Every year Microsoft holds the Hackathon event, bringing together employees from all areas of the company to create, innovate and hack. This year's Grand Prize was awarded within Education, and was built around OneNote, an Office 365 application hugely popular with students and teachers alike.
Last year's first company-wide Hackathon marked the beginning of a new movement to bring Microsoft’s collective ideas to life. With participants from over 80 countries, their collective efforts gave rise to projects that fell into 12 categories, such as Advertising, Business and Students/Schools. Within each of these categories there was an overall winner, chosen by Satya Nadella, based on the potential for their hacks to make a meaningful and impactful difference in the world.
When it came to awarding the Grand Prize, the winners were Project OneNote for Learning, who built a free add-on designed to make it easier for teachers to improve all students’ reading and writing, including those with disabilities like dyslexia. The team of 20 joined the USA Redmond Hackathon after being inspired by the opportunity to combine Microsoft’s assets in reading and writing experiences. They designed literacy solutions that take advantage of what works for people with learning disabilities and for other users based upon research.
OneNote for Learning therefore delivers a mainstream tool that benefits all students; it is a great example of inclusive design, a concept which is championed by Microsoft. An individual’s ability to read impacts their ability to learn, which in turn influences their lifelong earning potential and social inclusion. This tool works to empower students, teachers and schools to achieve more with Windows and OneNote, ultimately improving the lives of young people globally, especially those who face the challenge of living with a learning difficulty.
This add-on has the potential to have meaningful impact of the education of so many people, yet it is just the beginning. The boldness sparked by the Hackathon can truly motivate more people to take this further and this is how great change can be made.
Nevertheless, it is important that the Hackathon is not considered an isolated event. If each and every one of us were to capture the spirit of the hacks that these inspiring employees have built with passion, creativity and genuine care for the people they are helping, imagine the things that can, have been and will be achieved.
Across the Hackathon week, over 3000 projects were entered, each built with the intention of changing lives for the better through the use of technology. Of course it is great to see education coming out on top, but there were also a number of other projects that were recognised for their inspirational and advancing tools that they had developed. Some of these included:
"Deep Vision" for the Blind which developed Cortana with Computer Vision to empower the Blind Community to "See" the Physical World
Project Fiji - MiniBots who developed 3D-Printed Connected Toys to help friends and family stay in touch - for Xbox Live, photos, messages, Skype
Project Emo who made Cortana, apps and services emotionally intelligent
Screenshot+ who connected apps to utilize text/picture/number/QR code on current screen conveniently and fast
It is clear to see how each of these can impact people globally in a unique and genuine way. The implementation and expansion of these projects are guaranteed to improve the speed and efficiency of the way we work, learn and play, whilst retaining sense of creative optimism commonly associated with the arrival of new technologies.