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.

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Article by Thomas Lancaster

I am an experienced Computer Science academic, best known for research work into academic integrity, plagiarism and contract cheating. I have held leadership positions in several universities, with specialty in student recruitment and keen interest in working in partnership with students. Please browse around the blog and the links, and feel free to leave your thoughts.
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