#wirfürschule hackathon - Running a virtual design sprint to explore the future of education

How to deal with the challenges facing the hybrid school year, but also with the German educational system.
30.03.2021
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The #wirfürschule project

2020 has been a tough year but has also opened up many opportunities. Creative solutions and approaches towards remote work, remote hackathons, bringing communities together online and breaking down the boundaries and borders are just some of those.

In terms of bringing communities across the world and finding solutions to current Covid-19 crisis, one of the first examples of these initiatives was #wirvsvirus, which took place virtually in March 2020. It was the largest hackathon with over 40,000 participants worldwide.

Along these lines, in May 2020 there was another initiative called #wirfürschule by Verena Pausder (Digitale Bildung für alle e.V.) und Max Maendler (lehrermarktplatz.de) which brought many volunteers together and organized an educational hackathon with over 6000 participants resulting in 216 solutions. The focus of the hackathon was to deal with the challenges facing the hybrid school year, but also with the German educational system.

As kreuzwerker, we took part in this hackathon and partnered up with another Berlin based education startup meinUnterricht. meinUnterricht provides educational material to school teachers to empower them to create great classes. Besides their education focus, we also wanted to challenge ourselves to collaborate intensely with a company or a team, which we hadn’t met before, didn’t know their methods or tooling very well, and without much preparation. It was a perfect match to spend a week together to focus on the future of education to come up with innovative solutions.

The problem

Hackathons are fast paced gatherings focusing on creating a functioning software by the end of the event. There is usually a specific focus, a challenge to tackle or a theme or a technology to utilize for creative purposes. In this case, it was about the future of education. A list of challenges created by the experts was provided by the #wirfürschule team and posted on their website. The participating teams were free to choose which challenges to tackle during the event. Around the umbrella topic “future of education”, we went for a more specific one:

“How do we teach our children important future skills? This includes media literacy, digital maturity and coding, as well as the willingness to experiment, problem solving skills, frustration tolerance, helpfulness, teamwork and a democratic attitude. How can we empower young people to develop awareness of the major issues of the 21st century and inspire them to actively shape them?”

During hackathons, cross-disciplinary teams form up either before or at the very beginning, and commit to deliver a solution by collaborating intensively during the event. This intensive collaboration is most effective when facilitated in a structured way. We were a larger group including 1 facilitator, 2 UX/UI designers, 4 software developers, and a product manager. Since the project was done during the week, availabilities changed but a core team kept taking the idea further.

The solution we provided

By the end of the week, we wanted to have a solution prototyped tackling one of the challenges provided by the #wirfürschule team.

As kreuzwerker, we took over the remote facilitation of the whole week and chose to follow the Design Sprint structure. We loosely followed the AJ&Smart 4 day Design Sprint format, which is a shortened and improved version of the original format invented by Jake Knapp at Google Ventures.

AJ&Smart Design Sprint

AJ&Smart 4 day Design Sprint format

We also used Miro and Zoom for remote facilitation to capture thoughts and work on solutions collaboratively during the event. AJ&Smart has their nicely prepared Remote Design Sprint Miro board available here. Feel free to take a look.

We kicked off the week by facilitating a conversation around posted challenges, considering personal interests of the team members and the direction where everyone wanted to go. We agreed on the challenge mentioned above.

Once we were set and everyone was committed, more in depth conversations and exercises followed, and we diverged and converged on How Might We statements to define the scope of the week. We then reached out to the community and found some teachers and students to validate the opportunities we had been discussing.

Talking to users and experts at this stage was highly beneficial in order to bring everyone to the same level of understanding and ownership. After hearing about the current state of the education system and challenges around the existing solutions around future skills, the team converged on the topic: “HMW create a culture of debating and listening within schools.” This statement was supported with another one “HMW enable children from 5th grade upwards to identify credible information to create a culture of healthy debate.”

The second day began with research on existing products and platforms on these topics, continued with lightning talks as a source of inspiration, and followed by some brainstorming sessions to ideate on solutions. Finally, we came up with solution sketches, did some voting rounds and picked the winning idea and prepared a storyboard.

wirfuerschule hackaton storyboard

Design sprint storyboard based on the winning idea.

The winning solution sketch was an online discussion platform in which teachers post debates in whereby students can take part in the argument and learn how to participate in a dialogue in a civilized and an informed way.

By the time we had the solution storyboard, we jumped in to Framer as our tool for prototyping. Using a design system, in this case Carbon, we quickly prototyped our solution with a consistent style. Framer’s interactive components enabled us to create a high-fidelity interactive prototype for the “online discussion platform for students” to communicate our solution.

After the prototyping phase, it is very important to test the solution with real users to receive quick feedback and define clear next steps, but for the sake of delivering a good prototype, we decided to spend more time wrapping up and polishing our interactive solution prototype before the submission. Recruiting users during the fast pace of a hackathon was not going to be possible.

wirfuerschule prototype screens

Framer prototype screens showing some key points of the flow.

The Result and Learnings

Taking over the facilitation was a big responsibility for the week but we managed it well. It was great experience with big challenges for the whole team, intense working sessions and constant collaboration. We learned a lot on the way and came up with a satisfying result.

Virtual design sprints are quite effective, but as a rule of thumb, as in In-Person design sprints, whole teams should work together during the whole sprint. Team members coming in and out poses certain challenges around ownership of ideas flowing between each step. As usual, an aligned and focused team is essential for tackling challenges.

Virtual design sprints are exhausting, both for the facilitator and for the team. As social beings, we did not evolve to spend our whole day looking at screens, especially while brainstorming ideas. It is necessary to have a co-facilitator to support the process, have enough breaks and keep the spirit high with in between ice-breakers to form more human connections.

Virtual design sprints are tiring and stressful for the facilitator, so it’s better to have a co-facilitator, also to support with technical challenges that come up during the sprint.

Future of education is indeed a very large topic, but with the right tools, skills and people, we can tackle challenges surrounding this topic in an iterative way. #wirfürschule was only one of the earliest attempts on such initiatives, and there will certainly be many more.

Thanks to the #wirfürschule team and volunteers for organization, and all the participants for their committed work. It was truly amazing.

For the next one in 2021, please follow: https://wirfuerschule.de/

And feel free to reach out if you would like to team up and solve the next big challenge.


Photo by stem.T4L on Unsplash