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An Informal Learning Program as a Replicable Model for Student-Led, Industry-Supported Experiential Learning

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Cooperative and Experiential Education Division Technical Session 4 - Innovating Engineering Education through Industry and Community Partnerships, Maker Spaces, Competitions, Research Initiatives, and Experiential Education

Tagged Division

Cooperative and Experiential Education

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Paper Authors


Julia Armstrong Ohio State University

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Julia Armstrong is the Director of the OHI/O Informal Learning Program at the Ohio State University (OSU). She combines engineering (BS ECE), public teaching of gifted education (M.Ed.) and industry experience (PMP, CSM) to grow the offerings and strength of the program and build rapport with the industry partners. She uses her diverse interests and skills to bridge the gap between curricular education and skills of the working professional. In 2018, Armstrong was part of a multi-disciplinary team from Ohio State to receive a 3-year NSF award for Advancing Informal STEM Learning.

In her three years at Ohio State, Armstrong designed and partnered on a wide variety of educational events for students to explore through active learning experiences. She focuses on current trends and connecting students to industry representatives, emphasizing open-ended problem-based learning, encouraging students to continue exploration of topics and challenges of interest. Armstrong has grown the OHI/O Informal Learning Program from a few events to two dozen, now serving over 1,500 students annually, including several K12 outreach events.

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Meris Mandernach Longmeier Ohio State University

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Meris Mandernach Longmeier is an associate professor and the head of Research Services for The Ohio State University Libraries. In this role she develops services for OSU Libraries that help support the research endeavors of all faculty, staff, and students at Ohio State. She is the co-founder and co-faculty director of OHI/O program (, which fosters a tech culture through hardware and software hackathons and other informal learning opportunities. She publishes and presents regularly nationally on topics of user experience research, informal learning through hackathons, and evolving areas of research support services.

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This work-in-progress paper details the growth of an informal experiential learning program around hackathons and makeathons and presents the evolution of the program as a model of a successful co-curricular approach in engineering. After six years of growing an informal learning program from a single hackathon event of 100 attendees to a complete experiential learning platform consisting of over twelve events, industry engagement, and building a successful and stable team of student leaders, the authors will share and gather feedback on the development and evolution of the program. 

Hackathons and makeathons have been used in an industry setting for many years. Articles have been written about hackathon and other informal learning events used in the classroom (Gama et al., 2018; Kolog et al., 2016) engaging with the public (Taylor et al, 2017; Del Fatto et al., 2017), and about research around the events themselves (Nandi & Mandernach, 2016; Kos 2018; Warner & Guo; 2017.) These rapid-prototyping contests focus on software or hardware development provide participants and hands-on experience to create a workable product in a short time frame. This project builds on the industry standard to create an entire informal learning program focused on events, industry engagement, alumni interaction, and integration into curricular and co-curricular student experiences. In recent years, interdisciplinary collaboration has become a growing component of the program, bridging engineering with business, entrepreneurship, and health and wellness. These collaborations are not simply of joining students of different majors, but in working with similar grass-roots university programs in different colleges and departments. 

With multiple measures of success, the authors will highlight a few from this multifaceted program. This work will include survey results from participants about specific events as well as interviews about the overarching program from the student leader team, a group of about 15 individuals. Finally, we hope to share the program as a model for sustained engagement with industry and alumni that could be replicated at other schools.

Armstrong, J., & Longmeier, M. M. (2020, June), An Informal Learning Program as a Replicable Model for Student-Led, Industry-Supported Experiential Learning Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34127

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