“Where are the cables, where are the nerds?” Professor of Communication and Media Jeroen Jansz wonders when he addresses a room full of – still – fresh students. “For my job, I regularly attend hackathons, and I always trip over the cables,” he laughs. It may be a hackathon, but the students aren’t going to be hacking. They’re changing the education system.

They’ve been given 36 hours, will mainly use their own experiences and question students on campus. Participants are going to think up an innovation for one of the three themes that have emerged from the university’s new strategy plans: personal learning routes, co-creation in education, and the integration of global problems in education.

Life hacks

So it’s not a classic hackathon, says organiser Mirjam van de Woerdt from the Community for Learning and Innovation (CLI). “It’s more about life hacks. We want to impress on students that they can influence the education system. Their voice is important, and we want to demonstrate that here. Winning ideas will actually be implemented.”

Neither time nor money has been spared. EUR’s entire IT desk is present to resolve any technical problems that the students may encounter and answer any questions, all meals are provided, and students are given a fanny pack with a discount pass for all the sustainable restaurants in Rotterdam.

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Image credit: Marko de Haan

Macarena

During the day and a half, the groups of students have to perform ‘mini challenges’ to win points. “The challenges are mainly intended to promote team building and to make the brain more flexible,” says Van de Woerdt. So the participants are building towers with spaghetti and bacon pieces and making a K-pop video clip in which teaching staff dance the Macarena to Drank & Drugs by Ronnie Flex and Li’l Kleine. “This is going to get me fired,” one of them laughs.

Are the students having problems with the creative process? To provide support, Vincent Everts – trend watcher, innovation expert and video blogger – has been specially hired. Sporting a red suit, he tries to stimulate creativity. “You’re in a system that I’m sure must sometimes be irritating and frustrating for you. And the nice thing is: you only have to think up a plan. You can leave the implementation to other people!” Everts encourages the students.

In the sports café, students could even stay the night, although no one actually did. Two students laid out their air beds in the gym. “They left at 2 a.m. to explore the night life and returned at 6 a.m.,” says Kevin from the sports café. The breakfast on Saturday morning remained untouched.

Bean seeds

On the last day, the students finalise their plan and embark on the last challenge: planting bean seeds in the wild to a deadline. “It’s a fun and inspiring day,” says first-year Business Administration student Jelrik Westra (18). Did she continue working into the early hours? “Not really. Everyone came over with an idea, because you already knew the theme. We’d finished at around 7.30 p.m.”

Jelrik and his team took part in the global problem issue. “Our idea was to get each student to collect points via an app for their sustainability behaviour to make them aware of this theme. They can then cash in their points for a free coffee, for example.”

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Image credit: Marko de Haan

Three winners

On the last day, the students pitch their ideas to a jury that has been specially convened for this event. The jury includes rector Rutger Engels, media professor Jeroen Jansz and a representative from the association of universities. One group won in each category, so the hackathon produces three winners.

The CLI will actually start work with their innovation. The spiritual parents of the idea may get involved, but it’s not compulsory. “On Wednesday, all the winning ideas will be discussed, and then the winning students will be invited to a kick-off,” explains organiser Van de Woerdt. “The winners will also be given a special WakaWaka power bank that works on solar energy.”

The first winning group of students thought up the ‘EUR Wallet’, in which you can buy optional courses using tokens, for example. The second winning group invented a platform whereby students are involved in developing, implementing and giving feedback about education.

Global problem

The winning students in the global problem category wanted to get their counterparts more involved in society. “One of the ways they hope to achieve this is by getting the students to do social work,” says Linda Szabo (21). Fellow team member Florence Schaatsbergen (21) adds: “Another way is to oblige them to do an ‘impact course’, which focuses on one global problem.”

After 36 hours of life hacking, DJ Rinus provides the finale. To the uplifting beats of Jennifer Lopez, the students enjoy themselves in the warm sun. Another Hackathon is planned for next year. Rector Rutger Engels is enthusiastic: “We have so many events where there are ideas, but here something is actually going to be done with them. And that’s brilliant.”

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Image credit: Marko de Haan