As I’ve stated in my past couple of learning project posts, I’ve been having a little bit of difficulty getting into the world of programming and coding. That being said, I knew I needed to do something, or find someone who would be able to lead me in a better direction than I was previously heading. Then one day in my English class, my professor mentioned an event that was being held by the University at the IMPACT Lab, called an Eye-Tracking Hackathon. I had heard about hackathons before, but never knew what they were actually for, and honestly, didn’t think I had anything to bring to the table, so never looked into them. For those of you who don’t know what a hackathon is, it is typically an event where a bunch of people come together, collaborate, and create something in regard to computer programming.

We started the day with introductions, and I was surprised to find such a mix of backgrounds involved in this project. The facilitators of the event had backgrounds in English, Creative Technology, Psychology, and Social Work, and the participants had backgrounds in Psychology, Sociology, Education, Computer Science, Engineering, Art, and Music. With such a variety of backgrounds working on this project, we had so much to work with, and so many ideas and minds working together for one cause. After introductions, we were split into two teams to come up with ideas and plans on what we were going to create.

For this event, we were using Tobii eye-trackers, and coding in Unity, (and maybe C#?). Originally, eye-trackers were created for use in video games, but through research, this event, as well as collaboration with other universities, the eye-tracking devices are being programmed and adapted as a means for people with mobility challenges to create art using nothing but their eyes. The Tobii tracker has infrared, sensor technology to detect the movement of your eyes, and then project that movement onto the screen in the form of a picture/drawing. It sounds wayyyy easier than it actually was; you don’t really think about how quickly your eyes move, because you don’t necessarily process everything that your eyes come across. What we were trying to do was create an app or game or program that could be expanded upon, and become more user friendly for people with mobility challenges to be able to express themselves in a creative way, using just their eyes.¬†Our group came up with the idea of linking sound/music to the¬†movements — so if you were looking higher on the screen, the pitch of sound would go higher, and if you looked lower, the pitch would be lower — some pretty neat stuff! The Leader Post, CTV, and CBC even came by for interviews.

All in all, it was an incredible day. Regardless of the fact that not many people knew each other coming into this project, we were all able to contribute in one way or another to the creation of something that could have real potential for change and growth in the correct fields. I was able to watch people who are skilled in their craft (programming/coding), learn some of the vocabulary and jargon, ask questions, and receive guidance. I told them about my learning project, and they were all so helpful, giving me suggestions on where to start, what languages might be more useful, what languages to not bother with learning, what sites and programs are the best for beginners and for being user friendly etc.

10/10 would recommend attending an hackathon though… Even if coding is not your thing, or you have no idea what I’m talking about, it was such a good way to network with people who you might not normally connect with in your day-to-day life, and also great for professional development! And now that I have a program I’ve started with, and a better understanding of how to approach what I’m doing, my next posts will actually be about my learning processes, and not just my research; stay-tuned!

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