On Saturday 8th November our very first UnituHack took place in central London. We brought university developers, students and staff together for a one-day hackathon to create solutions for the problems they saw in their universities. The results were far beyond what we had expected.
Unitu: A Little Background
Unitu is an edu-tech start up, working to raise the standards of higher education, using technology to close the feedback loop in universities, empowering the student voice and making staff more accountable, ultimately ensuring that issues are noticed, addressed and resolved as quickly as possible. Our platform is currently being piloted in several UK universities and is already solving problems for students and staff.
The day started with opening talks from our sponsors and a few members of the Unitu team, including our very own hackathon-guru Fares Alaboud. After a light-hearted ice-breaker event involving cocoa submarines, an angry fridge and a chewing-gum limousine dispenser, the team-building exercise began.
People with ideas were invited to deliver a 30-second pitch, after which their idea were summarised in a few words on paper and posted to the wall. Armed with post-it notes and marker pens, everyone was asked to mark the ideas that interested them, and teams were formed from there. All teams included at least one staff member, developer and non-developer student.
We had 9 teams of around 4-5 members (and one solo-hacker), hacking away for 8 hours on a diverse selection of projects, tackling issues ranging from representation of knowledge to student nutrition. Throughout the day teams were able to pick the brains of our very capable team of mentors and Unitu staff members.
Our attendees were spoilt for choice when seeking advice from our experts from a wide range of disciplines, including:
- Web Front-End Developers
- Back-End Developers,
- Education Specialists,
- Business Brains,
- Mobile Developers (iOS & Android),
At the end of a fairly short hacking sprint, we were truly amazed by what our attendees had produced, especially considering that most teams only had one or two experienced developers. We saw fully functioning websites, mobile apps and even a few smartwatch apps, but even more encouragingly we saw several non-developers starting to experiment with their very first lines of code.
As a keen technology advocate, this was the highlight of my day.
You can watch my timelapse of the whole day, start to end via YouTube. Keep an eye out for Princess, the Innovation Warehouse cat.
Presentations & Prizes
When all was said and done (and coded), it was time for our teams to take to the stage and show off what they had produced. This is when we all started to realise just how thoroughly our expectations had been shattered. The UnituHack website has information on each of the teams and their projects, but honourable mentions must go to Federico and his innovative system for the representation of knowledge, and to UniCook for their brilliantly simple solution to a problem I have personally faced.
Presentations ranged from live demos and videos to passionate speeches (more on that later) and we were impressed by every single one of them. Each team was watched by all attendees and judged by our panel of industry experts:
- Paul Bailey – Senior Co-design Manager at Jisc (EdTech)
- Martin Ruskov – Co-founder of Lexcium
- Mischa Dohler – Head of the Centre for Telecommunications Research at King’s College London University
- Klaus Bravenboer – Founder of Hackhumanity
- Rebecca Rochon – Senior Lecturer in Education & Academic Development at Bucks New University
With over £2,000 of prizes – including vouchers, smartwatches and other tech – our winning teams were well-rewarded for their achievements. My favourite prize was awarded not for the hack, but for the quality of the pitch itself. Like many good ideas it was created out of necessity and named for the man who inspired it. We plan to make it a part of our tradition, and at future UnituHack events* we will be proud to award The Federico Prize: Most Passionate Pitch.
(* You didn’t think we’d stop at one, did you?)
“Don’t stop what you’re doing – go ahead. Build your ideas, they can make a difference!”
– Fares Alaboud – iOS Developer at Unitu and Hackathon Aficionado, speaking at the closing of UnituHack 2014.
UnituHack was, in my opinion, a resounding success. Students, staff and developers fully engaged in their projects and brought to life ideas that truly impressed our mentors and judges. Some great products were created, and two senior members of staff offered to help all teams by trialling and developing their ideas inside their own classrooms.
The Unitu team were amazed by what the teams had created and proud of them for doing so. We are all very excited to run the next UnituHack as soon as possible and we hope to continue empowering students and staff to work together to improve their entire academic experience.