The most remote GovHack: Albany WA

GovHack runs in locations around Australia. As well as capital cities there are many events in regional Australia. Perhaps the most remote location this year was Albany, Western Australia which is at the most southern tip of WA, right on the Southern Ocean.

Hannes Bernhardt and Ramin Majidi are IT lecturers at Albany TAFE which cleverly integrated GovHack into the course.

The main local industry is agriculture, and these days, a huge amount of data is generated in agriculture. The analytics required for chemical analysis, such as for soil, leads to a lot of data analysis programming applications.

The database element of GovHack is such a nice fit for students doing the TAFE IT course because as part of their assessment program they have to know how to interrogate, format, combine, shape, and query data down to answer useful questions. Results must be presented in a user friendly fashion, whether it’s through a web interface, a windows application, a mobile app, or whatever. 

For students to get involved in a GovHack project is very good for them.

What do TAFE IT students learn from doing a hackathon?

“So much! So very much”. 

The first evening, when the challenges were unveiled, they got a sense of what the challenges are, what the datasets are, and the solutions that they need to work towards. It was very interesting to see how they responded to being faced with the challenges.

The chats that went on between participants were fascinating, they were getting really creative, and trying to figure out how they might be able to use available data to serve a local need.

“What GovHack allows us to do is have an actual real world problem, from the sponsors, and the students have to come up with a workable solution. It’s the problem solving methodologies that really helps them”. 

There’s a lot of skills needed in a hackathon, are these things that are covered in an IT course?

At diploma level subjects include project management as well as systems analysis and design, so it’s really helpful. GovHack falls in the diploma block and it really helps to push the students who participate forward. 

The two and half days of the GovHack weekend really became almost a snapshot of the semester for the diploma students as a whole. All of the disciplines they cover had to be very quickly applied across the board, right from time management; team dynamics, how to interact with one another, delegating, working out strengths and weaknesses, assigning tasks appropriately – all of those disciplines are things that they cover in the diploma anyway and they had to hit the ground running and put what they’ve learned straight in to practice.

Working with strangers, other volunteers, other participants, was a really wonderful thing for students, it was like dealing with a client that they’ve never met before. 

There were five teams from Albany TAFE, 19 current students and three former graduates took part. 

The projects

The diploma students focussed on how to attract tourism to Albany and surrounding regions. Because Albany is very much a tourist destination, local businesses need help to work out their peak times and employment flows, so the team decided to design a public web portal that would allow local businesses to register as sponsors, saying what sort of tourist attraction or service that they provide. They also mark whether the attraction is a sunny day activity, a rainy day activity, or not dependent on weather. Tourists can go to the web site and register their plans for a holiday, and on a daily basis the site will come up with recommendations based on weather data which is received from the Bureau of Meteorology. 

Certificate 3 students came up with “Bin It” which looks at the contents of bins to determine what recycling is required. The team turned this into a game, where users get points every time they recycle the correct item in the right bin. The app is there to assist in correct recycling. The bin would have a QR code that the app scans to register the specific bin and the item the user put in there. The data about what is put in each bin is linked to council data so that some bins can be upgraded to smart bins. A little Internet of Things (IOT) sensor can be added to the bin which will alert the council when the bin is full to come and empty it.

The GovHack state awards night – opportunity knocks…

“That was an absolute blast, they were treated like rock stars. We were surprised to find that we had three teams winning prizes”. 

As the students were receiving their awards they started chatting about opportunities and that’s when the Shire of Plantagenet (which is a neighbouring town), came forward as extremely interested in developing the BinIT app. 

Regional Development Australia, (RDA), was very impressed with the tourism app and are quite keen on getting it off the ground as well. 

One of the sponsors, from Pawsey Supercomputers, when they saw what had been done, offered to deliver a session for TAFE on how to stitch data from telescopes together in order to form deep space images.

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