You click play on the computer screen, and an online game loads. You are a polio molecule, and every person you touch is infected with the devastating disease. You reach a doctor’s office, and turn into a polio vaccination. You retrace your steps, and now each of the people you touch vaccinate those around them. You score points for your honourable behaviour.

This is one of many story experiences that emerged from the first story “Hackathon” in Canada, hosted by Ryerson’s School of Media, its radio and television arts (RTA) program, and the Transmedia Centre and Design for United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

A story hackathon is an event where a diverse group of people spreads a message using multiple forms of technology, such as cameras, mobile phones and websites, over a short period of time.

Over the course of 24 hours, 45 students from different faculties including New Media, RTA and Geography took on an important mission on behalf of UNICEF: teaching the world about the importance of polio immunizations using any materials, technology and information available.

Students were split into 12 groups of three or four based on their skill sets, and given one day to collaborate before presenting their narratives and prototypes to a panel of judges.

“This is why I came to Ryerson,” Elizabeth Chung, a third year fashion student, said, referring to collaborating creatively with other students and working on social initiatives. Chung is one of four members on the team who won the top prize. Their web-based project, “Rukhsar”, displayed different characters that users could interact with.

As a user got to know a character better, their fuzzy picture would sharpen. The judges were impressed with the constant discovery and emotional connection that the project evoked.

“This is something that I’ve always wanted to do… It blew me away.” Chung said about participating in the hackathon. “The people on my team, the people who presented, and even the mentors who came in; Everyone had their own kind of spin on information and advice that they would give, coming from their own experiences.”

Simone Roth, a second year New Media student, received class marks for participating in the event. Yet Roth took away more than five per cent for her Visual Studies class. “I’m somebody that likes to do things in advance, cuz I like to use time to my advantage,” she said.

“For this, it was totally out of my element in doing it at the last minute. I think I realized from myself that it’s actually okay and if you have those skills and being able to communicate effectively and work together, then you’ll end up with a product that you’re all proud of.”

Hot Docs Industry Programs Director Elizabeth Radshaw was one of five judges to award six winning groups. Prizes included TIFF Bell Lightbox film passes, North by Northeast interactive industry passes and Hot Docs conference passes. She was incredibly impressed by the innovative collaboration between students.

“I do a lot of these hacks and to finally see a social engagement element was incredibly impressive. It wasn’t just for entertainment, it wasn’t just for technology and profit, it actually had a social good,” she said.

Other winners included “Polio No More”, a project that brought iron lungs to public spaces to spark debate, and “Vaccinate”, a game that “transferred” polio and vaccinations through mobile phones.

“Don’t Wait, Vaccinate” was a high-low tech installation connected to pumps that activated picture messages to small screens. Whenever a person pumped water for ten seconds or more, messages about polio vaccinations would appear, educating people in third world countries.

Some groups lost team members along the way, but still held strong. Alex Basso, the coder of the infection game and a first-year new media student, completed the project with just one other team mate. Still, after a sleepless night he came away with an award and a positive attitude.

“If you have the right partner, you can basically accomplish what you need to accomplish. If you’ve got the right team, it’s all good,” he said. “I didn’t join it to win. I just wanted to push myself, see what I could do.”


This is a joint byline. Ryersonian staff are responsible for the news website edited and produced by final-year undergraduate and graduate journalism students at Ryerson University. It features all the content from the weekly campus newspaper, The Ryersonian, and distributes news and online multimedia, including video newscasts from RyersonianTV. also provides videos, images, and other interactive material in partnership with the School of Journalism.

Leave a Reply

  • (not be published)