Hack to the future

With the emergence of new economies, traditional corporate cultures and structures have proven insufficient for the needs of innovative industries. Because of this, some companies are thinking outside of the proverbial box to embrace the new generation.

Universities are holding hackathons – programming competitions where people meet to engage in collaborative tasks within a certain amount of time – to encourage students to broaden their horizons and prepare for their careers.

Baptist University’s Data and Media Hack 2019 was the first of its kind in Hong Kong, combining the realms of data and media in a hackathon that gathered 14 groups of students from seven universities and colleges with mixed backgrounds in computer science, journalism, new media, design and business to work on challenges over two days.

Holding such events in the era of Covid-19 is a risky proposition, but the limits on face-to-face interactions also opened up opportunities for expanding the scope of the event beyond the city, allowing the event to reinvent itself as the Global Virtual Hackathon 2021.

The department of computer science, the school of communication, the Centre for Innovative Service-Learning and the office of student affairs at HKBU held the global competition in collaboration with West Virginia University in the United States, Ritsumeikan University in Japan and National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan.

Themed “Hack for a Sustainable New Normal,” the competition held at the beginning of April brought together around 90 university students from 16 countries and cities, including Bangladesh, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Taiwan and the UK. Divided into 16 teams, they devised plans and creative solutions to issues over two days.

Their solutions were designed to address four of the UN’s sustainable development goals: quality education, good health and well-being, sustainable cities and communities as well as responsible consumption and production.

Throughout the competition, the teams were provided with online training workshops and support from 19 mentors in different fields.

They then created online surveys and interviewed experts as well as target audiences before developing their creative solutions. These ideas were subsequently peer-reviewed and presented to the judges via a three-minute video.

The championship title and the Best Team Work Award went to the team that came up with an online platform called Quokkonnect, which aims to help children overcome physical boundaries, make friends with peers from different regions and work together on projects, such as ones focused on sustainable development.

The team hopes to collaborate with non-governmental organizations via the platform and enhance children’s mental health and learning abilities.

As for the first runner-up, they developed a mobile app to promote sustainable diets, while the second runner-up came up with a mobile app that aims to encourage peer teaching and skill sharing.

Joanne Luo Yi, one of the team members and a first-year student pursuing a bachelor of business administration at HKBU, said that the hackathon allowed her to brainstorm ideas that could positively change society.

“It was a memorable experience to work with students from different regions. I have become more proactive in terms of teamwork, and I’m also more self-motivated when it comes to acquiring new knowledge,” she said.

Apart from receiving a cash prize, students from the top winning teams will also be eligible for scholarships from HKBU and WVU.

HKBU vice-president Albert Chau Wai-lap said at the opening session that the participants are some of the most dedicated young minds from all over the world, bringing together their knowledge and ideas to create projects that can positively impact the world.

Kristen Li Yuanxi, an organizing committee member and lecturer at HKBU’s department of computer science, said: “We hope we can keep engaging with students from around the world, as we want to encourage them to overcome the language barriers and time differences between regions.

“The participants showcased their energy and creative minds in the competition, as well as their eagerness to embrace learning opportunities under the new normal.”

(This article was published at The Standard on May 11, 2021: Education: Hack to the future )

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