Going the Distance with a Hackathon: Personal Reflections

By Clare Gormley

Hackathons. It’s one of those words that seems to be cropping up a lot in education these days. I initially thought it was something to do with software development. With distant memories of Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs, I pictured young, mostly male coders typing intensely into the small hours of the morning, fuelled mostly by pizza and (an admittedly biased view) a geekish love of programming.

In this blog post I will try to offer a different perspective by reflecting on a rather different sort of Hackathon experience, wearing the hats of both learner and academic developer. 

This motivation to learn more about Hackathons has come from the fact that DCU is engaging in a major curriculum transformation project – DCU Futures – which includes Challenge Based Learning (CBL) as a key pedagogy. CBL is fundamentally about the investigation of real-life problems related to pressing societal issues. It is a pedagogical approach that is increasingly being used in higher education to foster transversal skills, increase knowledge of socio technical problems, and enhance collaboration with industry and community stakeholders (Gallagher & Savage, 2020).

A hackathon is one example of CBL in practice but it can take other forms including projects, design events, or competitions that aim to solve difficult problems. Lyons, Brown & Donlon (2021, p.1) describe a hackathon as an ‘intensive run’ where participants commit to forming collaborative teams to resolve and present solutions to real-world challenges during an allocated period of time. 

Most of us in Higher Education are completely new to the notion of Hackathons and even fewer of us again have actually organised one. Since supporting the design and implementation of CBL is part of the Teaching Enhancement Unit remit, it seemed important to get an authentic experience on how this approach might work. There could be no better way to ‘walk in the shoes of students’, than to get a first-hand experience of a Hackathon for myself.

You can continue to read Clare’s personal reflections on her hackathon experience at her “Learning Rush” blog. After describing the experience she shares a number of pros and cons and then concludes with 10 takeaways for those thinking about planning to integrate hackathons into their teaching in the future.

Exciting New Opportunities for Doctoral Study in Digital Learning – Scholarships Available Too

We are pleased to announce that a new Digital Learning strand or professional focus is now available in our internationally regarded Doctor of Education (EdD) programme which is offered through DCU’s Institute of Education. The EdD programme is ideal for part-time doctoral students working in education and/or training environments who are returning to postgraduate study, as there are significant benefits and advantages of collaborating with fellow doctoral candidates, and a team of experienced DCU researchers, as part of a supportive cohort. Applications are now open for the first intake of students in the Digital Learning doctorate.

We are also delighted to announce that the DCU Institute of Education, in association with the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL), invites applications for two new Doctoral Scholarships for research in the area of Digital Learning. IMG_6261.jpgThese scholarships will cover 50% of the cost of EdD programme registration fees for the first two-years of study. More information about how to apply for the Doctoral Scholarships can be found on the following website:

Apply for EdD Scholarships in Digital Learning

In preparing your scholarship application you may also wish to view the list of DCU staff who are research active in the area of Digital Learning and their wide range of interests and scholarly outputs. Should you require any further information about undertaking a doctorate in the Digital Learning area then please contact Dr Enda Donlon in the Institute of Education or Professor Mark Brown, Director of the National Institute for Digital Learning.