Hackathon – A new practice for the digital age

December 8, 2016 by Olli Ohls

This guest blog is a part of our Christmas season blog series

As technology transforms the learning environments it does not only mean that possibilities for new apps or digital tools emerge, but also the need for new socio-digital practices. As an Educational Psychology student I’m curiously skimming both work-life and school environments for potent practices that are motivating and promote meaningful learning in the digital age of tomorrow.

The idea for Linko Education Hackathon was born from this basis. A couple of years back I took part in my first Hackathon and it was something different than what I had experienced before. It was challenging, engaging and social, whilst maintaining a spirit of informality as opposed to traditional higher education practices. If we look at a traditional Hackathon from the viewpoint of an educator who favors a more traditional teacher-led frontal learning then the level of autonomy might seem chaotic or troubling. But for educators embracing the modern paradigm of student-centered learning a hackathon presents itself as an interesting phenomenon, worth taking a closer look at.

Throughout our studies in Educational Psychology we have been pushed to work at a high level of autonomy and to interact with various actors in the world. I feel like organizing Linko Education Hackathon was the obvious next step to take contribute for the community students and learning enthusiasts alike. When our team started designing Linko we relied on our diverse education backgrounds to create the best possible experience for our users: “A festival for productive creative collaboration”

#Developing the concept

At present hackathons are organized here in Finland in sectors ranging from Milk Production industry to Human Resource Development and you could say that the Hackathon-concept is experiencing a “high tide” in popularity. However, we were not content with the concept as it was and felt it was time to “Hack” the Hackathon and create an upgraded experience for our users. Based on pedagogical know-how and our research in user experiences of Hackathon attendees we focused on delivering solutions to these questions:

  • How to facilitate group bonding experience right from the beginning?
  • How to support novel users to adopt the concept and required skills to “Hack” the object?
  • How to create an atmosphere where the sense of community is balanced with the competitive aspect

#The first Linko Education Hackathon

Linko Education Hackathon was organized on a weekend this October for a bright and excited crowd of mostly students interested in Learning and Education. We were happy that we received participants from many different cities in Finland and from 10 different fields of study. User metrics indicated that 86% of our participants were first-timers, which gave us a clear message that we were doing the right thing. The teams faced challenges, but overcame them with the help of our assigned facilitators and their own will to succeed. Our partners were impressed with the end result, the level of final pitches was high.

#The Hackathon as a learning environment and a pedagogical tool

Linko Education Hackathon is first and foremost a learning environment and learning experience for our users. 21st Century Skills like problem solving, teamwork, critical thinking, self-regulation are all necessary skills for people participating the hackathon. These skills are in line with the Finnish Ministry of Education’s brand new (Oct 13. 2016) development strategy for teacher education. On a more concrete level, work life skills including benchmarking, testing, validating and pitching were skills taught to our participants at Linko.

What makes Hackathons engaging is the fact that problems are real-world problems presented by interesting companies. This motivates and makes users input more meaningful. For companies who are looking to reach the brightest and passionate minds a Hackathon might be exactly the place to look at for recruitment purposes.

At Linko we see the hackathon as an open pedagogical tool not limited to certain content or user group. A Hackathon can be organized from primary school students to company executives. It is a possibility to unleash the intellectual potential of crowds to tackle hard problems. Our passion is to make it possible for masses to experience empowerment through Linko Hackathons. Our dream is that every school, organization and company in the world has at least one annual Hackathon in their calendar.

Olli Ohls

is a curiosity-driven community builder who likes to surf on the boundary of learning and technology. He educates Finnish teachers about Programming at Hello Ruby, whilst working part-time at Siltamäki Primary School helping to implement a new interest-driven STEAM exploration program called FUSE. Recently, Olli Co-founded a NPO to bring quality Hackathons to the masses.

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