ELT Hackathon

Hackathons have become part of the professional lexicon in Berlin. The event, which can last anything from one day to a whole weekend and sometimes a whole week, is a place for like minded individuals to get together and create something to solve a problem. Hackathons have burst out of their techie bubble and are taking a number of industries by storm and are even being used to solve social problems in some sectors.

The concept is that a large group of professionals come together normally over a number of days to engage in collaboration. The general consensus is that each participant / group of participants can work together on whatever they want. Some view the importing of a concept or common goal or improvement as a bit of a bastardization, but others say it adds value with clearly-definable success criteria. For the purpose of playing around with the idea, I’m going to postulate that we have a shared focus.

What topics could ELT hackathons focus on?

The first thing that springs to mind is materials development. Other topics could include advocacy movements, teacher development, assessment or test development.

What, do you mean making a whole course book in a day?

Baby-steps. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

But what if it could be?

Let’s take a short-course book. Give it 5 chapters and 35 pages. Focused on a predefined topic, just to speculate, let’s say English for bike holidays. What steps would it need to go through in a hackathon?

Briefing ahead of time

What kind of skills will participants bring to the table? It’s important to have depth to your hackathon. Let’s go back to the short-course book idea for a moment. People you might want to get involved would have experience in editing, product development, product management, graphic design, marketing and last but not least authors. For this, it’s vital you have a diverse network and reach out well beyond your personal contacts to find these people. Meetup or eventbritte are two platforms you could use to reach out to people on for this purpose.

Set goals of hackathon

To help define what people expect to get out of the hackathon. Survey participants for their expectations and goals as well as their skills beforehand. Many people will attend because they want to network or learn new skills in addition to solving the problem in question. How will your hackathon be organised to help people best reach their own goals as well?

Have clear rules

Timescale, manifesto or mission statement for the hackathon, software standards (googledocs, word, libreoffice, pages – we all use different tools; what will your standard be?)

Decide these ahead of time and keep everyone on the same page to avoid any frustrated hackers.

Keep powered, keep connected

Power outlets need to be in plentiful supply and wifi needs to be strong and readily available.

Clear goals

For example, “English for Bike Holidays”, a 20-page short-course book to be developed over the course of a weekend in a 12-person team. If there are a number of projects going on in your hackathon, make sure the judges at the end are not external and transparent. Also, will there be a prize for participation? What if the event is sponsored by a publisher and the best product receives a deal?

Silence the rumbling stomach!

Caffiene, fruit, water, junk food, Red Bull, jelly sweets. Participants should remain fuelled and up to the task of creating exceptional value.

The proposal: an ELT Hackathon?

A weekend hackathon to develop a short-course series book that fills a gap in the current ELT publishing market. Sponsored by X publisher. Winners will receive a deal for the publication of their product. What else can participants hope to get out of the hackathon? At the end of the hackathon, each group will pitch their concept and product.

Skills sharing, community building, new contacts, networking, practical experience, creating solutions.

What kind of hackers are we looking for? 

Complete rookies in materials development looking for a big break

Experienced authors looking to share or get involved in an exciting project

Experienced pros with project management, graphic design, product development or marketing experience

Editors with experience in ELT


6 thoughts on “ELT Hackathon

  1. eflnotes says:

    hi Dale

    some great points here, something to get conferences to think about in a very short format possibly? much like the lesson jam ideas?

    one thing that strikes me is looking at the field that hackathons grew from i.e. coding and how their tradition of openly sharing code may or may not contrast with traditions of ELT?

    teaching has always had a strong tradition of “liberating” shall we say published material but as ever it has been done in an underground way very rarely openly, can such a tradition be aligend with the hackathon roots?


    • dalecoulter says:

      Hi Mura,

      I hadn’t really considered if this would take a conference format or not. Come to think of it, it might be better in a local format, given the travel expenses and sign up fees involved in conferences – it could sideline some people.

      You’re right, the hackathon roots are coding and work along the lines of liberating. What do you think about companies being accused of highjacking the roots for their own ends by focusing people on making solutions to their (or industry) problems?

      I see some similarity in the lesson jam idea and a hackathon. Its results are openly shared and it involves getting people together. Where I think it could develop from there is that the people get together to solve a real-life problem (the one I was involved with focused on designing a lesson around a concept). But that would only require a little tweaking or using a real set of students and their needs and you’re basically a lot closer to the concept.

      Cheers for stopping by and dropping in a few thoughts.


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