3 teaching ideas to steal from the tech industry

Students can accomplish great feats in short periods of time

Higher education can take a few lessons from the technology industry about high-impact learning, Rebecca Pope-Ruark writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education

Pope-Ruark—an associate professor of English, professional writing, and rhetoric at Elon University—explains that the traditional credit-hour model should no longer be the standard for student learning. Rather than giving credit for how long students sit in the classroom, Pope-Ruark argues we should be measuring how deeply students engage with the course content.

Practices taken from the technology industry show that it's possible "to create nontraditional experiences within courses or outside the classroom that are short and intensive but still challenging, immersive, and transformative," Pope-Ruark writes.

She offers three examples of technology industry practices that could be adapted for a college classroom:


These rapid-fire events force participants to come up with innovative solutions to a set challenge. The goal could be to design a product prototype or fix a coding bug. But hackathons don't need to be reserved for courses in STEM subjects—students in a history class, for example, could participate in an "archive-athon," in which they sort, organize, analyze, and report on archival documents. Students in Pope-Ruark's class produced an e-book over a three-week period. 

"The time-intensive hackathon approach motivates participants to focus on the situation at hand, learn new tools when necessary, and adapt existing knowledge and skills to meet the challenge," she writes.

Innovation break

When students have dedicated time to work on personal projects, there's no telling what they might come up with—dedicated innovation time led to the creation of both Gmail and Post-it Notes. Student projects could take the form of a video, a research study, or even a lesson taught in class. Pope-Ruark argues giving students even a short amount of time each semester to work on pet projects can help them make deeper connections with course material.

Why don't more faculty members adopt learning innovations?

"This short time off allows for self-directed learning through play that is consistent with course goals but also extends them, allowing students to connect the dots between the course material and their own questions and interests," Pope-Ruark writes.

Sprint prize competitions

Some of the biggest names in business and government agencies have used sprint prize competitions to encourage innovative problem-solving within a short time. In a classroom setting, students would be tasked with carrying out a project—like designing an alumni relations campaign or developing an app for children—and presenting their work in a public showcase. 

"Like hackathons and innovation time off, competitions offer a time-intensive challenge that allows students to creatively use course skills in a fun environment while still being publicly accountable for their work," Pope-Ruark writes (Pope-Ruark, Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/23). 

Engage faculty to ensure lasting change in student outcomes

Next in Today's Briefing

Around the industry: IU apologizes to first black student named Miss SUI

Next Briefing

  • Manage Your Events
  • Saved webpages and searches
  • Manage your subscriptions
  • Update personal information
  • Invite a colleague