Open data challenge graphic

Update 20 April 2021 – the shortlist of team participants for Education Open Data Challenge has now been announced. You can find the shortlist at the bottom of this article. 

Longlist of team participants announced for Education Open Data Challenge

Following the launch of the Microsoft and Open Data Institute (ODI) Education Open Data Challenge at the ODI Summit 2020 in November, we received 12 applications from across the world. Each sought to evaluate the current state of the global digital divide in education, and suggest innovative solutions to close that divide.

With entries from India, Australia, Botswana and the United States (US), participants are working on a range of innovative solutions for the judges to consider.

The full longlist is:

  • Team MECA

Team MECA is a group of data analysts, data scientists, teachers and curriculum designers from The New School, in New York City, New York, US. This project is aimed at being a part of the solution to help close the digital divide for high school students from New York City’s public schools. The intervention will use open data to develop interactive maps and Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) assessment tools. These maps can then be used to track and gauge student progress, connect schools to wrap-around Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) services and encourage students to tell their own data stories.

Team MECA said: ‘Our intervention seeks to remove broadband connectivity barriers for public high school students in New York City and increase the collective bargaining power of the student body and other stakeholders, using a wealth of open data resources and connecting schools to STEM wrap-around services. In a city this rich, nobody should be left without a bridge out of the digital divide.

  • Team UTAustin-LBJ School-DSPA-1

The members of this team are graduate students, faculty, and staff at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, US.

To better understand school district decisions, the team is constructing statistical models of the impact of local broadband market outcomes (service price, quality, household subscription rates) on teaching methods (online, on-premises, or hybrid) adopted by US public school districts for the 2020-2021 school year. They plan to control for other relevant variables affecting local communities, including socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, Covid-19 incidence measures, and political sentiment metrics. Along with the open data provided by Microsoft they are also building a rich and comprehensive dataset of school district-level socioeconomic, demographic, political, epidemiological, and broadband infrastructure characteristics.

Team UTAustin-LBJ School-DSPA-1 said: ‘Students and faculty at the LBJ School's Data Science and Policy Analysis program are excited by the idea of using data science software tools with large, open datasets to create data-driven insights into important public policy problems.

‘The Open Education Data Challenge is a great opportunity to put our tools to work on an important set of real world problems.

  • Team Tinkery

Tinkery is an educational technology firm based in Sydney, Australia. They aim to establish global scientific literacy by improving both access to, and experience of, STEM education in schools. They believe that the Education Open Data Challenge aligns well with their mission.

They aim to use this opportunity to address the digital divide by mapping the different factors that affect the divide in education, using the data provided by Microsoft and other open data available in the US. The idea is to then use this map across different countries to better understand how to address the digital divide in education around the world.

Team Tinkery said: ‘Our team has skills in academic education, research, engineering and ‘design thinking’, and this establishes the primary approach we are undertaking; we identify trends and opportunities from a variety of open data sets, apply design thinking approaches to uncover insights and opportunities, and lean prototyping with stakeholders to provide initial validation.

  • Team Longhorns for Educational Equity

Team Longhorns for Educational Equity are a team of four graduate students from a variety of programs across the University of Texas at Austin, US.

The team is planning to use the datasets made open by Microsoft and BroadbandNow along with data from the Education Law Center’s report, which examines the fairness of state school finance policies as well as the US 2010 census data to further examine their four research questions.

1. What does digital access and infrastructure look like in states with more or less fair school finance policies?

2. What are the relationships between state school finance fairness grades and the (a) cost, (b) quality, (c) options, and (d) usage of digital infrastructure and services? This question aims to reveal areas that may be at higher risk of digital access acting as a gatekeeper to public education.

3. How has broadband usage changed in zip codes located in districts engaged in remote learning in October 2020, when compared to data from November 2019?

4. How is broadband usage different in zip codes located in low- and high-income districts engaged in remote learning in October 2020?

Team Longhorns for Educational Equity said: ‘We were brought together by a course and motivated to participate by our shared passion for equity and policy reform!

  • Team D2IE Digital divide

Team D2IE is bringing together data science, applied economics, and digital literacy skills to gain insights that will aid decision-makers in tackling the digital divide, with a particular focus on areas where decision-makers face budget constraints. Using monetary and non-monetary quantitative indicators, they will address digital divide inequities by key geographical areas, and what it might cost to narrow these gaps.

Their team brings together a data scientist, an applied economist, computer scientists, and a data visualization specialist, including members with backgrounds in education and community outreach.

Team D2IE said: ‘We are all products of an educational system, inside and outside of the classroom, in which digital literacy was incorporated into our daily lives. Imagining a world where we did not have this experience brings home the realisation that there are inequities in digital education not just across the world, but within our own backyard – the US.

We are taking part in this challenge because we believe digital education should be provided to everyone. We have seen that the spillover benefits that stream from a population educated in this way can and will benefit all of society in the long-run. By participating in this challenge, we hope to play a part in informing the problem – the real costs that it will take to produce the above mentioned societal benefits – so that one day, we might all be able to overcome the digital divide.

  • Team Lost in the Sauce

Lost in the Sauce is a team of university students from Purdue University in the US.

Their initial approach will focus heavily on statistical analyses, not only regarding differences in technological literacy and access, but also secondary factors which strongly interact with these disparities. Their initial task will be to identify these secondary variables (urban, rural, laptop ownership, school funding, etc) that determine which approaches will be effective in diverse circumstances. After rapidly sorting the issues into subproblems, they will use a more qualitative approach, consulting education experts to profile these areas and develop generalisable solutions.

They will then aim to craft an evaluation pipeline that will accurately simulate a region’s educational ecosystem by considering various parameters. Through this method of evaluation, they plan to be able to model the effects of proposed solutions and compare their efficacy.

Team Lost in the Sauce said: ‘Over the past year, it has become extremely evident how fundamentally important the internet will be for education, even after the coronavirus pandemic. We want to help strengthen and ensure the goal of all school children having access to these online resources, regardless of location or socioeconomic status.

  • Team BW21

Team BW21 are focusing on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, comprising 16 countries, with a combined population of 360 million people.

The team knows that students from disadvantaged backgrounds in these countries often do not have the technologies and access to the internet they need to participate properly in school, which has led many to leave primary or secondary school early and lose future opportunities. Team BW21 have recognised a solution that can help address this issue, with students needing access to offline resources that are fun and safe, to be able to learn at home. This is why they are proposing a board game-style approach which focuses on teamwork, accomplishing certain tasks, and questionnaires retrieved and developed from previous question papers of different subjects.

Team BW 21 said: ‘We want to play a part by utilising our skills, experience and expertise during these difficult times of Covid-19 by promoting studies through our educational games concept.

  • Team Pula

Team Pula are focusing on supporting rural and deprived communities from countries in southern Africa to tackle the lack of IT infrastructure in these areas.

The SADC reports have indicated that some students, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, have not returned to schools after lockdown even though some countries in the region have reopened schools. The lack of digital skills in students from low-income backgrounds have impacted them badly, negatively affecting their primary and secondary school final examinations. These children are therefore more exposed to issues such as child slavery, early marriages, sex work, alcohol and substance abuse. Team Pula are working towards creating a more affordable internet network through the use of their industrial mobile broadband network, GSM, which they believe will enable more students across southern Africa to access online resources.

Team Pula said they were incentivised to take part in this challenge: ‘To make a difference in the lives of marginalised groups who cannot afford digital access to education, by providing technology that is affordable, easily accessible and has limitless accessibility (in terms of numbers) to education in the remotest areas.

  • Team Kenizen

Team Kenizen is a team of data analysts, data scientists, curriculum designers and representatives from organisations that offer educational services in India.

This team are focusing their work on better understanding the digital divide in India. They will use open data provided by the World Bank and the United Nations, as well as conduct some surveys with teachers, parents and students, to better understand the challenges of remote learning, the level of digital access among students of disadvantaged groups, and learning outcomes relative to digital skills. Based on this research they will make recommendations on how India can better close the digital divide in schools.

Team Kenizen said: ‘Technology should be an enabler of learning for all. Unfortunately there still exists huge gaps in device availability, digital skills and internet connectivity. We would like to facilitate the benefit of technology for learning at the lowest cost.

  • Team Fluid Mechanics

Fluid Mechanics is a small team of data scientists and students from around the world (US, Nigeria, Egypt, and India).

This team is focusing on what factors might improve household internet access across the US. They will use machine learning to find new clusters of data, to gain insight on what factors might improve access. They will be using the data provided for this challenge, as well as the United States Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If the analysis leads to questions that cannot be answered with the given data, they will explore other sets of data which could also be included. They also plan to examine the role of libraries, and use resources like the Institute of Museum and Library Services, to better understand how Covid-19 lockdowns have affected students’ access to the internet.

Team Fluid Mechanics said ‘As individuals we were intrigued by the opportunity to explore an important issue like education and internet access. We decided to combine our efforts to see what this collaboration can discover.

  • Team SB-AI

SB-AI is a solo applicant who is a data analyst and scientist from India. His aim is to enable all students to have low-cost access to technology and the internet. He also wants to make distance learning tools equally accessible to all students, especially those who are disadvantaged.

Team SB-AI said: ‘I have grown up watching my father teaching his students with all his heart and passion. In my country, India, there is still a lack of consistent quality in education,  with some students not being exposed to digital teachings and technology. If they want to have access, they have to pay more. The same is the case for every country in the world and for that reason I want to participate in the data challenge.

Due to Covid-19, students who cannot afford online education are missing out, which impacts their future prospects. My main motivation aligns with the challenge’s aims. I want everyone to have access to essential resources so that future inequalities within education can be minimised.

  • Team Silicon Harlem

Silicon Harlem is a social venture based in Harlem, New York, US, dedicated to transforming underserved communities into hubs for tech and innovation.

Silicon Harlem proposes to create a methodology that will demonstrate how it’s possible to create a sustainable broadband network, where they offset the cost and make use of the network free for users, including disadvantaged school children. They will distill their efforts into a best practice model to be applied to different catchment areas around the world.

Team Silicon Harlem said: ‘We believe everyone needs a connection. That's why solving the global digital divide is so important to us and why we are excited to be a part of the ODI Challenge.

Shortlist of team participants for Education Open Data Challenge

The following team participants for Education Open Data Challenge have now been shortlisted:

  • Team Pula
  • Team D2IE 
  • Team Longhorns for Educational Equity
  • Team BW21
  • UT Austin