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Project-Based Learning Among Engineering Students During Short-Form Hackathon Events

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Making, Hacking, and Extracurricular Design

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Paul Alexander Horton Arizona State University

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Paul Horton is an undergraduate and graduate student at Arizona State University studying Software Engineering (MS, BS) and Applied Physics (BS). He is currently working on research projects at NASA Jet Propulsion Lab on optical communications and Mars surface transient classification using machine learning. He hopes to continue his education into Astrophysics and use his software background to study the universe.

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Shawn S. Jordan Arizona State University, Polytechnic campus Orcid 16x16

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SHAWN JORDAN, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. He teaches context-centered electrical engineering and embedded systems design courses, and studies the use of context in both K-12 and undergraduate engineering design education. He received his Ph.D. in Engineering Education (2010) and M.S./B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Purdue University. Dr. Jordan is PI on several NSF-funded projects related to design, including an NSF Early CAREER Award entitled “CAREER: Engineering Design Across Navajo Culture, Community, and Society” and “Might Young Makers be the Engineers of the Future?,” and is a Co-PI on the NSF Revolutionizing Engineering Departments grant “Additive Innovation: An Educational Ecosystem of Making and Risk Taking.” He was named one of ASEE PRISM’s “20 Faculty Under 40” in 2014, and received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President Obama in 2017.

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Steven Weiner Arizona State University, Polytechnic campus

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Steven Weiner is a PhD student in Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University. His interests include STEM education reform, innovative learning frameworks, and the future of schooling. His previous research focused on how young adults develop identities centered on the Maker Movement and his dissertation will explore the effect Maker-based initiatives, such as the establishment of school makerspaces, are having on the culture of formal educational institutions. Before starting his doctoral studies, Mr. Weiner served as the founding Program Director for CREATE at Arizona Science Center, a hybrid educational makerspace/ community learning center. He has previous experience as a physics and math instructor at the middle school and high school levels.

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Micah Lande Arizona State University

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Micah Lande, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Engineering and Manufacturing Engineering programs and Tooker Professor at the Polytechnic School in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. He teaches human-centered engineering design, design thinking, and design innovation project courses. Dr. Lande researches how technical and non-technical people learn and apply design thinking and making processes to their work. He is interested in the intersection of designerly epistemic identities and vocational pathways. Dr. Lande received his B.S in Engineering (Product Design), M.A. in Education (Learning, Design and Technology) and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering (Design Education) from Stanford University.

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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. 10.18260/1-2--30901

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