Microsoft and the Open Data Institute announce an Education Open Data Challenge to help close the digital divide

Microsoft and the Open Data Institute (ODI) on Tuesday announced the launch of an Education Open Data Challenge to shine light on the relationship between broadband access and K-12 (ages 5 to 18 years old) education outcomes. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Education Open Data Challenge will help educators and research organizations better understand the potential long-term impact the ongoing disruption to traditional learning will have on the world’s most vulnerable learners.

Microsoft and the ODI are encouraging teams that wish to participate in the challenge to help generate innovative solutions to close the digital divide in K-12 education to go here to learn more. The winning team will be invited to elect a non-profit organization of their choice to receive a £50,000 award, with the runners-up electing non-profit organizations of their choice to receive £30,000 and £20,000 awards. The challenge is open to teams and individuals based globally.

“As students around the world increasingly rely on technology and connectivity to succeed in school, we must find ways to allow every student, everywhere, to succeed. Combining datasets in new ways can help unlock solutions to expand equitable and robust access to broadband,” said Jennifer Yokoyama, Microsoft Vice President and Chief IP Counsel. “We’re excited to join in the launch of this Education Open Data Challenge to help close the digital divide and level the playing field for students around the world.”

Participants will receive access to tools and resources from Microsoft, the ODI, and BroadbandNow, as well as data made available for the first time as part of this challenge:

  • Participants will have access to a more granular version of Microsoft’s U.S. broadband usage data, this time with differential privacy applied. Microsoft will make available documentation that demonstrates the impact that applying differential privacy has had on the data.
  • The ODI will provide access to several eLearning modules on Open Data EssentialsFinding Stories in DataGuidance for data users on data licensing and How to anonymize datasets for participants who wish to contribute their own data, as well as mentorship. Participants are also able to access free MS Learn training resources and training modules.
  • From BroadbandNow, participants will be able to access U.S. broadband terrestrial provider data.

The use of privacy-preserving technologies will become more prevalent as organizations seek to collaborate across the spectrum of data. The datasets that will be made openly available with the challenge will help participants to assess and understand the effect that technologies such as differential privacy can have on data insights and analysis.

“Organizations like Microsoft and BroadbandNow possess a wealth of interesting data that can be used to provide insights and support decision-makers in the education sector and beyond, especially as they face unprecedented challenges. This Challenge will stimulate the exploration of innovative uses for this data, outside the boundaries of the organizations that hold it,” said Jeni Tennison, Vice President & Chief Strategy Adviser of the ODI. “The ODI is here to help organizations that want to ensure the data they hold brings the most value to the sectors, communities and societies they work in.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted learning for more than 1.6 billion children and youth worldwide, as governments across the globe have closed educational institutions to stop the spread of the virus. In response, schools and teachers have made an unprecedented effort to reach students remotely through distance learning tools and platforms.

As the digital divide is expanded by the abrupt global transition to remote learning, understanding how and where the digital divide affects communities will be critical for managing the short-term delivery of education and ensuring a sustainable, equitable economic recovery.

“We are thrilled to participate in providing data for the Open Data Challenge and look forward to discoveries made by the participants,” said John Busby, Managing Director of BroadbandNow. “Access to affordable broadband internet is crucial to education and digital equity.”

Participating teams will be asked to identify gaps in digital infrastructure that affect the delivery of education services online, pinpoint potential impacts on learning outcomes, and suggest innovative and realistic solutions to address these gaps in a cost-efficient way. Some of the questions the challenge seeks to answer include:

  • How do students access remote learning, especially those who may not have easy access to digital infrastructure (e.g., technology and internet connectivity)?
  • What level of digital access to learning do students from disadvantaged groups have, relative to more advantaged groups?
  • What is the relationship between levels of digital skills and learning outcomes for different demographics?

Participants will have four months to complete the challenge from the opening date. Individuals and teams interested in participating in the challenge can learn more and register interest here. Once registered, individuals will be invited to attend dedicated activities to preview the data, learn more about it from the involved partners, and get equipped on how to best use it ahead of the public release on December 10, 2020.

About Microsoft

Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

About the Open Data Institute

The ODI was co-founded in 2012 by the inventor of the web Sir Tim Berners-Lee and artificial intelligence expert Sir Nigel Shadbolt to show the value of data, and to advocate for the innovative use of data to affect positive change across the globe. We’re an independent, non-profit, non-partisan company headquartered in London, with an international reach. We work with companies and governments to build an open, trustworthy data ecosystem, where people can make better decisions using data and manage any harmful impacts.

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