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Simplest tools to increase student creativity in Hackathons

We have organized different kinds of creative processes, innovation projects, and hackathons in a few Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences. This blog article is based on our own experiences of which creativity-increasing tools work best in Hackathons with our students.


Maria Haukka

lehtori, HR ja johtaminen
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Päivi Käri-Zein

Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 11.12.2023

A good tool is clear and simple. It is easy to understand and easy to use, and thus, cannot be misunderstood or used in a wrong way. A good ideation tool helps students to think together and helps them to create something new. The ideal tool helps students to rethink and see things from a different angle.

Brainstorming – going for quantity

The most known tool for creating new ideas is brainstorming, where all ideas and challenges that arise are collected – anything is possible and only heaven is the limit. The rules of using it are few: quantity is more important than quality and no idea is to be judged during the process. Filtering the ideas at the beginning is definitely not useful nor acceptable. The digital platform for brainstorming can be Miro or Flinga where post-it notes can be used and classified.

We recommend using brainstorming in two phases. At first everybody in a team ponders ideas by themselves. After that, the team shares ideas one by one, and then continues the ideation further.

Creative people enjoy tossing ideas around and the level of creativity usually increases when hearing other’s ideas. However, for some students brainstorming is not an easy tool to use. While it suits creative people, students with less imagination by nature may not enjoy this tool. They find the liberated and limitless way of ideating oppressive as ideas do not come as easily.

Brainwriting – a framed tool for a hackathon

A systematic student may gain advantage from using framed tools. There are several tools to be used, but we recommend brainwriting, as it has the simplest instructions that students cannot misunderstand.

In brainwriting the problem is framed, and the ideation starts by sharing the paper in order, from one student to the next. Every team member develops further an idea written down earlier. Typically, there is no conversation included, and compared to brainstorming there is less of the group-thinking phenomenon or possible dominant behavior.

Boosting the creative process

Whichever tool is chosen,the main focus in a creative process is to teach students to let go of the criticism. As teachers and instructors, we need to help perfectionists let go and help others change their belief that they are not creative enough, or that their idea is not good enough. We need to help students to rethink ways of doing things and reframe their minds.

The student teams tend to stop ideating, when they have ten or fifteen ideas on the table to be presented. In an ideal ideation process the teams deliver a hundred ideas or more, as quantity yields the best results. Often students start to look for solutions to the challenge while still in the ideating phase.

All in all, the multiple use of tools in hackathons is not just about efficiency.  It is about boosting participant’s creativity, breaking down barriers, and turning ideas into tangible prototypes.  The synergy of human ingenuity and technological facilitation in a hackathon environment often leads to groundbreaking solutions that have the potential to boost industries and development.

The HACK-IT: Hackathon and ICT-based Innovative Methodologies in Higher Education project is a multinational project and funded by the EU Eramus+. In addition to Haaga-Helia, Kaunas University of Technology, University West, Polytechnic Institute of Bragança and University of Granada are involved in the project.

Editing: Marianne Wegmüller

Picture: Haaga-Helia