Designers working at laptop in office

Blackboard Partners With Penn State for $100,000 Nittany AI Challenge


Artificial intelligence (AI) is a constant presence in our lives. If you need an example, just look at your favorite social media. Every time you see a recommended post or a video suggestion, AI is working behind the scenes to give you the right next step.The possibilities for the application of AI in today’s education landscape are endless, and the modern student faces many problems in daily campus life that AI can help address.

Penn State’s $100,000 Nittany AI Challenge aims to address those challenges. Throughout the challenge, Penn State students and faculty will team up to design solutions to improve the student experience. The teams must use technologies like the Amazon AI Framework or IBM’s Watson in their solutions. Partner companies will offer workshops, training resources, and mentoring to help teams better understand and navigate their AI platforms. This is where Blackboard comes in.

We at Blackboard are in a unique position in education. Unlike our competitors, Blackboard offers a breadth of products and services across the entire campus ecosystem, which gives us the deep knowledge and experience necessary to mentor teams throughout the challenge. To that end, we have assembled a team of from across the company to take part in the challenge. Our experts in learning analytics, innovation, student services, and product development are ready to tackle the challenges of AI.

Currently, the challenge participants are pulling together teams and two-page proposals that outline a problem and innovative solution. The Nittany AI Challenge demands proposals that show real research and due diligence and once proposals are submitted, the judging panel gets to work.

The judging panel consists of Penn State leadership and representatives from the challenge partners. Their charter: to review, debate, and pick 10 proposals to accept. These 10 teams will each receive $2,500 and two months to turn their proposals into a working proof of concept. Teams that aren’t selected are still eligible to continue development and can submit for consideration in following rounds.

The prototype round will end in March and the panel will then judge the proofs of concept and narrows the field to five teams, each of which receive $5,000 to continue development. This round of funding allows the teams to turn what they have built into a minimal viable product (MVP).

On July 31, the teams submit their MVP for judging. The judges will distribute $50,000 to the finalist(s) with the best application, so one application could be so fantastic that one team gets all $50,000, or all five are equally compelling and everyone gets $10,000. Either way, the goal at the end of the challenge is to enact solutions to today’s issues in education.

We at Blackboard are eager and inspired to be a part of such a unique and meaningful program. We’ll keep you posted as the program progresses. Look for more updates in the coming months!