Student-led hackathon focuses on designing for older adults
More than 100 students from across Ontario gathered at Trafalgar Campus for a hackathon organized by Sheridan’s student-run Hackademics Club. Hackville – a 36-hour hackathon that took place from February 8 to 10 – was the first student-organized event of its kind at Sheridan. It was not only an opportunity for the 24 teams to work against the clock using their creativity, problem-solving and technical skills, but the solutions put forward have potential for real-world impact as the focus was addressing social isolation in older adults.
Christina Weng, Hackademics co-founder and president, and a third-year Bachelor of Interaction Design student, approached the team at Sheridan’s Centre for Elder Research last fall to partner on the hackathon. Weng, and the nine other event organizers, felt that designing for an older demographic would be mutually beneficial. She says: “We don’t typically design for older adults, so our club felt compelled to focus our attention on a real-world problem that would impact a growing segment of our population.”
Addressing social isolation was a welcome idea to the staff at the Centre. “Interest from our students in helping a group that’s often overlooked by the technology sector is significant, and we were happy to support them in this undertaking,” says Kathryn Warren-Norton, Communications and Project Coordinator. To acquaint students with the social challenges faced by many older adults, Warren-Norton conducted a workshop at Hackville’s opening ceremonies, answered questions and provided guidance to teams throughout the event.
Also in attendance were representatives from sponsor and partner organizations like IBM, AGE WELL, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Major League Hacking and Sheridan’s Entrepreneurship Discovery and Growth Engine (EDGE) hub. Some of these guests made up the panel of judges who evaluated the solutions put forward by the teams at the event’s closing ceremonies.
The grand prize was awarded to a team called Connectify. They won $1000 in cash donated by AGE-WELL, Canada’s technology and aging network dedicated to the creation of technologies and services for older adults and their caregivers. Their winning solution aims to use augmented reality to display interesting real-world objects as 3D models that could be explored from the comfort of one’s home.
Runner-up teams were Tag Along and 2FindASpace2Be, respectively. Tag Along’s solution also involved augmented reality and focused on empowering people to send out invitations to find others who share similar interests in activities like gardening and painting. 2FindASpace2Be’s solution was an app powered by voice-assistance technology that allows users to find current events in their community.
Unlike many other hackathons, Hackville was marketed to first-time participants and those without extensive programming or design experience. Seventy percent of Hackville’s participants were new to hackathons. Students were from Sheridan as well as Ryerson University, the University of Toronto, University of Guelph, Western University, George Brown College and Loyola High School. “We wanted Hackville to be beginner-friendly because we wanted to encourage more students to get involved,” says Alex Thompson, co-founder of Hackville. “We initially thought this would cause a certain level of hesitation from competitors, but we were instead blown away by the energy and enthusiasm shown by all of the teams.”
Sheridan’s Centre for Elder Research will be reviewing each of the solutions from the finalists and considering ways to engage with and share their ideas with the community. Given the overwhelming turnout and buzz around the first Hackville event, the Hackademics Club is already planning to make it an annual event.
Pictured at top of page: Hackville participants at The Marquee opening ceremonies at Trafalgar Campus. Photo by Jesse Wortley.