Appmaking Hackathon for Educators: Findings and Outcomes

This is a guest blog post by Kat Braybrooke, the Co-Design Lead on this project.

A hands-on hackathon for educators

In summer 2014, representatives of Mozilla, the University of Toronto, and local youth-serving organizations gathered for a hackathon at Mozilla’s Toronto offices to explore digital literacy approaches to creating apps using Mozilla’s free Appmaker tool. Over 30 educators from both formal and informal backgrounds in the southern Ontario region (including high school teachers, after school educators and librarians) came together to co-design with us and discuss the mobile opportunity space from their own perspectives. The outputs of this hackathon provided Mozilla with the data necessary to identify and prioritize new educational features for Mozilla’s current and future app creation tools.

Hackathon objectives and agenda

We organized the hackathon with two clear goals in mind. Our primary aim was to give participants the opportunity to try out app-making — a new experience for many involved. We also aimed to gather qualitative data on educators’ user experiences with Appmaker Mozilla’s current app-creation tool. To tackle these objectives, the agenda employed a diverse set of participatory formats, from co-design to speed-geeking. We started by exploring the ways that app development has been situated as a critical site for teaching digital literacy in both formal and informal settings. We considered existing Appmaker templates and resources, and facilitated hands-on activities where educators paper-prototyped and then built their first apps using the tool. We completed the day with a round-table discussion to identify challenges and new opportunities for educational app development in the future. We documented the hackathon process in this teaching kit.

Hackathon host

Data gathering methods

In gathering results from the hackathon, we took advantage of many different data points in order to provide a comprehensive package of live in-action results. We set up a “Hot-Warm-Cold” Post It note moodboard, which was dynamically updated by participants themselves throughout the event to share points of success and frustration during each stage of their app-making process. We employed a series of paper handouts and ideation guides, including an “app futures scenario” sheet, a “problem statement” sheet and a “paper prototyping” template. Lastly, we logged a series of ambient ethnographic observations taken from 1:1 conversations with educators as they reflected on their experiences.

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Our findings

Overall, participants cited a high level of satisfaction with groupwork, presentations, event format and paper ideation handouts, writing positive statements such as “I liked how you are deliberately trying to blur the boundaries between user, designer and researcher through discussion,” on Post Its to share with facilitators. Less unanimously understood was the Appmaker tool itself, which facilitators were able to gather several bug fixes for as well as suggestions for better usability. “Access remains a big issue in some schools,” said one participant. “If I am already having this much trouble understanding how to use the tool, how can kids do this offline or without phone access?” Despite initial frustrations with the tool, however, participants soon dug into the task of imagining apps applicable to the classroom with enthusiasm, and came up with several education-focused starter app ideas that can provide great utility to the Mozilla learning tools team. Ideas ranged from data apps like “Is there anyone out there?” to gamification apps like “Cultural Explorer” to school-to-home support apps.

Post its

An Appmaker teaching kit for educators

At the hackathon, educators also identified a key need for an open curriculum package that explored more activities that can be mixed and mashed into workshops for youth or adults who want to design, remix and build their own mobile apps. To fulfill this request, we built the Appmaker For Educators teaching kit. This kit provides a set of remixable, modular lesson plans that can help educators teach core web literacy skills through app-making, specifically “Composing for the Web”, “Remixing”, and “Design and Accessibility” from “Building” skill strand of Mozilla’s Web Literacy Map. Activities are provided for both web-based and lo-fi/offline settings. We encourage you to take a look at the kit and remix it for your own uses.

Hackathon group


We would like to thank the educators who participated in the hackathon and provided Mozilla with valuable feedback. The hackathon, as well as the creation of its resulting teaching kit, has been supported by funding from the .CA Community Investment Program. Through the Community Investment Program, .CA funds projects that demonstrate the capacity to improve the Internet for all Canadians. The .CA team manages Canada’s country code top-level domain on behalf of all Canadians. A Member-driven organization, .CA represents the interests of Canada’s Internet community internationally.