Demo Day is an experience where Code Haven’s students are given the opportunity to visit Yale University, tour campus, watch speakers, participate in Unplugged Activities, and have an awesome time with other Code Haven classes and their mentors! We host Demo Day to give our students a look into what computer science can do beyond Scratch and MIT App Inventor. The hope is to inspire our kids to pursue CS in the future by showing the limitless possibilities of programming. Demo Day gets students excited about technology and allows us to show them what our lives as Yale CS students look like.
For this year, the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated adapting Demo Day to an online format. Instead of a single all-day event, we designed two “Demo Days”, hosted through Google Meets. This year, we hosted the first session on Wednesday, 11/04/2020 and the second session on Friday, 11/06/2020. Over 150 students were able to attend the event synchronously--here’s how it went!
Not only did we want to introduce some incredible CS applications to our students, but we also wanted to show them what life at Yale is like! We kicked off Demo Days with a tour of Yale’s campus, which was made possible by Code Haven mentors that were more than willing to record videos and commentaries regarding their favorite parts of Yale’s campus. Filmed locations include Old Campus, Sterling Library, Arthur K. Watson Hall, the Leitner Family Observatory, the Yale Center for Engineering / Innovation / Design, TSAI City, Jonathan Edwards College, and Timothy Dwight College. Check it out on our YouTube channel linked below!
For the second Demo Days session, we hosted a Code Haven Panel, where several mentors from Code Haven answered questions from the students such as “What was your favorite Yale class?” and “What is it like to move away from home to go to college?” Perhaps most surprising was that some of the students considered us along the lines of professional educators and not volunteers, a testament to the excellent work done by the Curriculum Team and the commitment shown by Code Haven mentors as a whole. Overall, we received lots of questions and high student engagement for this section of Demo Day!
User Design Workshops
One of the most important aspects of programming is user design. We developed these two workshop sessions to show our students the importance of being empathetic towards different kinds of users who have various needs. Both of these workshops had a strong emphasis on accessibility in order to give the students a chance to put themselves in the shoes of people who have color blindness (also known as color vision deficiency) or impaired vision. On the first day, we looked at how color blindness can impact user interactions with modern products. In order to connect the topic to something they all love and are excited about, we used an example from the video game Among Us. With characters in a rainbow spectrum of colors, we showed our students what it would look like to see these characters if you were color blind, as shown below.
Following a short introduction to color blindness and several plates from an Ishihara test, we asked our students “How can we solve the issue of accessibility in the game Among Us?” Among Us is a popular mystery game where Crewmates complete tasks as a team and disguised Imposters aim to disrupt and remove Crewmates. Several students offered insightful answers, including adding patterns, accessories, and names to the characters. Recent updates of Among Us have implemented several of their prescient suggestions.
For our second user design workshop, we focused on blindness and impaired vision and created a character for the kids to design for, named Echo the Bat. We explained how Echo, like most bats, has poor eyesight and relies on her other senses to navigate the world around her. We then asked the students to choose from several options on which technology would be the best for a user like Echo. For instance, we asked our students to compare passcode protected phones with FaceID technology, allowing them to note the different abilities required for each.
In this case, FaceID is easier for someone who can’t see the exact keys they are pressing as it relies on a different form of security. Following this activity, we once again showed the students several real-world examples that blind people may rely on including screen readers and braille watches.
With these workshops, we were able to demonstrate the importance of user design and encourage these students to think deeply about users who may face a myriad of challenges. By utilizing subjects they are familiar with like video games and phone passwords, we were able to show how common and relevant user design practices are. Accessibility is incredibly important in regards to any form of technology, and we want our students to understand how computer science and technology can affect different users.
We wanted to make sure the kids got an idea of what a future in computer science looks like, so we invited some speakers to talk about their experiences. Two student speakers from an engineering club at Yale, Y-IEEE, came to speak about their projects, and we had an associate professor at Yale talk about her journey to becoming the head of the Human-Robotics Interaction lab.
Ian Richardson is a first-year at Yale who spoke to the kids about his hackathon project, Codeability. Following the theme of accessibility, Codeability is his team’s 2-day venture to create a tool that would let people code through a system of speech-recognition and foot pedals (i.e., coding without the use of their hands)!
Ian also introduced the concept of a “hackathon” to the kids. Hackathons are coding events where teams of programmers are given a set amount of time to create an original project. The above product was entirely brainstormed and engineered in 48 hours!
Next, we heard from Cody Neiman, another first-year at Yale, who talked to us about a completely different side of computer science: cybersecurity and ethical hacking. Cody did this kind of work with NASA at the Kennedy Space Center.
He debunked the stereotype of a scary, hooded guy with a laptop and showed us that information security is a crucial part of maintaining and preserving sensitive information in all types of organizations, from your favorite social media apps to government databases. Cybersecurity is offered in schools at a far smaller scale than typical programming, so it was awesome to get his perspective and show his interests to Code Haveners.
Our final speaker was Dr. Marynel Vazquez, an associate professor and the head of the Interactive Machines Group at Yale. She spoke to us about what research in computer science looks like — her lab works on creating interactive robots that work well and meaningfully in human social situations. This field of research is called Human-Robot Interaction, and it plays into the theme of accessibility as well.
Some of her research includes: creating an assisted photography method for people with visual impairments who want to take photos; maintaining robots’s awareness of groups in social situations, so they know how to focus their attention when people move around; and working on social robots at Disney Research in Pittsburgh. She even talked about building a helicopter from scratch as part of a camera-stabilizing endeavor. Her site, including more about her research, can be found here.
In conclusion, Demo Days 2020 was a successful virtual event that thoroughly exceeded our expectations, drawing over 150 attendees for two days. The lessons learned from Demo Days also gave us many ideas for Teach Tech 2021 - keep an eye out for news about that!