HackPSU, an annual hackathon held at Penn State, took place a couple weeks ago and Blackboard was honored to be a Gold level sponsor at this year’s event. The event was completely planned and executed by a team of dedicated students, with support from the Penn State EdTech Network, and took place November 3-5 on the PSU campus.
Participating students were given several challenges from the company sponsors in attendance, including General Motors, IBM, Accuweather and Capital One. Blackboard issued our own challenge for the student hackers: use at least one Blackboard Learn REST API in your application. We kept the challenge vague in order to promote integrations with multiple vendors. Blackboard Learn is an open and extensible development platform for education technologists, so we were excited about the possibilities.
We issued the challenge to the students, and wow, did they ever deliver!
We gave third prize ($50) to the students who developed an app called EZ-Park. The EZ-Park app uses Blackboard’s APIs to identify a student’s next course and find its location. The app then indicates the nearest parking lot and launches Google map navigation to get the student there. The application can integrate with General Motors’ APIs to navigate the driver using the car’s onboard system. This same application can even pay for your parking and send a text with walking directions from your parking spot to your classroom.
An application called Instatute took second prize ($150) in the Blackboard challenge. Instatute allows students to see a professors rating before signing up for a course. It also requires a professors approval before finalizing signup. The professors can access student ratings from other professors to help them make their decision. The app would ‘uberize’ the course selection process and add incentive to both students and professors to do good work.
The first prize ($300) winners for the Blackboard challenge were a group of students who developed an app called Whiteboard. Whiteboard is a real-time whiteboarding application. Users in different locations can simultaneously work with a virtual whiteboard and save the whiteboard. Using Learn’s APIs, they connected these whiteboards with student groups in Blackboard Learn and those whiteboards were accessible to those groups using with their Learn IDs.
While the objective of any competitive hacker is to win the prize, the underlying objective of such a hackathon is to provide real-life experiences to students. Team-building and team work, real-time learning and growth, and innovation in its purest form. This event was all of that and more. Of course, we were happy to see Blackboard Learn as a development platform in such a creative environment, but the real win was seeing the next generation of innovators solving real world problems with nothing but their wits, a cooler full of energy drinks, and ambition.
One of the best parts about this type of event is meeting people in the industry that are equally as passionate about promoting problem solving and opportunities for students to solve real-world problems. This is a great way for Blackboard to partner with these individuals and institutions to do great things. One such person is Brad Zdenek, Innovation Strategist at Penn State’s EdTech Network. According to Brad, the value goes both ways: “For 24 hours, more than a thousand of the most innovative and driven individuals across Penn State come together at HackPSU to dream and build the future. From the EdTech Network’s perspective, it is critical that we help focus a portion of that energy on solving the challenges we face across education, which is why the participation of companies such as Blackboard is so important. They help provide the HackPSU participants with the tools they need to innovate. Even more important is the dedication that was on display from the Blackboard team throughout the event, engaging the participants, staying extra hours, and giving the one-on-one attention that truly makes HackPSU a meaningful educational event.”
At Blackboard, we strive to distinguish ourselves in the Industry as a go-to Developer platform for EdTech applications. We do this through publicly documented and accessible APIs, a thriving community of Open Source and Institutional developers, and products that allow for the extension and enhancement of teaching and learning. We also have one of the broadest Partner ecosystems in all of education. So, whether you want to build a deep integration with Building Blocks, a generic LTI tool provider that works with most LMS’s, or take advantage of our rich set of REST APIs across many of our product offerings, Blackboard can and will support your endeavors.
For an introduction to our APIs, visit our Developer Community home. This area has been created to allow for collaboration and will continue to expand in the coming months to cover even more of our products. Be sure to watch for upcoming Hackathons, both on-campus, as well as Hackboard 2.0 coming in early 2018. And of course, we hope to see you at one of our developer events across the globe.