App development challenge brings student ideas to life

Jisc’s development competition resulted in unexpected highs as students went above and beyond to deliver digital solutions for on-campus issues

By Sue Attewell, Head of Change – Further Education (FE) and Skills, Jisc 

Events where participants are challenged to come up with ideas for a digital solution in a few days are nothing new for Jisc.

But rarely have we been in a position where several ideas have been ready for the market at the end of a challenge. In fact, two were in the app store around the time they delivered their final pitch.

This year’s challenge

The five-day challenge at Conference Aston brought together 12 teams to explore digital solutions to problems on campus.

Seven of the teams took part in our annual student ideas competition. Teams had to bring their own idea for how technology could improve education, research and student life, often based on their own experiences.

Students often have a different set of priorities to university staff. And these students are the ones that see an issue and are prepared to put time aside to solve it. They don’t want to walk down to the laundry with a basket to find that the machines are full and have to go all the way back up to their room. They are the ones asking, “how do I best make notes so when I get to the end of the course, so I can revise most efficiently and effectively?”

They are experiencing these problems first-hand and they see technology as offering a solution.

Student ideas teams 2018

  • Citation Gecko
  • App to the Future
  • TransArt
  • SurveyTandem
  • Higherarchy
  • StudBud
  • Authorencity

See the pitches on Periscope

Campus of the future

This is the sixth student ideas competition, and we saw a big focus on research and career choices.

This year, the ideas competition ran in tandem with the intelligent campus hackathon where student teams designed, developed and built something that would benefit students in a campus of the future. We were generously supported here by Panintelligence, who provided expertise plus a real-time data capture and visualisation engine.

Having two competitions running at the same time helped. We had a design sprint programme, including sessions where we brought participants in the two challenges together. We mixed up the groups and the participants fed off each other quite well. While they started off separately, by the end they worked so well together that they used each other for user testing.

The amount of work people did in a week was immense – the application, hard work and how people worked together was incredibly impressive; it was a competition, but with a positive, constructive atmosphere.

The estates team from the University of Birmingham came to see us on the penultimate day of the hackathon to see how the ideas were progressing. They said that all the solutions the students were exploring were things they are considering themselves, providing some validation for those students.

Hackathon teams 2018

  • Alpha – ‘Seat Seeker’
  • Lough Bros
  • Hackstreet Boys
  • Daeda
  • Teesside Test Dummies

See the pitches on Periscope

The team behind the winning hackathon pitch, Seat Seeker, started without an idea and used the programmable computer Raspberry Pi to help students find free seats in the library. Seat Seeker’s creators, Team Alpha from the University of Bath, even saw how their app could be integrated with existing cameras in computer suites and libraries.

By the end of the week Seat Seeker was in the app store, as was Daeda, a quiz app to promote interaction and monitor students’ receptiveness in lectures.

Finished solutions

The student ideas competition also generated finished solutions.

Higherarchy, which seeks to address problems around collaboration in many current TEL tools, and the research app Citation Gecko, were both working products by the final day.

The basic problems that inspired all these products came from real user experience, and this is what allows students to think about solutions differently to institutions. That’s the main reason we do these challenges.

The second reason is that it gives us the opportunity to work with students – they just expect the hurdles and sail over them.

I left on Friday feeling full of enthusiasm and inspired by the adept technical and creative skills of these impressive students.

You can read more details of the competition in our edtech launchpad blog.