What was the event?
Western Governors University (WGU) understands that tech is the future. On May 15, 2021, WGU partnered with five community colleges and DemocracyLab to sponsor an online Hack for the Future event for tech students. The students had the opportunity to practice and learn new tech skills while improving tech-for-good initiatives ranging from civic infrastructure and social services to environmental research and conservation. Everyone who participated agreed the event was a rewarding educational experience.
How did the hackathon empower students?
WGU is reshaping education with its online performance-based approach. Their dynamic education model prepares students for the evolving demands of tech industries. A partnership with DemocracyLab was natural.
The virtual hackathon offered the perfect space for students to apply classroom learning to real world projects. The students worked in a collaborative environment with a narrow scope, and focused on making incremental progress toward the projects' long term goals. The students got hands-on experience contributing to the projects' code, building their confidence by applying their knowledge toward concrete deliverables.
Many students at the WGU Hack for the Future event also had the opportunity to work with new software or technologies for the first time. Furthermore, they made connections with the project leaders and other students that will last beyond the event.
What did the students think about the event?
The event opened pathways for a diverse group of community college students to learn by doing while contributing to important public interest technology projects. Following the event, students and faculty were surveyed, and two key themes surfaced:
- Learn by doing: All students and faculty agreed the event was a valuable opportunity to apply learnings to real-world projects and to learn new technologies and skills.
- Sense of worth: All the students surveyed agreed the event increased their belief they can make a difference in the world, and would participate in a similar event in the future.
As one student put it, “for this project, I realized, in that environment, I was the resident expert. And it felt great to be able to contribute!”
What projects did they work on?
The students split into teams where they worked together with classmates and project managers to tackle a specific problem. Some of the skills the students used included bug testing and troubleshooting, building or testing open source code, security testing, and data analysis. The projects they worked on addressed a wide range of social and environmental causes:
- A/B Street: a game simulation of pedestrians, bicycles, cars, and buses using real city maps where players edit lanes and intersections to improve traffic flow.
- Every Voice Engaged: an online platform helping citizens, governments, and nonprofit organizations solve problems that benefit from civic engagement.
- iSeaTree: a game-play app that lets kids learn, identify, and record trees in the USA and Canada.
- Orcasound - Listen for Whales: an open source web -app that lets users listen for whales and act to conserve them.
- ShelterApp: an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization helping homeless and low-income families connect to social services.
- The Butterfly Project: a project analyzing public data and creating technology to mitigate the cumulative effects of systemic racism
By empowering students to become agents of change, WGU and DemocracyLab help students from underrepresented communities gain access to the booming tech economy and to challenge ineffective power structures.
Where can I learn more?
Solutions to many social and environmental problems will be driven by affected communities and empowered by tech. Shifting to online spaces allows for inclusive, global collaboration with expanding opportunities for people to contribute their talents to make a difference. Check out the resources below to learn how you can get involved.
Western Governors University is a nonprofit, regionally accredited online college offering over 60 degrees in Business, IT, Healthcare, and Education. Unlike traditional universities, students build on their previous knowledge and experience, and are assessed based on their competence in their chosen field. For more information, visit their website.
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