A Hackathon Diary: From 35th Place To Heros

in #technology7 years ago (edited)

Last Thursday, I participated in a special kind of Hackathon (a hackathon is a 24 hour long coding marathon, usually with a specific theme, e.g voice recognition solutions) - a datathon, we were asked to come up with ideas that integrate tech with traditional education in order to achieve a personalized learning experience, tailored to each and every student.

No. We didn't win, we haven't got to the semi-finals. But it was an amazing experience and not at all epic failure. And I'll tell you why.

Our Idea

Four-hundred people, fifty teams, eighty mentors and thirty judges, and of course about 800 pizzas(!) made this hackathon happen. I signed up with four other friends I work with, and the solution we came up with is named Alef (It is also the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet but can also be abbreviated to personallized studying training in Hebrew - אימוני למידה פרסונלים).

As all of us are or were coding instructors, Alef emphasis is in high school computer science, we believe that the way this subject is taught in high schools around the country is lacking. Students write their codes on plain papers and teachers teach in theory and not practically. Let alone that it takes a lot of time for a teacher to assess all of his students' tasks and give them valuable feedback rapidly and relevantly.

In Alef, every student has his own generated learning path based on his previous successes or failures and is not compared to the average student in his class. For instance, Bob, who writes if-else conditions perfectly, yet struggles with for loops, would get more loops related exercises and less condition related exercises.
We index how "good" was a solution by learning the number of tries until the code met up with teacher-preset unit tests, the time it took to send the code and even the student's keystrokes in his IDE, plus he gets to choose how difficult an exercise was to him. The student earns a tailor-made learning experience and an instant feedback for his submissions.

Teachers, on the other hand, have a command and control (C&C) platform which enables them to track every student's progress, giving them a bigger picture of how their class performs. All in a user-friendly app.

Our first presentation


For all of you developers out there, we used an Express.js backend (powered by Node.js) and Angular for the app frontend. In order to run and grade student's code, we used an amazing library called INGInious and on top of that, to assess the code quality we used SonarQube.

There are some apps like Codemonkey, Codeacademy or CodeWars that are similar to Alef, but none of them gives a personalized learning path and none gives teachers those analytics or C&C panel.

Score and competition

We were scored for the originality of the solution, scalability, implementability and whether we are a students-teachers team, we weren't.
The judges, unfortunately, did not find our solution attractive, probably because it wasn't broad enough and specific for one subject. But we think that this is the main advantage of Alef. We were placed 35th in the first round.

It was around midnight when we found out, and we started laughing for about half an hour straight from the news. One mentor saw us laughing and approached. We presented him with Alef and he was super excited about the idea!
So, fully motivated we coded all night long, haven't slept for a second. In the morning we had Alef ready and some killer presentation (I'll link below, in Hebrew). Judges came and they were pretty impressed with what we have done. We were so happy.

We had to wait long 3 hours before they announced the 10 semi-finalists. We weren't placed, but we had jumped up big time on the scoreboard. It was an amazing and fun experience developing Alef in such short time, and we've enjoyed the process even though we didn't win. I took a 3-hour bus ride home and slept the whole way.

What do you think about our idea? Have you even been to a hackathon? Share with me!



Alef sounds like an interesting idea. It's ok you didn't go through the 10 finalists, at least you had fun and maybe created connections ( which is really important ofc )