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Student-led hackathon – designing for older adults

Student-led hackathon – designing for older adults

More than 100 students from across Ontario gathered at Sheridan’s Trafalgar Campus for a hackathon organized by Sheridan’s student-run Hackademics Club. Hackville – a 36-hour hackathon took place from February 8th to 10th.

It was the first student-organized event of its kind at Sheridan. 24 teams worked against the clock using their creativity, problem-solving and technical skills. Their solutions may have real-world impact by 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.

“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 the opening ceremonies. Throughout the event, she answered questions and provided guidance.

Sponsor and partner organizations

  1. IBM
  3. Amazon Web Services
  4. Microsoft
  5. Major League Hacking
  6. Sheridan’s Entrepreneurship Discovery and Growth Engine (EDGE) hub

Some of these guests made up the panel of judges who evaluated the solutions at the closing ceremonies.

Hackathon Award Winners

Connectify won the grand prize. Their winning solution aims to use augmented reality to display interesting real-world objects as 3D models. The models could be explored from the comfort of one’s home.

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.

Runner-up teams

Tag Along solution 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, allowing users to find current community events.

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.

Participating Educational Institutions

  1. Sheridan College
  2. Ryerson University
  3. University of Toronto
  4. University of Guelph
  5. Western University
  6. George Brown College
  7. 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 the teams,” Thompson continued.

Sheridan’s Centre for Elder Research will review each of the finalists’ solutions to consider 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.


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