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Last year, HackIllinois introduced the open-source college hackathon. Our primary goal was to support student developers in giving back to the open-source community.

Our event offered two tracks. In the Create Track, we guided students towards the creation of new, maintainable projects. In the Contribute Track, we connected students with the maintainers of existing popular open-source projects, encouraging them to learn about these projects and become contributors themselves throughout the weekend.

For many of our attendees, work on their projects didn’t stop when our event came to an end. We’ve watched as the projects and contributions that started at HackIllinois have matured. Today, we’d like to share some of the amazing work our attendees have done in the six months that followed HackIllinois 2017.

This feature is the second part of a three part series detailing some of the projects that have kept on going after HackIllinois 2017. Read about our Long Con winners here:


We’re happy to announce that the winner of the Long Con for the Contribute track is PraireLearn, an online problem-driven learning system for creating homeworks and tests used at the University of Illinois.

At HackIllinois, Nathan Walters, Jordi Paris Ferrer, Genevieve Helsel, and Teju Nareddy worked together with project maintainer and UIUC Associate Professor Matt West to add new features to the PrairieLearn system.

The team came in contact with Matt West at our JavaScript Contribute session, where the PrairieLearn project was seeking out students to help create a real-time autograding system for code submitted through the PrairieLearn system during an exam. Recognizing the potential user impact and technical challenges of a rapid code feedback system, the four of them began hacking up a prototype.

By the time we called for submissions, the group had a functional proof of concept that could grade a fibonacci function written in Python in less than five minutes. But they didn’t leave things there. In the months that followed HackIllinois, Walters began to attend weekly meetings with the PrairieLearn developers and other UIUC faculty to discuss the feature that his group created. After a few weeks, Paris Ferrer and Walters had produced something that they were ready to test at a larger scale.

The two wrote autograde-able problems for UIUC’s CS 225 (Data Structures) to test their new feature in production. Their tests were a success! A number of the 800 students in the course who were now using their system described how appreciative they were of the immediate feedback they received.

The group still has plans to continue development. They hope to stay ahead of the rapid adoption of their feature by improving user experience, adding instructor utilities (such as a dashboard), and revamping their documentation. And in the end, they plan to stay involved with PrairieLearn even after their feature hits maturity.

Congratulations to the PrairieLearn team, and thank you for your valuable contributions to the open-source community!

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Nick Magerko




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