DigiEduHack 2019-2021: the foundations

DigiEduHack 2019-2021: the first chapter

After three years of coordinating the Digital Education Hackathon (DigiEduHack) from 2019 to 2021, Aalto University and Climate-KIC give way to new partners. This first chapter of the DigiEduHack history is crucial: it marks the birth of an event with both an immense potential reach and impact.

After three years of coordinating the Digital Education Hackathon (DigiEduHack) from 2019 to 2021, Aalto University and Climate-KIC give way to new partners. This first chapter of the DigiEduHack history is crucial: it marks the birth of an event with both an immense potential reach and impact. DigieduHack can change the world of digital education, one challenge at a time. The article will highlight some of the achievements accomplished during this initial "pilot phase" of DigiEduHack.  


1- Activity presentation

Under its current form, DigiEduHack is a series of in-person and online challenges on digital education organized by local hosts (groups of individuals, institutions, stakeholders, NGOs, start-ups, associations, ...) and taking place yearly simultaneously all over the world, as well as a high-level, in-person/remote/hybrid main stage event gathering experts, stakeholders, and researchers around digital education issues. Participants could DigiEduHack join alone or in a team and would take part in one challenge. DigiEduHack has been co-organised by Aalto University and EIT Climate-KIC under the form described above from 2019 to 2021.

Under that architecture, the central team was only in charge of managing the hosts, who in turn were taking care of the participants. Each local host would crown a challenge winner. All challenge winners were assessed by the DigiEduHack central team, who would choose 10 to 12 finalists. The finalists were put up for a public vote on the Unite Ideas platform and the 3 solutions with the most votes would be designated Global Award winners and DigiEduHack Global Ambassadors.

 

2- Facts and numbers

During the first edition of the Digital Education Hackathon (2019), organised in cooperation with the Finnish Presidency, 33 local events took place in 21 countries (12 in Europe: AT, BE, DK, EE, ES, FI, IE, IT, LU, NL, RO, ES, UK and 9 non-European countries). DigiEduHack attracted 1700 participants in 2019 who together co-created 160 solutions that were submitted for the Global Award. That year, the three Global Award winners were Teaming 4.0, Science Escape Room, Student4Students (read more here).

The second edition of DigiEduHack took place in November 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. That year, the Main Stage Event was hosted by the German Presidency. DigiEduHack 2020 took place in 55 local events, spread around in 33 countries (19 in Europe - AT, BE, CY, CZ, DE, DK, EL, ES, FI, FR, HR, HU, IE, IT, LU, NL, PL, PT, RO and 14 from non-European countries). DigiEduHack engaged with 2600 participants and generated 254 solutions. That year, the three Global Award winners were Squiddy, EduSex, SaveDopamine (read more here).

In 2021, the initiative was hosted by the Slovenian Presidency. DigiEduHack 2021 was based on 54 local events in 32 countries (16 in Europe - AT, BE, CZ, DK, EE, EL, ES, FI, DE, HU, IT, PL, PT, RO, SE, SI) and 16 non-European countries) with almost 2500 participants and 228 solutions in total. In 2021, the three Global Award winners were 11Chips, Beesmart, and GoGreen (read more here).

 

3- Evolution of the activity

2019, the genesis

In 2019, the overall objectives of DigiEduHack were to support and further the recruitment of host organizations in multiple locations, to support and further the recruitment of participants from all over Europe and beyond, to further the creation of a DigiEduHack community and to support the recruitment of members for this community, to generate awareness, visibility and outreach for the DigiEduHack and the partner organizations on a European and global scale, to generate extensive media coverage and engage in intensive PR activities, to generate broad reach on social media through engaging content, broadcasting and digital marketing activities, to recruit followers on social media platforms, to provide communications tools and promotional materials for the DigiEduHack, to showcase solutions and innovations created at the events and eventually to analyze and measure outcomes of communications activities.

This very first edition of DigiEduhack was a pilot episode for the activity: even if DigiEduHack was modelled after an existing event - the Climathon by EIT Climate-KIC - all work needed to be done from scratch: all the communication channels had to be created, all the supporting material for the hosts had to be designed, produced and published. This included: an intro guide for hosts, ane-learning course for hosts, all thebase communication templates, an evaluation canvas, achallenge building workshop, 3community eventsand the legally binding IP guidelines.


2020, the experimentation

This edition of DigiEduHack which took place on the 12-13 November 2020 has been marked by two exceptional circumstances that contributed to shaping both the main event and its communication strategy: the global COVID-19 pandemic and the late announcement of the event dates.

Both elements were at the same time a strength and a threat for this edition of DigiEduHack. On one hand, the pandemic created actual dire needs for solutions to burning challenges and largely contributed to shifting to online events thus increasing the radius of participant recruitment, while at the same time COVID-19 created a drought in available resources that forced some smaller stakeholders to postpone their participation in the 2020 edition. The late announcement of the event dates created an opportunity for agile stakeholders to jump in, while it left at bay universities who could not integrate DigiEduHack in their 2020 planning of activities.

In 2020, the central team engaged with 78 hosts, out of which 55 actually eventually organised a DigiEduHack event. The 23 hosts that could not take part in DigiEduHack this year had solid reasons to differ in their participation (lack of resources due to the pandemic, notably). These 23 hosts have been closely followed up by the central team and for some have been integrated into host-specific pre-event activities, channels and get-togethers in order to prepare for their (much anticipated) participation in DigiEduHack 2021.
The exceptionally low dropout rate among hosts considered the worldwide context can be credited to both the increased amount of available resources for hosts in 2020 and the much higher level of service provided by the central team, especially at the 1-to-1 level.

The central team has been taking an active part in the recruitment of participants through targeted campaigns on Facebook and Twitter essentially. At the brand level, the campaigns were carrying a positive-oriented general message with a strongly engaging call to action urging the target to take action and contribute to changing digital education. The result of these meta-campaigns was good in quantity but poor in conversion. At a challenge-level, the central team created 10 to 12 very specific, challenge-based campaigns with specific assets, targeting ultra-narrow audiences aiming at much higher than the industry's average conversion rates.

The main stage event has been entirely broadcasted live both on Twitter and Youtube. The two platforms have been chosen for their steady capacity to absorb a large flow while providing a constant, real-time HD playback (Youtube) and for their likeliness to naturally engage and interact with audiences (Twitter). Despite technical obstacles on the way, the metrics are outstanding (cumulated metrics for the 12-13.11.20 only):
> concurrent viewers YouTube (max per day): 230 on day 1/ 119 on day 2
> cumulated views YouTube: 6528 for the two days
> average viewing time for the sessions: 24 minutes 37 seconds
> cumulated live viewers Periscope-Twitter: 2518 for the two days
> cumulated replay viewers Periscope-Twitter: 828

The DigiEduHack 2020 communication strategy has been in large part shaped by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and by the late announcement, in June 2020, of the official dates of the event. Because of that particular context, and because of the aggressive concurrence of numerous online events, the communication plan had to be redesigned several times during the year. One thing remained constant though: the use of content marketing as a lifeline for consistency.

The main reason for using a content-marking strategy for promoting DigiEduHack is to reassure the potential hosts and contribute to turning them into actual hosts. The central team created and actively promoted a complete set of resources ranging from tools & frameworks to community events to open screen sessions to 1-to-1 diagnostic tools in order to create a reassuring bubble around each host, in order to not only get them on board but also to make sure that no one would drop out. Part of this strategy was to create and activate a Slack board that would work as a village plaza, where all hosting teams member could have a single, easy, organised access to the Central team while at the same time be able to communicate with fellow hosting teams. This worked beyond our hopes, as we reached over 4,4K messages exchanged with the 174 active hosting team members over three months.

The host recruitment started formally in June 2020, when the official dates of DigiEuHack were published. The recruitment started first within the DigiEduHack 2019 hosts pool, and almost st the same time it also started among the EIT community. The recruitment started well until August when it stalled. Then from September onwards, the host recruitment grew up to the very last day before the event. This can be explained by the fact that some hosts have captive audiences (employees, students,... ) that don't need to be recruited and can be brought along almost "last minute". It is interesting to note that Twitter has been a great event-awareness and brand awareness platform for the DigiEduHack hack but has been quite disappointing when it came to actually recruit hosts.

In the task repartition for DigiEduHack 2020, the participant recruitment was originally the responsibility of the hosts, because of their closeness with the potential targets. But because of the 2020 general shift to online events, most hosts faced an unprecedented situation: they needed to recruit beyond their circles of influence and engage with much greater audiences than anticipated.

Hence the decision was taken in late September by the central team to actively assist hosts with a low recruitment speed with ad-hoc campaigns: deployment of challenge-level assets (both image and video) and creation of intense and targeted paid ad bursts on Twitter and Facebook. Because of a technical issue, it is difficult to exactly measure the conversion rate of these campaigns, but their link click rate was well above 6% for an average of 230K impressions.

The voting process started on the Unite Ideas platform on the 5.3.21 and went on uninterruptedly until the 28.3.21. The DigiEduHack pages on the platform had 32316 unique visitors (a unique visitor is a non-returning visitor that landed on one of the DigiEduHack pages of the Unite Ideas platform, with no consideration of the time spent on the said page. A unique visitor is counted once, even if they visit more than one page). The "Idea pages" (all pages but the main landing page) accumulated 9843 views (a view is a display of a page of more than 10 seconds on a device. This number excludes multiple views during a session: if you reload a page 10 times, this is still one view). 5509 votes were cast by registered participants, out of which 641 bot votes were removed. Eventually, the three winners were designated using a base of 4868 cast votes.


2021, the confirmation

The 2021 edition of DigiEduHack that took place on 9-10 November 2021 has been, again that year, marked by global exceptional circumstances that contributed to shaping both the main event and its communication strategy.

In 2021, the DigiEduHack Central Team had to face an early, major challenge: the visible lack of engagement from both hosts and participants, mainly due to a widespread “online fatigue”. This thoroughly impacted the communication strategy deployed for DigiEduHack, requiring ditching too general campaigns for more narrow, single-target, personal campaigns. A week before the event, the central team was managing 76 simultaneous social media micro-campaigns, some of them in local languages, to recruit participants from all around the world.

For 2021, the Central Team created and published a series of podcasts on digital education issues featuring members of the steering group, hosts, experts, and special guests. Despite a lack of a major promotion campaign, the podcast series has been finding a “respectable” audience of 667 listeners on Soundcloud, Spotify, Google Podcasts and Apple Podcasts. To be continued.

Unlike in 2020, a particular, dedicated effort has been made to promote the 2021 edition of DigiEduHack on Instagram. And it worked beyond all hopes, especially when it came to engaging with potential participants, engaging with some hosts and ultimately engaging with recruited participants. Despite a very low amount of followers, the ad-hoc reels produced in house by the central team (including the ones with a CTA) reached 8537 views, all organic. The campaigns on Instagram reached a cumulated audience of 2,7M viewers.

The DigiEduHack 2021 communication strategy had to find an efficient walk-around to increase both host and participant engagement and fight the ongoing “online fatigue” among stakeholders from the entire educational spectrum. This major obstacle appeared early in 2021, allowing the Central Team to react and create an ad-hoc communication strategy, based on 5 main points:

> Narrow-reach messages and campaigns designed to attract particular hosts with a direct, 1-to-1, followed-up engagement on Twitter. This allowed the recruitment of hosts coming from parts of the world that hadn’t yet been covered: Uganda, Cameroon, Azerbaijan

> Invitation for hosts to take part in the conversation by mentioning them on Twitter and on the Slack board for hosts

> Content strategy focused on DigiEduhack, with the creation of a podcast series based on SoundCloud and featured on Spotify, Google Podcasts and Apple Podcasts

> Challenge level campaigns under the principle of “one challenge, one target” that allowed to reach very specific, local communities and onboard them as participants.

The host recruitment started formally in June 2021, almost on the same date as last year. The first hosts to sign-up were the 2020 hosts and some 2029 hosts. This fast & early endorsement of the 2021 edition of DigiEduHack by the 2020 hosts created a bit of a paradox: despite their experience, these “hosts from last year” did not share with the newcomers, and they did not take part in the community events and were quite absent from our Slack board.
It is interesting to note that contrary to last year, Twitter has been at the same time a great event-awareness and brand awareness platform for DigiEduHack AND has well served the purpose of recruiting new hosts, often directly via DM.

In 2021, participant recruitment and participant retention have been a real challenge for hosts and for the central team. Rather than using broad messages targeted at wide audiences, this year the Central Team decided to aim at narrower but highly qualified audiences: some challenges had several micro-campaigns running in order to maximize the conversion rate.

This approach was also needed because of the drastic budget reduction that amputated DigiEduHack from a large number of marketing resources.

 

4- Legacy

Courses
> three courses are available on the Climate-KIC LMS (Learning Management System): a course about crafting an efficient challenge, a course about organizing a hackathon (mirroring the DigiEduHack Host Guide), a course that can be used as a template shell to run a hackathon.

> one course for hosts is available on FutureLearn: this 4-weeks course walks the future hosts through all the steps covered in the LMS and features additional chapters about post event actions.

> one course for participants is available on FutureLearn: this 4-weeks course walks future hackathons participants through all the skills needed to successfully take part in a hackathon.

 

Lessons learned

> Twitter is not a host recruitment tool: hosts should be recruited via "physical" networks, to avoid overreach and to maintain a reasonable recruitment efficiency ratio. Twitter should be used for maintaining brand awareness and contributing to recruiting participants at a challenging level.

> a reliable website is nice; a great website is efficient: digieduhack.com must be an example of ease of use both for hosts and participants. It is crucial that all the available info and resources reach the relevant target without polluting the other audiences. DigiEduHack is not a typical hackathon: its concept might be difficult to grasp for some audiences. Having structured, well-displayed, accessible, relevant information for each audience type is necessary.

> content is king: to ease up the host tasks, the central team should produce much more content targeted both at hosts (challenge-building webinars, ad campaign tutorials, ready-made assets at challenge-level, practical workshops, ...) and at participants (iteration frameworks, stress-management tutorials, group leading frameworks, pitching guide, ...)

> Engagement? Instagram! Neglected in 2020, Instagram has been a key platform for DigiEduHack in 2021, when conversation and interactions would happen with potential participants and registered participants, but also with hosts eager to boost their “insta-cred” by mentioning DigiEduHack in their stories and by associating their brand to DigiEduHack. Will TikTok be the way to go for the next edition?

 

Recommendations

> implement the solutions: a hackathon with no solutions implemented loses 50% if its reason to be. At least the 3 global-award winning solutions should be implemented.

> the Main Stage Event should change: in an ideal setting, the Main Stage Event would become a get together happening at the same time as the hackathons, and would aim at giving an “insider peek” on how it is to take part in a hackathon: interviews of participants, of hosts, breakthrough moments, follow-up of teams’ progress throughout the days, … The idea here is to use the Main Stage Event to turn participants and hosts into the heroes of the day. Then the Awarding Ceremony could be this celebration of collaboration and co-creation in digital education: it could be a high-level event taking place in less than a day, featuring inspirational key speakers, rewarding and featuring more prominently the winning teams.

> limit the number of hosts: get the most relevant challenges and the most motivated hosts. Close the host recruitment process earlier to ensure all events will be truly prepared. Allow mentoring of the hosts by the central team, the steering group, ... and allow hosts to ally to co-organize an event together.

> create a "duty list" or an achievement list to be signed by hosts when they join to give a clearer vision of the host’s duties, to make the hosts commit more strongly to the event. This list could be integrated into the host approval workflow.

> invite "big hosts": having the "ed-cred" of renowned organizations, both private and public (HundrED, Erasmus, United Nations, Lego Foundation, …) and create a special program for "big hosts" enticing them to take part in the next edition of DigiEduHack.

> mentor very closely all hosts during the challenge building phase to get better challenges: ask the steering group members, the Central Team, volunteers to mentor 1 to 3 hosts during the challenge building phase to ensure the same quality for all the challenges.

> propose a pool of challenges that would highlight some extremely specific issues encountered in digital education in Europe and beyond (this could be done in partnership with agencies or associations). These “ready-made challenges” could be used by hosts either as a starting point for their own reflection or as actual challenges.

> require the hosts to have an implementation plan for their challenge winner(s) easier follow-up, real-life impact, enhancing the credibility/usefulness of DEH, filtering hosts part of the host selection process.

> encourage the hosts to create challenges based on local needs and actual issues. This would lead to solutions being implemented in real life, that is easier to follow up, with a real-life impact. This effort would strongly enhance the credibility/usefulness of DigiEduHack and could help filter the host leads.

> create 3 to 4 tracks for the challenges with distinct target audiences, distinct expectations for solutions and TRLs (Technology Readiness Level), implementation processes and awards. For example, there could be 4 tracks: "elementary & college", "higher education", "future start-ups", "citizen initiatives".
"Elementary & college" is for 8 to 17 years old learners
"Higher education students" is for students who are part of a university/higher ed institution
"Future start-ups" is for participants that believe so much in their project that they are ready to commit for the next coming year and want to go towards commercialization
"Citizen initiatives" is an open category where solutions are "given" to the community for further dev and/or implementation.
Each track has specific prizemoney and specific additional features: mentoring, coaching, access to schools' networks, prize money, access to accelerators (all very well defined in advance).
All the challenge winning solutions are sorted by categories and are assessed by category specialists (steering group members or others). There is a common set of criteria for all the categories plus a specific set for each category.

> remove the public vote: it is unfair, inefficient, not credible. In theory, a public vote seems to be the most democratic: any netizen can express their voice and cast a ballot for the solution they deem the most efficient. In practice, the process is exactly the opposite: an undemocratic and unfair mode of selection that favours finalists that are part of larger institutions with a massive, easily mobilizable network that overfloods and takes over the voting process. A public vote cannot be the key element in designating the Global winners of DigiEduHack. And this is not a matter of tool or platform used to vote: it is a matter of legitimacy to use a public voting process to designate the global winners of DigiEduHack.

> create a matchathon for all finalists to enhance the real-life impact and the usefulness of DigiEduHack