Annual hackathon promotes creative problem-solving
Morgan Johnson | Friday, March 29, 2019
Teams of undergraduate students will design, create and present a digital application to improve the Notre Dame community in the fourth annual Hesburgh Library Hackathon this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“We want this to be an inclusive event,” emerging technologies librarian and Hackathon co-chair Randy Harrison said. “It’s totally fine if this is your first experience with coding. We want students to see the resources in the library and see the library as a central hub for intellectual activity.”
At its conception in 2016, the Hackathon drew about 20 participants. This year, the Hackathon is expected to register approximately 80-100 students and reward larger prizes, starting with $5,000 for first place.
Students will register on Friday evening in the Hesburgh Library, form teams and start developing ideas for their app until the library closes at 11 p.m. Teams will continue creating their products when the library opens on Saturday until its closure at midnight. Competitors finalize projects and presentations Sunday morning. Lightning talks and judging will occur Sunday afternoon.
The theme for this year’s event is “Synergy: Holistic Solutions for the Whole Student.” Through this framework, students will develop code, attend lightning tutorials and work together in diverse groups of two to four students that develop the app from start to finish.
“As a first-year, Moreau helps you see the student as larger than just grades,” Harrison said. “This is a big part of the first-year curriculum. We complement this with the Hackathon, where students build apps towards that theme. They can make apps that help students find study buddies on campus and succeed as a student in the broadest term.”
An integral objective of the Hackathon is to raise students’ awareness of the technology and resources that are available at the library. Additionally, Harrison said, the event will help increase students’ digital literacy and help them grow more apt at using the library as a tool for research.
“Hackathons are great places for students to learn coding skills and work with other people,” Harrison said. “When you have the opportunity to get students involved in active learning and building stuff, you learn so much more than just a simple curriculum. You’re faced with real-world problems. It helps teach lateral thinking, which helps you figure out how to get around a wall once you’ve hit it.”
The goals of the Hackathon include promoting scholarship and research, enhancing educational experiences and development, bolstering digital programs and services, transforming library spaces and building a culture of continual improvement and service quality.
“What has changed since the beginning is our ability to fulfill these goals,” Harrison said. “When we ask teams to develop apps that help students here at Notre Dame, that goes back into the larger ecosystem of information and applications on campus. The library is just a part of that. The apps are about making campus and the world a better place. The information ecosystem becomes richer, and that gets back to the library.”
Throughout the weekend, coaches are available to support student developers in strategy, coding mishaps, methodology, design and presentation practices.
Judging on Sunday will evaluate five key areas of students’ projects: innovation, impact, usability, teamwork and presentation. The judges hail from several different disciplines across campus, such as RecSports, Information and Communications Technologies, digital collections and outreach. Presentations are expected to take under five minutes.
After the competition is over, competitors will be provided with the chance to develop their apps further through the IDEA Center. Additionally, competitors have opportunities to further engage with the technology community through the South Bend Code School and other local hackathons.
Competitors are “becoming-professionals,” Harrison said.
“They’re doing everything a professional would do. They’re making things and putting them in front of other people,” he said. “We want a gamut of students because it’s a win for everyone involved — this Hackathon is valuable for all different types of people.”