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Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Archive for the 'LearnHack' Category

Up Up and Away! (guest post)

By Janina Dewitz, on 19 March 2024

The following is a guest post by Lucy Porte who is studying for an MSc in Health Informatics at UCL. In January, Lucy travelled all the way from Manchester to join us at #LearnHack in London. Here is her report:


Up Up and Away! 

I had the best weekend recently at #LearnHack 7.0, sponsored by the UCL Centre for Engineering Education and hosted by the School of Management. A distance-learning student, I could not resist the temptation to do a research based hackathon from the centre of Canary Wharf and so headed down to London for the weekend. When we got to the 50th floor of One Canada Square, I knew my decision had payed off. 

evening view of London Docklands with One Canada Square in the centre.

One Canada Square. Credit: Janina Dewitz

 The themes this year were Generative AI and assessment and feedback, to tie into #LearnHack’s overall focus on innovation in a research and education setting. There were so many different parts of the event, from board game sessions to brainstorming workshops, pizza breaks to Brewdog pints, an evening seeing the winter lights display and even a competition to see who could make the best AI-generated artwork. This was all alongside the main activity, the creation of our #LearnHack artefacts, which we would get to present at the end of the three days. 

a seminar room where the first two rows of chairs are occupied by colourful balloons with faces drawn on them

Everyone having fun. Credit: Janina Dewitz

Having only attended one hackathon before and being fairly out of my depth, I was quite apprehensive about this element. Luckily there was a range of amazing project topics to choose from, including game design, UX design, qualitative research pipelines, a tool to perform automated marking and a tool to summarise biomedical research papers. I really struggled with choosing one of these, and spent a lot of the first two days discussing projects with people and gathering ideas for implementation. In the end I chose the last project because it tied into my studies in Health Informatics. 

Project Presentation Slide, Protocol Optimiser by Amy Li

Protocol Optimiser. Credit: Amy Li

Amy, Jenny and myself soon got to work creating a prototype for our idea. Thanks to Amy’s extensive background work, we were quickly able to focus on our objectives and train a ChatGPT to extract method steps from biomedical papers according to a framework we had found online. Because of ChatGPT’s learning capacity we could iteratively improve the tool to create better results and even evaluate its own performance. We were all very surprised to be granted first prize, which included $1000 of AWS tokens and UCL Changemakers funding to continue the project! 


The team: Jenny, Amy and Lucy

The team! Credit: Janina Dewitz

We are going to be presenting a poster about our idea at the BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium in April, and can’t wait to see what comes out of the Changemakers funding, but will be sure to feed back! I honestly didn’t realise I could get so much out of one weekend with the Digital Education team, and would encourage everyone to subscribe to the #LearnHack mailing list, so you can be first in line for next year! 

Lucy Porte 

#LearnHack 7 reflections

By Geraldine Foley, on 8 February 2024

On the weekend 26 – 28 January I helped to facilitate and took part in the seventh iteration of #LearnHack.

#LearnHack is a community hackathon organised by an interdisciplinary UCL team. The original event was held in November 2015 in collaboration with UCL Innovation and Enterprise at IDEALondon. The 2024 version was the first time it has been run as a hybrid event. It was held over the weekend of 26-28 January in the School of Management department at Canary Wharf in collaboration with the Faculty of Engineering, Digital Education and UCL Changemakers. Participants came from 12 different UCL departments, alumni, and external guests from Jisc. Everyone was invited to submit project proposals for how to improve UCL based on pre-agreed themes. The themes this year were AI and Assessment with overlap between the two.

Being fairly new to UCL I had not come across this event before, but when I was told about the ethos behind it which is to empower a community of staff, students, researchers and alumni to tackle challenges collaboratively and creatively, it sounded right up my street. I am a big advocate of playful learning and creating a safe space for experimentation and failure. I also liked the interdisciplinary approach which encourages people from all backgrounds to work together and learn from each other.  Anyone with a valid UCL email address can submit a project proposal to be worked on over the weekend and anyone can run a learning session to share their skills or ideas with participants. Everyone is encouraged to attend welcome talks on the Friday evening to hear about the different projects and get to know each other and form teams. Participants have the weekend to work on their chosen project and also take part in learning sessions.

I’m always up for a challenge, so I not only put forward a project proposal and ran a learning session, but I also helped to facilitate the online attendees on the Friday evening and Saturday morning. This meant it was a packed weekend and I got to experience all the different elements of #LearnHack, including joining online on the second day. 

View from UCL School of Management at Canary Wharf.

View from UCL School of Management at Canary Wharf.

The venue was amazing, with great views of London, and the School of Management spaces were perfect for collaboration and hybrid events. The learning sessions were great, I particularly enjoyed learning how to use Lumi and GitHub to create and host H5P activities outside of Moodle so that they can be shared externally. I also found out about the game that ARC had devised for engineers and developers to learn about the issues associated with generative AI where players can help prevent or create an AI Fiasco.

My own session on making a playful AI chatbot was run online but many people joined from the room. The session encouraged people to experiment with different types of chat bots and have a go at creating their own. We managed to create some interesting applications in the short time we had including a bot that accurately answered questions on using Moodle, Zoom and Turnitin. We also explored how a bot’s personality can impact a user’s interactions and perceptions on the accuracy of its responses and had some interesting discussions on some of the ethical issues involved with users uploading material to datasets.

In-between games, food and learning sessions, teams worked on five different projects. I was impressed with all the project teams and the work they managed to produce in such a short space of time. The winning team stood out in particular, as they created a working prototype using ChatGPT. Their project aims to reduce the time that medical science students spend manually searching through articles looking for replicable research. This team now have Student ChangeMaker funding to create an optimiser to filter through biomedical research papers and extract quality quantitative methods. It is hoped that the ‘protocol optimiser’ will streamline workflows for researchers and students to find suitable lab work. I am looking forward to following the development of their project and hopefully they will report back at a changemaker event later in the year.

#LearnHack 7 Feedback on participants ‘best bits’ of the event.

Despite smaller numbers of attendees than hoped, feedback from participants was positive with calls to raise awareness amongst the student population with promotion in freshers’ week and from careers to encourage students to join. Personally, I had a great time, although next time I wouldn’t try to do quite so much and would either stick to being involved in a project or helping to facilitate and run sessions. The Faculty of Engineering has already given the go ahead for #LearnHack8 and we are currently exploring possibilities with running some mini #LearnHack events before then, so watch this space for more details and if you have an idea for a project then get in touch.

Eye eye! 👀

By Janina Dewitz, on 20 April 2021

People often ask me: what happens after #LearnHack? – And often I don’t quite know how to answer this question. So much of what happens with the projects depends on the enthusiasm and stamina of the project teams. Some find funding to develop their ideas further, either through Change Makers or through departmental support. Often projects disappear in the ether of the university and I only find out by complete chance that a project or collaboration is still going years later!

The last #LearnHack, while a bit strange, has had the major benefit that online chatter is easier to continue after the event and keep up with, and so I checked in with Marcus Pedersen a few days ago to see what happened with his AR Eye Model project proposal. Here is what happened:

1. What did you do/what happened?

Remote education has become increasingly popular over the last year due to the ongoing pandemic. This inspired me to think about how we could educate patients and students about the anatomy of the eye and certain eye diseases. From here I set about sourcing some funding to build an Augmented Reality app. After successfully applying for a grant, I then set about developing content for the education app. Firstly, I needed a model eye that could be used as part of the AR environment. Secondly, I needed to develop content on the eye diseases we were going to highlight. Thirdly, I needed to think how I could make this accessible to all.

These three key aspects were supported by attending the Hackathon where I pitched my idea and interested parties then got involved. Ideas that came from the new advisory board then set up after the hackathon allowed for fresh ideas (as well as some well needed editing my spelling as never been great).

Once the group was set up, I could get to work on developing the content.

2. Who has been involved?

I outsourced the app development so I could focus on developing the accessible nature of the app. I contacted the service director at Moorfields Eye Hospital and asked them to write a script on Age Related Macular Degeneation (AMD), glaucoma and uveitis. From here I then found fellows at the hospital to help translate the material. The fellows come from all over the world so I knew we would be able to help many more patients than usual. I then edited these videos including some animation. For AMD we were able to create 33 multilingual introductory videos.

3. Was this in reaction to an issue or request? How did this come about?

The app came about from some research I conducted on remote education. Knowing that post pandemic aspects of remote medical care would continue I thought I could further bolster patients learning from home. Students studying the eye could also use the app to refresh their understanding of the eye as well as learn about the key eye diseases.

4. Why did you take this approach? Was there anything novel in your approach?

I decided to use an App as part of a larger project that includes other modalities of educating patients, careers and family members about eye diseases and the anatomy of the eye. There is nothing novel about using AR in education as it has been around for a while

however, I am interested to see the feedback form those with sight impairment and their ability to interact with the app.

5. What next?

Collect feedback from the audience and develop the app for future patient education. Expand the list of eye disease’s so we can assist more people all over the world.


Have you got a #LearnHack story? Let us know in the comments below.👇

#LearnHack 6.0 – Reflections

By Janina Dewitz, on 16 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

By Janina Dewitz, on 20 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.