Empowering Student Learning Through The Development Of A Social Media Community To Support Computing Students

The annual Social Media for Learning in Higher Education conference (otherwise known as #SocHE16) has emerged as one of the premiere outlets for people using social media as part of learning and teaching to share their findings.

I took the opportunity to expand upon some of the work I’ve done to engage students in extra-curricular activities using social media, particularly focusing on hackathons and other activities aimed at Computing students.

You can see the slides for the conference presentation on my SlideShare account. They are also embedded below.

The social media presentation was also broadcast live on Periscope, which might be useful for people who were not able to attend. I do hope to turn this into a more formal paper at a later date.

One of my main conclusions from the presentation was that social media communities like this can work to engage students, but they do need continued support, particularly to avoid them from becoming elitist. Several other speakers at the event spoke about more formal communities integrated as part of other courses, with success often depending on the academic discipline.

The continued contests between Facebook and Twitter also featured heavily, with Twitter seeming to be favoured for academic use, although seeing students express a preference for communication through Facebook.

Similar observations could be seen for the live video sharing platforms, with the Twitter owned Periscope having gained more prominence for academic use, but with Facebook Live reaching a larger audience for live promotion and for subsequent archiving. I haven’t yet fully explored either option, but these will certainly be reaching increasing academic audiences over the next few years and I know are tools that I should be looking to add to my repertoire.

Creating An Engaged Student Community Through Hackathons Video

Based on my experience of running hackathons, I have a lot of material available for talks and teaching seminars, as well as to develop for future research.

Here is a video version of the talk I gave at a recent Learning Lab at Birmingham City University. You can see the slides from the original talk on hackathons and a short discussion here.

Without the pressure of a short time slot, I was able to expand a lot on the presentation given at the Learning Lab, giving more examples, as well as working in some ideas about how the hackathon area could be expanded to other academic disciplines.

Flipped learning activities like hackathons are of great value to students and they also allow them to develop skills that their peers may not have. They also simulate a trend that is increasingly popular in the computing industry. I think that there’s a lot of potential for them to become a core part of Computer Science and other Computing courses in the future.

Creating An Engaged Student Community Through Hackathons

A large proportion of my recent working life has been focused around looking at improving student experience and student engagement. As part of this, I’ve been introducing students to hackathons, usually programming collaborations and competitions where students get to work in teams to develop software and solve problems.

There have been multiple different strategies used to accomplish this, but key has been encouraging students to attend external hackathons, as well as putting on internal hackathons as safe environments for students to participate in. There has also been an element of internal hackathon and programming training, designing to help students to enhance their current skill levels.

I had the opportunity to present some of the progress that we’ve made in this area alongside Liam Sorta, one of the student mentors who has been supporting the project, at a Learning Lab.

The slides for the hackathon presentation are available for access online. These can be viewed on my SlideShare account, or you can also see the slides below.

One of the main successes from the hackathon strategy came from running BCU Hack, a 24 hour hackathon on 29 February and 1 March 2016, where students stayed overnight to work to develop products matching the overall theme of “Take A Leap”. Several sponsors also attended and/or supplied prizes, so students worked to complete challenges that the sponsors had set. The overall standard of software produced was high, particularly from the overall winners, who created an innovative online site designed to help students to learn Python programming.

The presentation was well received, with visitors from other universities sharing their experiences with hackathons. There was also a discussion about how hackathons could be held across disciplines and how hackathon like events could be held for other subjects, including music.

Importantly, the value of hackathons for improving student employability, developing a portfolio and making contacts, was considered. Hackathons are clearly a valuable way for universities to introducing course defining experiences for their students.