Page 10 - Campus Technology, January/February 2020
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Hackathons can inspire innovation, create a sense of community, teach computer science skills and prepare students to become digital leaders of the future. Here’s how to put together a successful event on campus.
“LAST YEAR, more than 100,000 students gave up their weekends and their free time to learn something new. There were no teachers, there were no textbooks. There were no lesson plans. They had one singular goal to build something cool, and share it with the world,” said Jon Gott- fried, co-founder of student hacker community Major League Hacking (MLH). Those students were participating in hackathons: weekend-long invention competitions that bring people togeth- er to solve interesting problems with technolo- gy. They conceived and created tens of thou- sands of inventions, from robots, websites and mobile apps all the way to homemade self- driving cars, said Gottfried, and in the process were redefining the future of computer science and STEM education.
MLH has supported thousands of hackathons, technical workshops and recruiting events with the goal of building up the next generation of technology leaders and entrepreneurs. In a ses- sion at this past fall’s STEAM Week virtual con- ference, Gottfried spoke about the logistics of running a campus hackathon as well as key fac- tors that help turn the event into a memorable — and educational — experience for students.
1) Find a venue.
“Don’t overcomplicate this,” Gottfried said. “You can do a classroom, you can do a gym, you can
8 Steps to Running a Great Hackathon
do a computer lab, Student Union. When you walk into a venue, you ideally want it to feel like a space that people would be comfortable spending 24 hours in. It does help to have it be outside of the normal classroom environment, but it’s certainly not a requirement.”
There are basic logistical needs, however: WiFi and/or Ethernet, two to three power outlets per person, group work tables (individual desks are not ideal), a dining/buffet area, mentor/sponsor tables and a projector and screen for opening ceremonies and project demos. “Once you have that, that’s really it,” he said. “As you get into bigger and bigger events, the logistics become more complicated due to the scale. But if you can get a room with power and Ethernet for a weekend, you’re well on your way to doing a hackathon.”
2) Get students involved.
In many cases, university hackathons are driven by students. “It’s often something that comes to campus when a student goes and experiences an event themselves and just decides that they want to bring it back with them,” Gottfried said. “It does tend to be very grassroots.” But even when a hackathon is organized by administrators or professors, it’s important to have students in the mix: “They’re the core constituency who the event is for. Having their

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