Steacie Library Hackfest lauded for its experiential learning model

A total of 75 participants imagined and programmed their ideas over two days to come up with a new product during the 2016 Steacie Library Dungeon Hackfest, held Feb. 17 and 18.

Team projects used data to create product that save time, find study space and find nibbles at this event, themed “Making a Difference with Data”.

Samples of the projects coming out of the annual Hackfest include:

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    Hackfest (image: Genny Jon)

    a project that provides next bus notifications to the Pebble smartwatch, using Real-Time Next Vehicle Arrival (NVAS) Data available from the TTC;

  • an app to find study partners, and another app to discover the closest available study space;
  • an app to provide simultaneous translation of text messages into different languages; and
  • an app that uses filters to ensure that the right text message is sent to the right person (and not the wrong one!).

These ideas and more were conceived, pitched and realized over the Thursday and Friday of Reading Week.

Jacquie Grindrod, a student in Research Directions in Computing (EECS1001), acknowledges “it’s challenging to only have two days to build from the ground up and it really tests our knowledge as well as gives us a more real-world application.”

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Hackfest (image: Genny Jon)

Overall, 14 teams presented their final product at the closing celebration on Thursday, many with working prototypes. An engaged audience from across campus came to see the end results and ask probing questions about the projects.

“People seemed to really enjoy the teamwork and challenging themselves with fun projects,” said John Dupuis, engineering librarian at the Steacie Science and Engineering Library, and Chair of the 2016 organizing committee.

Dupuis said he is often asked by first-year students, who are unsure of their programming skills, whether they should register for Hackfest.

“I always say absolutely you should register,” he said. “Hackfest doesn’t carry an evaluation component, and there are no prizes – it’s purely a learning experience to allow students to stretch their expertise. It’s perfect for first-year students.”

Grindrod agrees, and says “As a student, I found Hackfest to be a great opportunity to put together the concepts I’ve studied in class so far. It’s invaluable as an opportunity because it gives us the chance to be creative and to try something new without facing possible real-world consequences, such as harming our GPA or losing money and time.”

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Hackfest (image: Genny Jon)

HACKFEST villagshuttle The Libraries enrich the Hackfest experience by engaging participants in critical thinking about data. They created Hackfest’s resources page that has a wealth of knowledge on subjects such as coding, graphic user interface design, and mobile applications; that is linked to Open Data sets; and features the Library’s Data Research Guide.

The guide’s creator, Librarian Walter Giesbrecht, provided an Introduction to Data workshop for the group, and Librarian Bill Denton gave a session on his data sonification project (putting data to music).

This year, the Libraries expanded Hackfest’s engagement with credit courses such as EECS 1001, ENG 1102, and MBAN 6100 (Schulich data science), and featured teams from biology and psychology as well.   Librarians’ interdisciplinary understanding, based on their reach throughout the departments, served them well in coaching the diverse teams on their projects.

Hackfest is a partnership between York University Libraries, LaunchYU, UIT, MaRS Innovation, and the Lassonde School of Engineering.

“I see Hackfest as a stunning example of a coordinated experiential learning model with partners bringing their expertise to support curricular events,” says Joy Kirchner, University librarian. “I applaud the mentors from across the York community, for taking the time to share their expertise, and our campus partners, for creating such a rich and vibrant atmosphere for learning.”

York University’s Entrepreneurship Manager at LaunchYU, Nilay Goyal, said “York U Libraries have been doing an amazing job of contributing to experiential learning and encouraging entrepreneurship at York University, and Hackfest is one fantastic example. I love the spirit and energy of the Hackfest that focusses on learning through implementation, a key factor that many entrepreneurs often miss out.”

There are multiple teams from this Hackfest who have shown interest in taking their projects forward and creating new startups, said Goyal.

“We (at LaunchYU) look forward to working with the Hackfest participants to help them build, launch and scale their startups,” she said.

Group presentations were recorded and will be posted to the Hackfest page.