Announcing the winners of the Education Open Data Challenge

 |   Sonia Cooper

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When we announced the launch of an Education Open Data Challenge alongside the Open Data Institute (ODI) last year, we knew there was an urgent need to better understand the relationship between access to digital infrastructure and education outcomes for young students in K-12 (ages 5-18). Today, I am pleased to announce the winners of this challenge and talk about some of the impressive submissions we received.

The challenge was an opportunity for teams to help generate innovative solutions in a unified effort to close the education digital divide. Covid-19 disrupted traditional learning for more than 1.6 billion children and youth worldwide, and the burden of school closures was felt disproportionately by students in underserved communities. Expanding equitable access to technology and broadband is a critical first step in leveling the playing field for all students, and ensuring no child falls behind because of their zip code.

Participants accessed data from Microsoft and BroadbandNow – made available for the first time for this challenge – including U.S. Broadband Usage Percentage Datasets broken down by zip code. Aided with tools and resources from Microsoft Learn and Microsoft Learn for Data Scientists, as well as eLearning modules and guidelines from the ODI, teams worked to identify innovative and realistic solutions to close the digital divide in education.

Now, I want to recognize the amazing work of our winners:

  • First Place: Team D2IE

Team D2IE set out with the goal to 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, the team looked at digital divide inequities among K-12 students in the U.S. and what it might cost to narrow these gaps.

Utilizing data provided by Microsoft and BroadbandNow, as well as other datasets from the National Center for Education Statistics, Stanford Education Data and the U.S. Census Bureau, the team developed measures and indicators for quantitative analysis of digital inequality and conducted cost-benefit analysis for policy recommendations. Ultimately, Team D2IE presented several key recommendations, including a call for content developers and creators to offer both low and high bandwidth options for e-learning and an increased focus on improving physical access in high-need areas through targeted training and resources.

Prize: We are pleased to present Team D2IE with a £50,000 ($70,000) award  to be donated to a non-profit of their choice.

  • Joint Second Place: Team UTAustin and Team BW21

Team UTAustin are a group of graduate students, faculty and staff at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin. To better understand school district decisions during Covid-19, the team constructed statistical models analyzing the impact of local broadband factors, including price, quality and household subscription rates on teaching methods for the 2020-2021 school year.

Team UTAustin looked at school districts that went remote, assessed when and why they decided to go remote, and worked to uncover if the digital divide play a role. Using Microsoft and BroadbandNow data, as well as data on demographics and school district size, the team’s preliminary conclusion was that broadband infrastructure quality seemed to have a significant impact on a school district’s decision to switch to remote learning and entirely online teaching methods. The data guided them to identify the significant improvements made in Dallas to close the data divide. Conversely, cumulative Covid-19 case and death rates had very small effects on the probability of a school district choosing online teaching modes. The team concluded that, along with the importance of the local political sentiment to shaping the U.S. response to Covid-19, broadband infrastructure quality also was a significant factor affecting policy outcomes.

Team BW21 focused on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, comprising 16 countries with a combined population of 360 million people. Recognizing that students need access to a variety of resources that are fun, safe and equitable, Team BW21 proposed a creative board game approach that encourages collaboration, cooperation and creativity. Through the educational games concept, Team BW21 believes there is an unparalleled opportunity to engage students of all backgrounds both in and outside of the classroom.

Prize: We are pleased to present Team UTAustin and Team BW21 each with a £25,000 ($35,000) award to be donated to a non-profit of their choice.

This wasn’t an easy challenge, and our panel of expert judges assessed each submission with an eye toward impact. They looked for submissions that could be scaled to support the most vulnerable learners in the most hard-to-reach geographies. Additionally, our judges looked at how participants used data, the extent to which affected communities were consulted, the level of collaboration with other participants and several other key criteria.

I want to thank all the teams who participated in this challenge. From ideas to help low- and middle-income countries address a lack of IT infrastructure to breaking down the impact that district-level decisions can have, this challenge illustrated what’s possible when people and organizations work together to unlock the power of data.

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