern took second place — and also won the People’s Choice award, which was decided by popular vote.
Their chatbot, Nooey the Nerd, helps students who are preparing for GP get up to speed with different perspectives surrounding an issue.
Searching for a particular topic brings up a summary of the issue, as well as articles with different points of view.
Nooey’s database can be manually curated by teachers, allowing them to populate it with articles that will challenge students to think more deeply about the issues at hand — and hopefully do better at the subject.
Making explorers out of students
But the Buildathon winning pitch came from Team Explorer, who developed an app that lets teachers create challenges for students to solve outside of the classroom.
“One of my biggest struggles as an educator is to bring learning beyond the classroom. How can we get students to keep learning anywhere and anytime?” asked MOE ETD’s Mr Lee Ming Yew, who presented the team’s pitch.
Using the Explorer app, teachers can set challenges around different topics, for a variety of age groups.
A primary school science challenge, for example, could ask students to identify all the mammals in their neighbourhood.
When students use their phones to snap photos, the app’s image recognition algorithm — powered by machine learning — detects and assesses the image, and provides them with immediate feedback: is what they found really a mammal?
Challenges could be set anywhere — in a museum or in the supermarket, for example.
To gamify the experience, the app also has features such as a time limit and a hall of fame. Teachers can also look at students’ answers to assess how much they are learning.
A valuable experience
During the judges’ deliberations, several participants shared their own experience of the Buildathon with TechNews.
For Team Kilat’s Mr Wu, seeing people from diverse backgrounds working together was an eye-opener.
“The ability to come together and make something bigger than what each of us individually would be able to do was a wonderful experience.”
Mr Desmond Pang of Yio Chu Kang Secondary School, whose team did not make it the finals, said that he was heartened to see so many good ideas being presented.
“Although we didn’t make it through the first round, what is important is the spirit of innovation; to try, learn, refine and try again,” he said.
Team Explorer’s Mr Lee said that his group’s idea was initially more complicated and heavier on features.
This changed during the idea prototyping stage of the Buildathon.
“Our mentor from Lightneer said, ‘What is your product about? If you want to do something, do it simple and do it right.’ That rang true for us, and we ended up tweaking our app,” he said.
“In my work, I have a lot of opportunities to learn about education technology, but I always wanted to try to apply it in the real world,” added Mr Lee.
“The Buildathon was a valuable experience, and I had a lot of fun at the same time.”