Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in an attempt to keep their students and faculty safe, schools were at first to restrict students and force them into states of remote learning. Although online learning can present the same content in class, the lack of community initiatives and projects foster an isolationist and stagnant culture, where students miss out on the intellectual benefits of teamwork.
Team-based projects present the opportunity to shatter those COVID-caused bonds, leading to collaborative and high-spirited classes, libraries, and most importantly, students. They open up numerous doors to learn necessary soft-skills for working in the real world. In these types of projects we normally need to work with people that are new to us, each with potentially different interests, in environments that we don’t know much about and facing strict deadlines.
On May 12-13, 2022 in conjunction with the Computer Science Club (CS) at Tel Aviv University (TAU), monday.com organized a hackathon to foster a synergetic workspace for young students. A hackathon is an intense coding event where small teams (3-5 people) create and pitch an innovative software implementation using monday.com’s collaborative platform. Oh, and they also had 24 hours to complete it all.
Did we say it was intense? Ofek Feller, co-leader of the CS club at TAU, underscored the importance of the hackathon on teamwork. A 24-hour hackathon for the ages, open to all club members, to “connect with other high tech companies in Israel and create some activities [that gives students practical experience”, said Feller. There was a clear need for practical experience, as the CS course at TAU is extremely “theoretical” and that “there was not any extra activity for [CS] students to connect us with the industry”, so Feller and the other club leaders desired that there would be this hands-on experience that can give students a small taste of the real world.
Feller commented further on the practical nature of the Hackathon. “It is a great opportunity to let you experience working as a real software engineer… sitting in a team, between 3 to 5 people, and thinking about some idea that bothers them, an idea that should help them as students”, proclaimed Feller.
The students at the Hackathon learned how to design and code the product, how to implement it and how to present their invention to the judges. This experiment is invaluable for a university student because it forces them to break out of the lull of course life. The courses are “focused primarily on tests and grades”, uttered Feller, but the hackathon “was the best experience they have had during their academic period.” A hackathon invigorates a student and lets “people disconnect” from courses, leading to immense learning opportunities.
People underestimate the social aspect of a hackathon. Hackathons have a stigma where a student has their head down coding for 24 hours on end with no social interaction. It is much more than that. Feller’s largest praise for the hackathon was how it fostered meaningful connections between students in the CS department at TAU. In the hackathon, one “stays at one place (the library) and connects with 150 other students”, said Feller. “We didn’t have time to connect with them until then. We created a lot of new relationships.” The disconnection was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, when students were studying separately in their homes. The hackathon provided a great opportunity to “bring the students together”, stated Feller.
That is what it is all about. Programming is more than just the product. It is truly a team based activity. Feller made an interesting comment on this phenomenon, stating that “the software is not the issue”. The real issue lies within “the experience of working in a team, splitting the tasks between everybody, and taking on responsibilities,” proclaimed Feller. A hackathon brings out these qualities in people, and Feller underscored the importance of a hackathon to help students prepare for real-world software projects. “It really makes you want to feel more connected with the people” “We need to make more events, we need to know everyone”.
Sometimes you need some approval from authority to truly see the impact of these sorts of events. And Feller and the entire CS club at TAU got just that. “One of the biggest feedback we got was from the head of the CS department,” proclaimed Feller. “He was in shock because he has been in the department for around 30 years… he never saw anything like that before… we showed him that it can be normal,” to couple fun events like a hackathon with learning.
Feller explained the top three teams at this year’s hackathon and how their products are unique and innovative in their own ways. The third place team created a product that “collects data about all of the tasks you do in all of your lectures”, which is around 14 in a given semester, explained Feller. When a task is submitted, a survey prompts you to answer how hard the question was and how much time you spent on each question, and subsequently the product collects all of that data regarding all of the questions and it “forecasts how much time it will take you to do the next task”, stated Feller. This intuitive method of predicting your future assignments will serve as an extremely helpful aid to any student.
The team that placed second in the hackathon established a reference forum for questions on assignments. The product “automatically separates the question from the PDF [document], then [looks at] questions that are similar to your question, pointing exactly to the answer of that assignment”, explained Feller. The purpose of this ingenious AI driven software was to have a “reference for the tough questions” and “instead of searching for one hour on a similar question,” you can filter it seamlessly. Just like monday.com, this service saves you necessary time so that you can attend to more important tasks, like studying and eventually getting good grades!
The team that emerged victorious in the hackathon created an AI system that “sorted your emails to filter each email on its urgency rather than the time that it arrives”, commented Feller. Feller explained that if a student got an email from their professor versus their mother, the system would automatically push the professor’s email to the top, while your mother’s email would be relegated to the bottom (sorry Mom). The AI system determines how important the email is to you.
Why are these software ideas so important? Because university students have a lot on their plates, and having an automated system to give them more time and to ease some stress truly goes a long way. It leads to less stress and greater productivity. Who wouldn’t want that?
Luckily, your academic life can be made a lot easier with technology just like this. For instance, collaboration software (such as monday.com) can be useful for structuring and arranging the work on team-based projects, helping students to work remotely when needed and keeping track of tasks and deadlines. monday.com had a wonderful experience sponsoring this hacktastic hackathon (we know it’s not a word), and we hope that you initiate hackathons on your own campus to constantly improve student life.
Now it is up to you! We call all student organizations to plan that event, propose that hackathon, foster those meaningful relationships, because monday.com has your back. With monday.com’s intuitive platform built for students, you can achieve more and win your hackathon! For example, you can use WorkForms to submit ideas for a feature of your product, assign people to different tasks throughout the hackathon, link files to each task, and much more (more can be found at https://monday.com/lp/academic/hackathon). All we’re saying is that you can optimize your hackathon performance through a collaborative effort, and monday.com is here to take you new heights.