Hackathons as a Formal Teaching Approach in Information Systems Capstone Courses

  • Walter F. UysEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Communications in Computer and Information Science book series (CCIS, volume 1136)


Hackathons are ‘hacking marathons’ in which participants collaboratively and rapidly prototype new applications over a 24–48 h period. The potential of hackathons as a strategy for stimulating interest in the CS fields is well known. Hackathons share many similarities with capstone courses, however their application as a formal teaching approach in the CS/IS curriculum is less prevalent. This paper describes the introduction of a curricular hackathon in a 3rd-year IS capstone course at a South African university. An exploratory case study was conducted to evaluate feedback from the participants and organizers. In the process, the students completed seven new applications which they had conceptualized during the course. They also learned something about new technologies and programming interfaces as well as they exhibited growth in personal and inter-personal competencies. Seven fundamental differences between curricular and traditional hackathons are highlighted. Suggestions for integrating hackathons into undergraduate CS/IS capstone courses are provided together with possible areas for further research.


Information systems education Capstone courses Software application development Hackathons Project-based learning 



The research described in this paper was done as part of the author’s participation in our regional Institutional Teaching Excellence Awards (ITEA). Thanks to the senior staff of our faculty who supported this project both financially and administratively; the directors of student life and campus security; the facilitation company who assisted us in planning and hosting the event; the management team from the student group who did additional work in order to ensure the event’s success; as well as the other lecturers and students who participated in the event. Thanks to the external examiner for suggesting such an educational intervention as well as for attending the final presentations and providing guidance during the process. Thanks for the financial contribution made by the schools’ directors towards hosting the hackathon. Last but not least thanks the anonymous reviewers for their critical feedback as well to the SACLA‘2019 conference’s audience for some insightful remarks following the presentation of this work.


  1. 1.
    Aboab, J., et al.: A ‘Datathon’ model to support cross-disciplinary collaboration. Sci. Transl. Med. 8(333), 1–5 (2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Adams, L., Daniels, M., Goold, A., Hazzan, O., Lynch, K., Newman, I.: Challenges in teaching capstone courses. ACM SIGCSE Bull. 35(3), 219 (2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Andrews, J., Higson, H.: Graduate employability, ‘Soft Skills’ versus ‘Hard’ business knowledge: a European study. High. Educ. Eur. 33(4), 411–422 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Anslow, C., Brosz, J., Maurer, F., Boyes, M.: Datathons: an experience report of data hackathons for data science education. In: Proceedings of SIGCSE 2016, pp. 615–620 (2016)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Benbasat, I., Goldstein, D.K., Mead, M.: The case research strategy in studies of information systems. MIS Q. 11(3), 369–386 (1987)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Bhardwaj, P.: This is the Fastest-Growing Six-Figure Job in America and it Doesn’t Require a Degree (2019).
  7. 7.
    Blanco, L.: BeSmart hackathon: HBCU students hacked into their futures in silicon valley. Black Enterp. 49(2), 54–57 (2018)Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Bowen, L.M.: The limits of hacking composition pedagogy. Comput. Compos. 43, 1–14 (2017)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Burnham, K.: Inside Facebook’s Hackathons: 5 Tips for Hosting Your Own (2012).
  10. 10.
    Byrne, J.R., O’Sullivan, K., Sullivan, K.: An IoT and wearable technology hackathon for promoting careers in computer science. IEEE Trans. Educ. 60(1), 50–58 (2017)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Calitz, A.P., Greyling, J.H., Cullen, M.D.M.: South African industry ICT graduate skills requirements. In: Proceedings of SACLA 2014 Annual Conference of the Southern African Computer Lecturers’ Association, pp. 135–145 (2014)Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Carr, W.: Theories of theory and practice. J. Philos. Educ. 20(2), 177–186 (1986)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Carroll, J.M. (ed.): Innovative Practices in Teaching Information Sciences and Technology — Experience Reports and Reflections. Springer, Cham (2014). Scholar
  14. 14.
    Clark, R.W., Threeton, M.D., Ewing, J.C.: The potential of experiential learning models and practices in career and technical education & career and technical teacher education. J. Career Tech. Educ. 25(2), 46–62 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Duhring, J.: Project-based learning kickstart tips: hackathon pedagogies as educational technology. In: Proceedings of NCIIA, pp. 1–8 (2014)Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Gallet, F.: The Education vs. Experience Debate. Bona Magazine (2015).
  17. 17.
    Gama, K.: Crowdsourced software development in civic apps – motivations of civic hackathons participants. In: ICEIS, vol. 2, pp. 550–555 (2017)Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Gama, K.: Developing course projects in a hack day: an experience report. In: Proceedings of ITiCSE 2019, Aberdeen, pp. 388–394 (2019)Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Gama, K., Alencar, B., Calegario, F., Neves, A., Alessio, P.: A hackathon methodology for undergraduate course projects. In: Proceedings of FiE 2018 Conference (2019)Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    deGaray, J.: Aristotelism of difference. Found. Sci. 13(3/4), 229–237 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Hendarman, A.F., Tjakraatmadja, J.H.: Relationship among soft skills, hard skills, and innovativeness of knowledge workers in the knowledge economy era. Procedia Soc. Behav. Sci. 52, 35–44 (2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Janse van Rensburg, J.T., Goede, R.: A reflective practice approach for supporting IT skills required by industry through project-based learning. In: Kabanda, S., Suleman, H., Gruner, S. (eds.) SACLA 2018. CCIS, vol. 963, pp. 253–266. Springer, Cham (2019). Scholar
  23. 23.
    Jennett, C., Papadopoulou, S., Himmelstein, J., Vaugoux, A., Roger, V., Cox, A.L.: Case study 3: students’ experiences of interdisciplinary learning while building scientific video games. Int. J. Game-Based Learn. 7(3), 93–97 (2017)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Komssi, M., Pichlis, D., Raatikainen, M., Kindström, K., Järvinen, J.: What are Hackathons for? IEEE Softw. 32(5), 60–67 (2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Lara, M., Lockwood, K.: Hackathons as community-based learning: a case study. TechTrends 60(5), 486–495 (2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Laware, G.W., Walters, A.J.: Real-world problems bringing life to course content. In: Proceedings of 5th Conference on Information Technology in Education, pp. 6–12 (2004)Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Leidig, P.M., Ferguson, R., Leidig, J.: The use of community-based non-profit organizations in information systems capstone projects. ACM SIGCSE Bull. 38(3), 148 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Loveland, T.R.: Teaching personal skills in technology and engineering education: is it our job? Tech. Eng. Teach. 1, 15–20 (2017)Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Lyndon, M.P., et al.: Hacking Hackathons: preparing the next generation for the multidisciplinary world of healthcare technology. Int. J. Med. Inform. 112, 1–5 (2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Maaravi, Y.: Running a research marathon. Innov. Educ. Teach. Int. 55(2), 212–218 (2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Merriam, S.: Some thoughts on the relationship between theory and practice. In: Merriam, S.B. (ed.) New Directions for Continuing Education, pp. 87–91. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco (1982)Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Motta, G., Wu, B. (eds.): Software Engineering Education for a Global E-Service Economy – State of the Art, Trends and Developments. Springer, Cham (2014). Scholar
  33. 33.
    Mtsweni, J., Hanifa, A.: Stimulating and maintaining students’ interest in computer science using the hackathon model. Indep. J. Teach. Learn 10(1), 85–97 (2015)Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Nandi, A., Mandernach, M.: Hackathons as an informal learning platform. In: Proceedings of 47th ACMSIGCSE, pp. 346–351 (2016)Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Nolte, A., Pe-Than, E.P.P., Herbsleb, J., Filippova, A., Bird, C., Scallen, S.: You hacked and now what? Exploring outcomes of a corporate hackathon. In: Proceedings of ACM Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, p. 129 (2018)Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Padayachee, I., van der Merwe, A., Kotzé, P.: Virtual learning system usage in higher education - a study at two South African institutions. South Afr. Comput. J. 57, 32–57 (2015)Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Patrick, Y., et al.: Effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive and physical performance in university students. Sleep Biol. Rhythm. 15(3), 217–225 (2017)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Perrotta, C., Featherstone, G., Aston, H., Houghton, E.: Game-Based Learning: Latest Evidence and Future Directions. NFER Research Programme: Innovation in Education, Slough (2013)Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Pfleeger, S.L.: Software metrics: progress after 25 years? IEEE Softw. 25(6), 32–34 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Pieterse, V., van Eekelen, M.: Which are harder? Soft skills or hard skills? In: Gruner, S. (ed.) SACLA 2016. CCIS, vol. 642, pp. 160–167. Springer, Cham (2016). Scholar
  41. 41.
    Porras, J., et al.: Hackathons in software engineering education – lessons learned from a decade of events. In: Proceedings of ICSE, pp. 40–47 (2018)Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Porras, J., Knutas, A., Ikonen, J., Happonen, A., Khakurel, J., Herala, A.: Code camps and hackathons in education – literature review and lessons learned. In: Proceedings of 52nd Hawaii International Conference on Systems Science, pp. 7750–7759 (2019)Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Powell, D.: Want to run your first Internal Hackathon? Here are some Tips from KPMG (2017).
  44. 44.
    Rennick, C., Hulls, C., Wright, D., Milne, A.J., Li, E., Bedi, S.: Engineering design days: engaging students with authentic problem-solving in an academic hackathon. In: Proceedings ASEE Annual Conference, Salt Lake City (2018)Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Richterich, A.: Hacking events: project development practices and technology use at hackathons. Converg. Int. J. Res. New Media Tech. 25, 1000–1026 (2017)Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Rosell, B., Kumar, S., Shepherd, J.: Unleashing innovation through internal hackathons. In: Proceedings of IEEE Innovation in Technnical Conference, Warwick (2014)Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Ross, W.D. (ed.): The Works of Aristotle, vol. I. Clarendon Press, Oxford (1928)Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Scholtz, B., Cilliers, C., Calitz, A.: Bridging the Enterprise Systems (ES) skills gap: the South African challenge. In: Proceedings of SACLA 2014 Annual Conference of the Southern African Computer Lecturers’ Association, pp. 3–5 (2010)Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Scott, E.: From requirements to code: issues and learning in IS students systems development projects. J. Inf. Tech. Educ. 7, 1–13 (2008)Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Scott, E., Alger, R., Pequeno, S., Sessions, N.: The skills gap observed between IS graduates and the systems development industry: a South African experience. In: Proceedings of Information Science and IT Education Conference, Cork (2002)Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Senghore, F., Campos-Nanez, E., Fomin, P., Wasek, J.S.: Applying social network analysis to validate mass collaboration innovation drivers: an empirical study of NASA’s international space apps challenge. J. Eng. Tech. Manag. 37, 21–31 (2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    Silver, J.K., Binder, D.S., Zubcevik, N., Zafonte, R.D.: Healthcare hackathons provide educational and innovation opportunities: a case study and best practice recommendations. J. Med. Syst. 40(7), 177 (2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. 53.
    Tobor, N.: The Largest All-Female Hackathon in South Africa (2017).
  54. 54.
    Tsjardiwal, L.: Hackathons: an effective communication tool for innovation within an organization? Thesis, Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam (2016).
  55. 55.
    Wang, J.K., Pamnani, R.D., Capasso, R., Chang, R.T.: An extended hackathon model for collaborative education in medical innovation. J. Med. Syst. 42(12), 239 (2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. 56.
    Ward, R.: Active, collaborative and case-based learning with computer-based case scenarios. Comput. Educ. 30(1/2), 103–110 (1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. 57.
    Warner, J., Guo, P.J.: examining how college hackathons are perceived by student attendees and non-attendees. In: Proceedings of ICER 2017 ACM Conference on International Computing Education Research, pp. 254–262 (2017)Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Wiley, D.: What is Open Pedagogy? (2013).
  59. 59.
    Winberg, C., Garraway, J., Engel-Hills, P., Jacobs, C.: Work-Integrated Learning: Good Practice Guide #12 (2011).
  60. 60.
    Yaqinuddin, A.: Problem-based learning as an instructional method. J. Coll. Phys. Surg. Pak. 23(1), 83–85 (2013)Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Yin, R.K.: Case Study Research: Design and Methods, vol. 5, 2nd edn. SAGE Publ., Thousand Oaks (1994)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SDL Research Focus AreaNorth-West UniversityMahikengSouth Africa
  2. 2.CITANDAUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations