Hacking and Designing for a Cause

The Engineering & Computer Science Library’s Hack-DesignFest was held February 18th-19th, 2014.  Despite a snowstorm descending upon the UofT on the the first morning,a group of ambitious and excited students ventured to the MADLab at Gerstein Science Information Centre to create APPs that educated parents on children’s dental health issues. Students ranged from first year to graduate students, representing the fields of Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Engineering Science and the iSchool.

Day 1 kicked off with students getting an IEEE swag bag  and fueling up with a morning snack of cookies ‘n’ coffee sponsored by the IEEE.  Dr. Kulkarni, a professor of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Dentistry, gave a talk on children’s dental health.  He then showed the students a video he created to help parents support their children’s dental health. Andrea Cormier, a Biomedical Animator from the Information and Instructional Technology Services at the Faculty of Dentistry showed students an award winning dental APP Setup My FMS.

Image of advertising on website and digtial signage.

Sample of some of the advertising for the Hack-DesignFest on the Engineering & Computer Science Library website and the image that displayed on the digital signage/splash screen. The event was advertised through websites (library, Skule and the MADLab), digital signage, social media, posters and flyers on the campus.

Then the hacking began, only to be interrupted by a brief pizza ‘n’ pop lunch (students refuelled themselves while continuing to hack – they were really into their APPs by this time!). When students ran into some programming issues, Mike Spears, the manager of the MADLab, and his team of very informative work-study students, were on hand throughout the entire Hack-DesignFest to give technical advice.

Students continued to work hard, stopping briefly for a bubble tea break (which created excited squeals from a few students) and a draw for prizes. A fervor of hacking continued until Michelle Spence, came to give a talk about searching for patents. Hacking continued until the end of the day when students left to grab a quick sleep before returning the next day.

Day 2 started with a refreshing fruit smoothie snack sponsored by the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association. Students continued to hack and work towards attempting to complete their APPs.  By noon, when the Hack-DesignFest was over, two mostly complete APPs were created and presented.

One APP asked parents a series of questions about their child (based on Dr. Kulkarni’s video) that would then direct them to answers, in the form of video or written information, about their children’s dental health concerns. The APP allowed parents to save answers to questions about their child to explore multiple issues at one time.  The second APP, created by solo programmer Michael Lee, provided parents with a pull down menu for easy navigation to find written, visual and video information to answer popular children’s dental health FAQs. Following the Hack-DesignFest, Michael completed and published his Kids Dental Care Android APP.

Screen capture of APP

Screen capture of student Michael Lee’s App

Overall, the Hack-DesignFest was a great success! The students had a lot of fun, made new friends, met some cool mentors and two great new APPs are in the works to help an important cause.  Here at the Engineering & Computer Science Library we are thinking about how to make this event bigger and better for 2015!

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