Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Three Firsts: Bloomington’s First Hackjam, ForAllBadges’ App, and Participatory Assessment + Hackasaurus

Dan Hickey and Rebecca Itow
On Thursday, June 7, 2012, the Center for Research on Learning and Technology at Indiana University in conjunction with the Monroe County Public Library (MCPL) in Bloomington, IN put on a Hackjam for resident youth. The six hour event was a huge success. Students were excited and engaged throughout the day as they used Hackasaurus’ web editing tool X-Ray Goggles to “hack” Bloomington’s Herald Times. The hackers learned some HTML & CSS, developed some web literacies, and learned about writing in different new media contexts. We did some cool new stuff that we think others will find useful and interesting. We are going to summarize what we did in this post. We will elaborate on some of these features in subsequent posts, and try to keep this one short and readable.

We agreed to do a Hackjam with the library many months ago. MCPL Director Sara Laughlin had contacted us in 2011 about partnering with them on a MacArthur/IMLS proposal to bring some of Nicole Pinkard’s YouMedia programming to Bloomington. We concluded that a more modest collaboration (like a Hackjam) was needed to lay the groundwork for something as ambitious as YouMedia.

Our ideas for extending Mozilla’s existing Hacktivity Kit were first drafted in a proposal to the MacArthur Foundation’s Badges for Lifelong Learning initiative. Hackasaurus promised to be a good context to continue our efforts to combine badges and participatory assessment methods. While our proposal was not funded, we decided to do it anyways. MCPL initially considered making the Hackjam part of the summer reading program sponsored by the local school system. Even though we were planning to remix the curriculum to make it more “school friendly,” some school officials could not get past the term “hacking.”

Rather than further compromising the curriculum, we agreed to do our Hackjam as part of MCPL’s regular summer teen programming. Teen Programming Coordinator Chris Hosler came up with the great idea of running the Hackjam just before their 12 Hour Comic Book Day. In this popular event, youth work with writers, artists, and the staff from sponsor Vintage Phoenix Comics to create and produce a comic in one intense day. Chris recognized that that the participants could hack a newspaper to create an “origin” for the character that they would then feature in their comic. This seemed like a really promising start.

All of the resources created by Mozilla Learning were really helpful. But we tried out a LOT of new things. We were worried in the weeks leading up to the event that we had taken on more than an unfunded project could manage. But it was great, and the new features we added all worked well for our goals.

 Remixed Curriculum.
Rebecca and Dan remixed Mozilla’s existing Hacktivity Kit. One of our goals was to align the activity to Common Core State Standards. Indiana is about to implement “value added” testing where teachers’ evaluations are based on their students’ incremental achievement gains. And the state is rolling that out at the same time as they are phasing in the Common Core. So anything that might be done in schools has to be aligned to the Common Core. We select two standards that would embrace our obsession with multi-modal writing, but also justify the web literacy knowledge behind hackasaurus:

Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

We revised the original activities in the Hacktivity Kit to give broader focus on “characters” (while still including Mozilla’s superheroes of the open web as one possible character). We basically invited the participants to come up with a superhero or a supervillain of their choosing.

Rebecca also invented a fun new icebreaker hacktivity based on her recent experience as a high school English teacher. This hacktivity used “Madlibs” to introduce the X-Ray Goggles. And we rewrote the existing learning objectives as knowledge definitions. (More about this later.)

Expanded Badges.
To incorporate our participatory assessment model, we created three versions of each of the existing hackasaurus badges (maker, reflector, and participator, with 1, 2, or 3 stars)

We also added a new badge to highlight our focus on multimodal writing:

Our full list of badges is available here. We will explain this more in a subsequent post. In the meantime, here is an old post that explains the value of evaluating reflections rather than artifacts and here is a working example that explains how we used badges and participatory assessment in the Quest Atlantis videogame.

Wiki for reflection and collaboration. To provide a space for reflection, collaboration, and additional practice in multimodal writing, Rebecca created as simple wiki at, and designed some nice structures for us to work with.

It was encouraging to see how easily this part of the curriculum came for Rebecca. She has taken Dan’s course where “wikifolios” are used within the participatory assessment model, and this was a natural extension. We will write more about this later as well, but for now here is a working example about wikifolios and participatory grading.

Badging Systems
Back in May, Karen Jeffery, President of DML 2012 Finalist ForAllSystems, had said that they could create badges for Hacksaurus using their newly developed app. It sounded too good to be true, to be able to simply walk around a Hackjam with an iPhone or iPad, snapping pictures of screens to insert as “evidence” and issuing the badge, as they described on their blog and shown below.


 Toby Kavukattu managed to accommodate three rounds of last minute revisions as we tweaked the badge definitions to arrive at the arrangement shown above. It seemed like a lot to ask, but Toby said it only took a few hours.

Toby initially offered to come down from Chicago to help award badges at the Hackjam because the app was still pending at the Apple app store (so he would have to upload it manually to our devices). While the app was approved in time, Toby came down anyway. The system was simple enough that we could have managed without him. But it was great that he came because he ended up leading the last hour of the jam teaching the more experienced hackers, and was really helpful in other ways as well (More on this later too.)

Prizes, Prizes, Prizes!
To make things fun and push a bit on the incentive value of badges, we elected to provide prizes.
Bloomington’s Whichwich sandwiches gave us coupons for free sandwiches and Phoenix Comics gave us a bunch of free comics. We also had a big “goodie basket” of diverse weird stuff that teens might like (ranging from an add-water boyfriend to art supplies).

In the Hackjam, everybody received a sandwich coupon and a comic. Then we counted up the number of stars hackers had earned, and invited them to pick from the basket in that order. It seemed like the right level of motivational appeal, in that it motivated them to get stars but even those who picked later got something they liked.

We will write about this some more later as well. We appreciate the controversy over extrinsic incentives. But given the incentive value that people are planning to attach to badges, we really wanted to begin looking at them up close and enhanced. It seemed to work in that regard.

We ended up with 25 participants (ages twelve to about eighteen), which was exactly the number of computers we had. Rebecca led the sessions, and her experience teaching high school freshman and juniors really showed. They turned an article into a Mad Lib, created and published a fictional  character on a wiki, and hacked an existing article to include their character. MCPL provided pizza, which the participants really liked. After the (healthy!) afternoon snack, the hackers rearranged into peer groups to do the peer coding activity. The less experienced hackers did another hack using the tools they had used in the earlier activities, while Toby led the more experienced hackers in creating a web page from scratch using Mozilla’s Thimble App,

Throughout the day, hackers had the opportunity to earn badges for reaching milestones. In the original curriculum, badges exist for completing tasks. While we have plenty of refinements to do, the hackers definitely were able to complete the reflections for the two star badges, and then review others’ reflections to award the three star badges. It was really cool to be able to just scan through the app to see who had and who had not been awarded a badge. We found that the students liked to press the button on the iPhone or iPad to snap the pic of their screen that would then appear in the badge as “evidence.”

By the end of the day, these young hackers were working collaboratively to create web pages and content from scratch, and felt confident in trying out new methods. For instance, one hacker wanted to add more graphics to his article than the original article included. At first he asked the mentors to help him, but when they did not know how to answer him, he experimented, found a way to include pictures, and proudly announced his finding to the group.

They day concluded with the hackers reflecting on their accomplishments of the day and counting the number of stars they had earned. One student earned 35 stars as a result of their work! The Hackjam was a great success, with students asking when the next one will be held. We are now in the process of reviewing the day and refining the event. We are also trying to secure permission from parents to use pictures and names, so we can give hackers credit for their awesome creations.

If you visit the wiki, you can access links to the hacks that were created. Our analysis of the wiki confirmed what we observed during the day. These kids were writing a LOT. They generated 22,000 words in the wiki, an average of 880 per hacker.

There is a lot of room for improvement here. In particular we did not focus enough on the web knowledge in the badges, and did not spend enough time reading the reflections that the hackers posted. But for a first time out, we were thrilled with things. We will get additional details out as time permits.


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