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Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Archive for the 'LearnHack' Category

#LearnHack 6.0 – Reflections

Janina Dewitz16 December 2020

Like so many things in 2020, #LearnHack, our UCL community hackathon, also went virtual for the first time this year. Instead of running over an intense weekend, we stretched our usual structure across an entire week to accommodate people’s schedules, participants in different time zones and potential tech problems. As usual, the event attracted participants from across the institution (some statistics here). Unusually, we had more staff participants on this round than ever before. Even more unusually for #LearnHack, a lot of the staff came from Professional Services.

In a year of distance, a motto of “Building Bridges” for #LearnHack 6.0 seemed appropriate. We had three broad themes:

  • Teaching & Learning
  • Mental Health & Well-being
  • Community & Connections

A total of nine project proposals were submitted across all three themes. Not all projects managed to attract enough interest to form a team. Although a number of projects didn’t make it over the project submission line, the topics nonetheless generated conversations and connections that might not have taken place without the event. As always we hope that these connections, conversations and projects will continue in some form long beyond this edition of #LearnHack.

Projects that made the submission deadline

Coffee Roulette and Virtual Quad combined forces as there was significant overlap in aims and sharing skills and resources made more sense than having two individual much smaller teams. Virtual Quad/Coffee Roulette spent a morning working in Miro, pulling together research, a long list of desirable features and potential solutions. Next, we managed to get a survey out to sanity check our idea of what such an environment should look like. The survey received 43 responses in total and revealed that we were largely on the right track with our ideas (details here).

The overall project was far too ambitious to come up with any actual product in the very short time we had, however, the conversation about virtual social spaces is ongoing and we’re happy to talk to anyone who’d like to know more or get involved.


The Winning Team

Games Workshop proposed by Ellie Bates, School of Pharmacy scooped the top spot in our community vote. The team managed to develop an actual game: “Click University

Here are some #LearnHack reflections from Kitty:

Why did you join?

I’d been wanting to participate in a hackathon for a while, and LearnHack’s emphasis on inclusivity and being open to people from all backgrounds with any skill set (not just those technically-minded), to both staff and students, really appealed to me. I also liked the sound of the themes and projects that had been proposed, and that it was UCL-based – I’d be able to see any positive change we might make as a result of the hack right here, in this very community.

What was your team/project?

My team was the Games Workshop team, which aimed to use a games format to address some of the common issues we’d all faced this challenging year, when we’ve had to transition large parts of our life online. Issues like what it feels like to be a faceless name joining a lecture full of other faceless names; not knowing whether it’s better to turn your camera on/off; whether to contribute via the chat; how to make friends when there are no face-to-face social opportunities. Of course, we couldn’t solve these complex problems over one week – but what we did do was create a game that presented optimistic online futures and modelled scenarios in this strange new online world, which we hoped would help players feel less alone and more empathetic towards each other.

How did you find the week?

To be honest, the start of the week was a bit awkward as it was my first time joining a hack and I had no idea what I was doing or what was meant to be happening. But once I met my team and we started drafting ideas and talking about our project, time just flew by. My teammates and I met every day to discuss our progress and work on our game.

It was really fun, not least because we got to play games (for research purposes, of course!). By the end of the week, my team had a small but functional game that we hope to be able to develop further next year. I’ve also personally learned a lot, and not just about games. I’ve learned about practical problem-solving, been reminded of how useful it can be to work through ideas with others, and learned how to use a bunch of new software tools that I’d never heard of before, which I have since continued to explore and use. I may even work on something related for my final year Master’s project.

If I had anything to say to anyone thinking about joining a future LearnHack, it would be: why not? It’s a great way to do something out of the ordinary.

– Kitty Ho
Quality Assurance and Governance Officer, Joint Faculties, UCL
Final Year MSc Computer Science (Part-time), Birkbeck


Thanks to everyone who took part in this year’s event. Special thanks to Paul Bailey from Jisc for being our independent project judge.

Looking back at #LearnHack 4.5

Janina Dewitz20 June 2018

Guest post by Teodora Lazar

On the 2nd of June, UCL’s Digital Education ran #LearnHack 4.5, a day of problem solving, tackling challenges around technology and learning. Students and staff from different departments in UCL came together in BaseKX to solve a challenge, share their ideas and make new connections. What started as being an event that aimed to explore how technology is being used for teaching and learning, became a common ground where students and staff can work together towards achieving a common goal.  

#LearnHack 4.5 tackled 3 challenges, pitched and voted before the event. Two of them where technical challenges, and the other one was conceptual. The different formats of the challenges were chosen democratically in order to ensure that students from all backgrounds can contribute to the final outcome. Mixed teams, formed on the spot, worked towards bringing forward the best solution for the challenge, competing against each other at the same time

Kicking off with a presentation of all the challenges, the participants got the chance to understand them, ask questions, and form their teams. The challenges were:

UCL Intranet for Students by Saskia Cebrian Guerrero & Fabian Urban

“As a new student at UCL, it was very difficult for me at the beginning to find the library services, where to pay my bills, maps, my schedule, events from the UCL Union and Moodle, since they are all in different-not linked platforms. I think its necessary that students know from the very beginning all the important links and information from the university in an integrated platform. And that is my idea, to create an Intranet designed by and for students.”

Predicting when assets will fail by Peter Jones & Rebecca Allen

“To use data from UCL’s Estates team to build a predictive model that will assess which assets are likely fail, enabling predictive/preventative maintenance.”

Hacking #LearnHack by “the #LearnHack organising gang”

“The aim of #LearnHack is to bring the whole of the UCL community together to solve some of its problems from the bottom up or the inside out (however you prefer to look at it). Every event is an opportunity to make a real difference to how we do things in the areas of teaching, learning and campus life. While both ticket sales for the  event and feedback by past attendees have been consistently great, attendance hasn’t always been so fantastic. Why is this and what can we do to build a more self-sustaining community moving forwards?”


The rest of the day was a good opportunity to have a lot of fun while debating, prototyping and working as a team. The participatory format and the friendly environment enabled collaboration and lots of discussion about ways to tackle the challenges. Even if the day was very labour intensive and tiring, the food, snacks, drinks and sweets provided kept everyone going. Also, the wonderful culture of community and collaboration remains a constant characteristic for each and every #LearnHack.

Being an event that explores the topics of learning and technology, two optional workshops were delivered throughout the day in order to nourish the learning and knowledge sharing atmosphere. The first workshop, ‘Primer on Visual Abstracts’, explored how to increase the impact of one’s publication, through image conceptualisation. Meanwhile the other one, ‘Putting it all together: R and R Markdown’, investigated how one can combine formatted text and analysis code to build up-to-date reports. These workshops were a good way to learn some new skills, but also to take a  well-deserved break from all the hard work to solve the challenges.

The final presentations were the moment when each team introduced their solutions, ideas and prototypes and told everyone about their findings. Through presentations of just a few minutes, the teams managed to prove that they came up with tangible, creative and useful solutions to every challenge. Even more, they all handled the questions coming from the public and the jury like pros.

The solutions to the challenges were:


Make #LearnHack Great Again by Team ‘Something Cool’

This team responded to the challenge Hacking #LearnHack by creating a strategy plan to improve the reach, recognition and impact of future #LearnHacks. They also responded to this conceptual challenge through a technical measure, by creating a prototype for a brand new website.

Maintenance System by Team Regatta

The app that Team Regatta came with responded to the ‘Predicting when Assets will Fail’ challenge. They decided to tackle the issue by creating an app that could be used by the UCL staff to report maintenance issues. They designed a centralised system through which data could be stored in a easy to use, and easy to analyse manner.

Predictive Analytics by Team Broken Assets

This team decided to build a model to evaluate the probability of assets failure, so the problems could be fixed before even happening. They analysed the data by taking into account the historical maintenance and the environmental factors. The approach that this team took was very data heavy, since they managed to map out most data sources throughout the day.

Intranet for Students by Team Lime Pair

Responding to the challenge of building an intranet for students, team Lime Pair built their prototype that would incorporate on the same website page, all online resources that are vital to all UCL students: Portico, Moodle, Library Services and others.


#LearnHack proved once again that it not an event for techies only. Don’t be fooled by the name. This one day hackathon brings together researchers, creators, artists, visionaries, thinkers, designers, inventors, dreamers and many others.

You don’t identify with any of these? No problem, we are always open to new suggestions.