The launch of #OpenIowa took place on Friday, 27 April and beer and pizza set a casual tone as folks arrived during the first hour. While the StartupCity organizers stressed that this first-time event was a learning experience, the coders, designers and developers who paid $30.00 each to attend brought enough energy, curiosity and commitment that anyone who has ever designed a learning experience could only dream of having as a starting point. The event was a good example of how learning should take place and offers a model for higher education.
The idea behind OpenIowa is to make use of public data sets to develop user-focused web or mobile applications. The event started with a raucous game of Roshambo in which each ‘loser’ followed the winner, forming ever-growing posses and culminating in a final showdown.
The game established a friendly spirit of completion for the Pitch Fire that followed. Individuals lined up to pitch their app idea in 60 seconds or less, stating their name, the problem they wanted to solve, the proposed solution, what did they need to build that solution, and how they would the brand the concept.
Pitches were posted on a white board and then voted on. Teams then formed organically around the top three vote getters.
• An app to rate bike trails and tracks around Des Moines
• An app to mine educational data to show performance dashboards
• A heap map of crime rates
• An app to help case-workers identify local resources for the homeless
• A skywalk map with augmented reality
• An app to track pot holes and send notifications to a local government agency to track repairs
• An app to track voter history (participation, not specific votes)
• An app to track the collection and use of out of state fund vs in- state funds that support political campaigns
• An app to mash-up state lottery purchases with drop out rates
App pitches typically included enthusiastic descriptions of added functions such as being able to see who in your social network really votes (and how frequently), GPS location-aware functions, rating and ranking ability, push notifications, and crowd-sourced reporting.
Tej Dhawan and Christian Renaud, Start-up city mentors, stressed that as groups moved into a working phase, they needed to focus on limiting the scope of the project, set time-lines for decisions, make use of Roman voting methods, and develop scrum boards in order to accomplish something in the some 54 hours available for completing final apps subject to peer voting. The aim is to work iteratively and respond quickly to make use of the broad availability of open data sets. When asked if there were any formal judging criteria, the answer:
”um…not really, just make something good that people will use.”
The event unfolded much like an active classroom environment where the free-flowing exchange of ideas is a core value, where learning is assumed to be a social experience, and where all ideas are equal until proven unworkable or irrelevant for the task at hand. Experts on hand were mentors able to provide resources to catalyze and critique by insisting on focus: What do you need? What can you do?. The idea was to build something.
What better goal can there be for learning? This approach is a natural one for faculty and scholars who gravitate instinctively toward creating knowledge. So what is needed is to create educational spaces and processes that provide them with the means to work with students to become knowledge creators and to build upon ideas and inspiration? What would that environment look like? Calls to Action by higher education leaders point to the need for faculty to create learning experiences that build on easy access to content and self-directed learning. But, given a room with 50 row by column fixed seating and three 50 minute time periods per week, what can really change? Perhaps it is time to facilitate the ideas that our successful scholars already have by letting them define what they need and what they can do.