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Hackathon leverages AI to improve learner outcomes, educational access


A large group of people pose in front of a projector screen

Teams of students, faculty and staff participated in the first ASU ScaleU Hackathon at ASU Skysong in October.

October 16, 2023

The first ASU ScaleU Hackathon — held in October at SkySong, the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center — enabled 12 Arizona State University teams of students, faculty and staff to develop and build educational technologies aimed at solving some of education’s most urgent challenges by leveraging artificial intelligence.

Teams explored technologies to develop personalized learning solutions, aiming to enhance student engagement and retention, as well as expand quality educational access in underserved communities.

“We chose artificial intelligence as the theme because its generative capabilities have immense potential to revolutionize educational paradigms,” said Philippos Savvides, director of venture acceleration at ASU RealmSpark, and ScaleU program manager. “The use of AI allowed these teams to quickly analyze data, automate tasks and implement generative features that otherwise would have been out of reach, making their developments possible.”

ASU ScaleU is a functional higher education technology accelerator that integrates, tests and validates innovative technologies at ASU. It provides early-stage education technology startups that are focused on improving student outcomes and institutional effectiveness, with the opportunity to test their digital learning product in a complex and dynamic university environment.

Three teams received prize money to advance their technologies.

Team Byte Bards won first place and $10,000 for the development of an AI-driven browser plugin to enhance online learning. The plugin personalizes online information to align with user preferences, making it easier for learners to reinforce the information they have in front of them.

Core features of the technology include transforming web-based content to align with specific learning preferences, flagging potential biases or unsupported arguments to assist with critical thinking and a review feature that helps condense information into digestible portions.

Byte Bards is led by Auryan Ratliff, the product, UX and UI designer, Patrick Byrn and Brayden Jenkins, who are both full-stack and AI engineering developers. Each of the team members are EdPlus at ASU employees.

“We had the realization that all of these tools could work in conjunction with each other to build something that is greater than either one of these individual AI features alone,” Byrn said. “From there we decided to focus on a framework that could contain multiple AI tools rather than just one.”

Undergraduate students Jeffery Hsu, Krishna Ramani and Baaz Jhaj placed second in the hackathon and received $5,000 for a technology that has the potential to allow for real-time voice dubbing, completely removing the language barrier for international students. At the current stages of development, the technology takes as long as the runtime of the video to fully dub over. However, a fully optimized version of this application would automatically dub video lectures instantaneously, increasing accessibility for everyone.

“It is all based and founded on the idea that ASU wants to reach around 100 million learners around the globe,” Ramani said. “We created a way to take a video file, translate it into a different language using a context-based translation and eventually translate it into the new language using the original lecturer’s voice. You get university-level content, without losing any quality.”

The platform for the application was developed, start to finish, throughout the three-day hackathon. However, the three members of team Translatica had come up with the idea before the event.

“It somewhat started as a joke,” Hsu said. “We were looking for new ideas for a product to better the world and originally thought of the idea to dub Mr. BeastAn American YouTuber and online personality. videos. Real voice actors are paid to dub over all his videos. We thought that with AI we could do it quicker while maintaining a certain level of quality.”

After finding an opportunity to develop their idea further in the hackathon, the team decided to shift their focus toward utilizing their technology for education in the pursuit of higher accessibility.

“Everyone on our team was able to add something unique and special to make it all come together in the end to be successful,” Jhaj said. “I really enjoyed the experience.”

Data Detectives, the team that placed third in the event and won $2,500, developed an end-to-end personalized tutoring platform. One of its key features is the lack of coding knowledge needed by the educator, who only needs to drag and drop course materials into the software.

The hackathon included mentorship opportunities from the Phoenix startup community, ASU professors and staff from ASU's EdPlus, the Learning Enterprise and Enterprise Technology. Mentors assisted each team in taking their concept to the next level and creating opportunities for new enterprises to emerge.

“It was a first for all of us, participating in something like this,” Hsu said. “We think very similarly coming from very similar backgrounds, so having the help of mentors not only gave us insight on business models but also in narrowing down our ideas.”

Mentorship offered throughout the event acts as a guide for teams to find their footing and exploit what features of each product offer the most potential.

“It was daunting, not knowing what feature we should move forward with. Each mentor would tell us to focus on a certain feature, only for the next to tell us the opposite,” Byrn said. “Eventually, we took it as a sign that we had a good offering of features that appealed to a wide audience of people.”

Written by Richard Canas

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