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Hack Away


The inability to meet face-to-face has led to innovative strategies for ideation and collaboration in a virtual setting. Case in point: the hackathon. Once the purview of computer industry, hackathons are now being used in many sectors as a collaborative way to brainstorm ideas.


Hackathons were developed by computer software engineers who would meet to solve a problem, harnessing the brainpower in the room to fix a coding question in a short period of time. 


Recently, Natalie Lowe, president of Celebrate Niagara, and co-founder of The Sustainable Events Forum, joined an event sustainability hackathon based in Australia. “I loved the speed and intensity of this virtual gathering. We went into a common room and then broke into 35 break-out rooms that held 5 to 20 people. The format for the breakouts was to take one topic and come up with as many creative ideas as we could. We would then take it back to the whole group and present our solutions.”


Lowe, who was asked to be a facilitator, says her takeaway was a real appreciation that we need to slow down and discover how to use new technologies. “It was a bit of an ‘aha’ moment—I had to learn how to use three totally new platforms for this hackathon.” Lowe was asked to join a Slack channel a month before the actual hackathon date and the responsibility was on her to go in and find out what was going on with the online platforms—Hopin and Viima—the technology that was used during the event. “An interesting thing I noticed was that Europeans and Australians were very comfortable with the technology, although there were some hiccups with participants getting kicked out and having to log back in.”


Overall, though, Lowe was impressed with the day and would like to bring it to CanSPEP for online learning. She did have one caveat—"I would do a session on facilitation best practices  and have someone in from the tech side to tell us how good hackathons are done. There are huge variations in facilitators and moderators. More skill development in moderating would really make this a great way to develop education and learning.”


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