Recap: Tech Challenge SF

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Last week we wrapped our first technical pilot for ChangeX and wow did we learn a lot! The best news: participants spent a total of 223 hours building new design and technology skills over the course of the challenge.

“The challenge was fun and exciting, and it really pushed me to learn and explore more.”

– David

The pilot was called Tech Challenge SF, a four-week competition in which we challenged Bay Area teens to build STEAM skills through free educational resources. Run in partnership with The Mix at SFPL, we created a database of 72 learning resources – which we call “tasks” – for participants to explore. We tracked completion of these tasks through tweets and photos and updated a leaderboard daily throughout the challenge.If you missed it while it was live, here’s what TCSF looked like for participants. At the end of the four weeks, top performers were awarded prizes including gift cards and tours of the Autodesk Pier 9 Makerspace.

Here’s some of what our participants accomplished:

“I learned new languages, like Ruby and jQuery. I had sampled some Ruby and Javascript before, but the challenge kick started me to get the lessons finished. I also learned how to put the languages into websites. I love HTML & CSS and web design, so learning how to apply jQuery to an interactive website really made my day. I learned more about Arduino and the Maker Movement both of which I had previously never heard of. The 123dCircuits site and Tinkercad by Autodesk was easy to use, so maybe I’ll tinker some more with both of them.”

– Melinda


What we wanted to learn

In preparation for our first full-featured pilot next spring, the core assumptions we wanted to test with Tech Challenge SF were:

  • Social media is the optimal tool for documenting and reporting task completion.
  • Prizes motivate task completion.

Here were our findings:

Social Media & Reporting Task Completion


  • Using Twitter enabled participants to easily communicate with each other about the challenge, which was very cool.


  • As we expected, not every participant was willing to use twitter, so we had to allow some submissions through email. This reduced transparency for the other participants.
  • Only 8% of teens use twitter, so some participants had to create special accounts
  • No one used Vine or Instagram to report task completion. These were both options.

Although Twitter did work, our assumption that it is the optimal tool for reporting task completion was wrong.

Prizes and Engagement

This assumptions, on the other hand, was spot-on. The prizes motivated participants to work right up to the final day.

I know these were incentives that kept him [my student] going right up to the last minute.

-Donna Campbell, teacher

“The meeting the CTO was the prize I wanted!” – Melinda

Other Takeaways

Our Learning Management System, Clevercourse, was not well-suited to a competition-style educational program.

  1. The theme is heavy and slow and didn’t perform well for mobile users.
  2. Search capabilities were limited, particularly searching by date for event-based tasks.
  3. In an early technical hiccup, our WordPress backend was directing participants to register for the Challenge through our site instead of participating through Twitter. On the plus side, this showed us that participants were willing to create accounts with us in order to participate.

To make the Challenge more game-like, we created a series of task icons to describe each task. These were intended to help participants quickly assess each task. Unfortunately, some inconsistencies between our tallying system and the images led to minor mistakes with the leaderboard. Overall, manually tallying every submission was more difficult than expected. With only a few participants in this challenge, it worked fine, but anything larger would be a nightmare.

Next Steps

  • Build an internal, automated system for reporting task completion but continue to encourage communication between participants on social media.
  • Setup automated tallying and leaderboard.
  • Continue to use prizes to motivate participation.
  • Replace our Clevercourse LMS system with a directory theme to enhance searchability.

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