Survey results: Better computer science learning through hackathons

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The most important thing you can teach your students is how to learn more on their own. Your students start the semester at varying technical levels, and computer science concepts can be difficult to grasp. You won’t be able to fit everything you’d like to teach in the short time you have with them. With this in mind, you need a way to boost learning and take your classroom from studying syntax to solving real problems with code. That’s where hackathons can help.

Send students to the nearest hackathon

At hackathons, students practice classroom concepts, learn beyond the curriculum, and pick up skills to improve their performance in class. Hackathons take on a variety of formats, but generally, the beginner-friendly events bring developers together to solve a problem, build a new tool, or get started with a business idea. This typically happens over the course of a weekend. Walk into a hackathon and you’ll see groups rushing to finish as much as they can to make their project ready to present before time is up. The event ends with teams presenting their work to a panel of judges, stakeholders, and other participants.

Hackathons are fun and exhilarating, and survey results from Major League Hacking (MLH) show that attending can lead to improved participation and performance in the classroom.

Get students to master new tools on their own

Bar graph showing results for the question “Did you explore a new technology or service?” Results are 20 percent “No” and 80 percent “Yes”.

Hackathons give students new projects to practice the developer tools they use in class. Being able to practice using their existing tools and applying them to new contexts will improve your students’ mastery. 

Hackathons also expose students to new tools—80 percent of students reported exploring a new technology or service while working on their projects.

New tools improve your students’ productivity and spark ideas to share in the classroom.

Teach students how to self-learn

Hackathons expose students to concepts they may not have encountered in their coursework. More than 90 percent of students report learning new skills and ideas not covered in class.

Bar graph showing results for the question “Have you learned something new that wasn’t covered in your coursework at a hackathon?” Results are 7 percent “No” and 93 percent “Yes”.

Students use these skills back in the classroom. Nearly 70 percent of students reported later using their newfound knowledge for coursework, and more than 80 percent believe the skills they gained at a hackathon will help them with coursework in the future.

Bar graph showing results for the question “Did you gain skills at a hackathon that you’ve later used for in-class coursework?” Results are 31 percent “No” and 69 percent “Yes”.

Bar graph showing results for the question “Did you gain skills at a hackathon that you think may help you with future coursework?” Results are 15 percent “No” and 85 percent “Yes”.

New skills will improve your students’ problem solving and decision making. Getting your students to hackathons helps them contribute better solutions, make more realistic projects, and help teach new concepts to their classmates. 

These events are an opportunity to learn in an informal setting, and they motivate students to continue learning on their own. The ability to learn new things outside of a classroom makes students versatile for their future.

Peer-to-peer learning

Each team member in a hackathon brings a different academic and project background, and students exchange a vast amount of knowledge and experience. 70 percent of students said they met or worked with people they hadn’t worked with before, and nearly 90 percent of students learned something new from a peer.

Bar graph showing results for the question “Did you meet or work with people on a project that you hadn’t worked with before?” Results are 30 percent “No” and 70 percent “Yes”.

Bar graph showing results for the question “Have you learned something new from a fellow student at a hackathon?” Results are 11 percent “No” and 89 percent “Yes”.

Over the course of a hackathon, participants share tools and transfer skills while working together in teams. Through hackathons, students can become more comfortable articulating technical challenges and sharing knowledge.

Find a hackathon near you

Students working on laptops at a hackathon.

Students across Europe and North America host hackathons through MLH, and there may be a hackathon coming soon near you. Encourage your students to visit MLH to find their next event.

Host your own hackathon

No local hackathon near you? No problem. GitHub gives $1,000 to help ship the first event on your campus via MLH. 

MLH provides guidance to student organizers for every step of creating a new event. MLH membership includes event support, access to a global community of student organizers, and tools like hackathon starter kits to help participants get their projects going quickly. 

Find a local hackathon

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