Salt Lake City, Utah
June 23, 2018
June 23, 2018
July 27, 2018
Design in Engineering Education
Collaborative hackathons give undergraduate engineering students the opportunity to work in small teams to solve technical design challenges in a severely-constrained time period. These vents approximate project-based learning environments by giving students the opportunity to learn new technical skills through projects of their choosing. Project-based learning classes often face problems with class time usage and students having difficulties understanding learning objectives. Hackathons may provide insight on how to improve the implementation of project-based curricula while increasing student interest and engagement.
Hackathons are growing in popularity and number, especially in computer science undergraduate programs. It might be useful to note that hackathons do not refer to the negative connotation of hacking – i.e., unauthorized breaking into something or making harm. Rather, hackathons refer to hacking culture and encourage the practical ingenuity of putting together a solution, often in via computer programming software (or software-hardware systems).
This study looks at a team of engineering and computer science students in a hackathon setting to see how their interactions and skillsets connect to the success of their project delivered at the end of the hackathon event. Through in-situ observations as well as loosely structured interviews of a team at a collegiate hackathon event (“Major League Hacking” event), we have observed that there are certain aspects of the hackathon environment that enable successful development of solutions. The absurdly short timeframe of the hackathon limits team’s ability to focus on perfection in their work and places emphasis on them achieving functionality. This focus had our team shift their focus to innovate novel ideas rather than iterating and perfecting established ideas. This allows for speedier development that can be refined at a later date for real world deployment. This is further encouraged by the reliable access to cutting edge hardware or software technology provided by hackathon organizers that help spark new ideas.
The team we observed was formed for the purposes of the hackathon event comprised of individuals who were not very familiar with each other. The nature of this team formation approach helps to amplify their shared interest in tackling new technology and kept the team enthusiastic about the project they worked on during the hackathon. Our team took a divide and conquer approach to development and split up the work into skills categories. There was also an aggressive “drudge forward” attitude that the team took on when they worked through problems. This attitude came from the timeframe and keeps participants tirelessly working on solutions for their project.
By better understanding hackathons and team behavior and performance during such events, we can not only make for better hackathon experiences but apply these insights to undergraduate engineering education. This work can improve project-based learning by showing how we can have teams of students be better prepared and better able to work together to solve challenging engineering problems.
Horton, P. A., & Jordan, S. S., & Weiner, S., & Lande, M. (2018, June), Project-Based Learning Among Engineering Students During Short-Form Hackathon Events Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. https://peer.asee.org/30901
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