Penn State students win co-sponsored EdTech challenge at HackPSU

By Hayley Wildeson
May 05, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A team of three Penn State students successfully competed in HackPSU with more than 480 innovative students, makers, and hackers to win notable opportunities from the Penn State EdTech Network and the Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL).

The spring HackPSU event led the students to Penn State’s University Park campus for the weekend of April 9-10. This 24-hour hackathon, hosted by Innoblue, brought together students from across the East Coast to collaborate and compete in challenges for sponsored-prizes.

As part of the event this year, the Penn State EdTech Network, Happy Valley Launch Box and COIL co-sponsored an educational technology (EdTech) themed challenge in which they asked competitors to think of a problem faced as a student in higher education and design a technology-based solution to solve that problem. This year’s winning project, Class Gotcha, is a platform created to help students more easily communicate with their peers and manage their time.

The Class Gotcha team consists of Penn State students Xiang Li, a sophomore computer science major; Zekun Yang, a junior computer science major; and Simo Wu, a second year doctoral student in the math department. Reflecting on their first hackathon, the students said they were able to complete more work in the 24-hour period than they could have imagined and that of the entire experience they most enjoyed the opportunity to meet other talented coders with great ideas.

Members of the group said competing in HackPSU gave them an opportunity to turn their coding skills and ideas into usable projects.

“We got a chance to transform the idea in our minds to a real project that can benefit our community,” Wu said.

Wu said that they participated in the challenge because they wanted to build something that would impact college students and make their lives easier for a long time. The Class Gotcha platform they created serves as a space for students to interact with one another in real-time to discuss issues or questions they may have regarding a particular course. On top of those features, the team has also built capabilities for this project to serve as a personal assistant, reminding students of their daily schedules and tasks.

The Class Gotcha platform originated from their own life experiences during college. The team members saw weaknesses in the current online platform and wanted to build a better, more user-friendly solution to make communication within classes easier.

Over the next six months, the group plans to finish development on all of the features they have brainstormed in hopes of piloting the platform in fall 2016.

As part of the win at HackPSU, the team will discuss in a COIL Conversation event their platform with innovative faculty, staff and students from across Penn State. In addition, the Class Gotcha team has been offered a chance to participate in the Invent Penn State Venture & Intellectual Property Conference scheduled for Oct. 6-7 in State College. This opportunity will put them in contact with other entrepreneurs, EdTech innovators, mentors and venture capitalists to help further develop their idea and tool.

The sponsors of the EdTech challenge at HackPSU are all interested in seeking out and supporting the innovative ideas from across Penn State that can help improve learning. COIL engages the University’s extensive research enterprise to improve online learning. The core mission of COIL is to guide the transformation of teaching and learning processes by supporting researchers who invent, investigate and implement the effects of technologically enhanced learning environments. For more information about COIL, visit

The Penn State EdTech Network promotes active collaboration among companies, students, faculty, staff and alumni to foster transformational education technology. It supports Penn State World Campus’ continuous growth, the educational technology work going on throughout Penn State and the global online learning community.

  • Class Gotcha dashboard

    The dashboard of the Class Dashboard platform developed by three Penn State students at the spring 2016 HackPSU.

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Class Gotcha COIL

    Penn State COIL's Brad Zdenek, second from left, stands with students Zekun Yang, Xiang Li, and Simo Wu, who won the the challenge during HackPSU that was co-sponsored by COIL.

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • COIL HackPSU 2016

    COIL's Brad Zdenek and Larry Ragan evaluate the Class Gotcha project during the 2016 HackPSU event. Class Gotcha was the winner of the HackPSU challenge sponsored by COIL, the Penn State EdTech Network and Happy Valley Launch Box. The students on the winning team are Zekun Yang, Xiang Li, and Simo Wu.

    IMAGE: Penn State
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Last Updated May 05, 2016