SurfNet eBook & Simple Multi-Touch Chapter

We are excited to announce that the wonderful work of the SurfNet community has been published within an eBook called “SurfNet: Designing Digital Surface Applications”. It contains more than 20 chapters reporting on Canadian surface and multi-touch research, including a chapter by members of the vialab on the Simple Multi-Touch Toolkit. You can download the eBook at

SurfNet was a Canadian research network from 2010 to 2015 that supported over 400 students and resulted in more than 700 publications and presentations. Its goal was to improve the development, performance, and usability of software applications for surface computing environments including multi-touch screens, tabletops, and wall-sized displays.

Christopher Collins awarded UOIT Research Excellence Award

Dr. Collins was awarded the UOIT Research Excellence Award in the Early Career Researcher category on November 10. The citation read at the ceremony mentioned the research papers, collaborations, funding, and citations by Dr. Collins and his team over the past 6 years. Dr. Collins thanked his collaborators and students for their strong work and contributions to the research – without the full team, the research would not be possible.  A full story and descriptions of the other award recipients, including Computer Science technician Richard Drake, who provides research support to vialab, is found on the UOIT News site.

Dr. Collins to speak at ArtSci Salon: Data Imaginaries

Christopher Collins will be joining Graham Wakefield (Digital Media, York University) and Haru Ji (Sogang University) to discuss his visualization research in a unique art meets science collaborative event on November 19.

Some details are below and also on the ArtSci Salon website.

ArtSci Salon: Data Imaginaries

Graham Wakefield, Digital Media, York University
Haru Ji, Sogang University


Christopher Collins, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

Thursday, November 19, 2015, 6:00-8:00 pm
Rm 230, The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences,
222 College Street,Toronto



We often think of data as quantitative variables or as discrete pieces of information that bear little or no cultural significance in their assumed “raw” state. With the increasing digitalization of every aspect of today’s life, they have become crucial not only in understanding trends, behaviours, phenomena etc.., but also in initiating reflections on their very nature. A lot has been written about the politics and ethics involved in collecting data, and the ways in which data are endlessly and invisibly seized thanks to algorithms and technological devices. Conversely, little attention has been given to the creative processes employed, the artistry that goes into making them meaningful and, often, beautiful, or the conceptual reflections that data collection as an activity evokes. During this ArtSci Salon, we hope to instigate this latter aspect by presenting diverse, though ultimately converging perspectives and practices of artists Graham Wakefield and Haru Ji, and computer scientist Christopher Collins.


Artificial Nature is the artistic partnership of Haru Ji and Graham Wakefield ( exploring the subject of life and complex systems in art through artificial natures: a form of computational generative art creating artificial life ecosystems as immersive environments. Rather than representing nature as it appears, we aim to create an environment in the manner that nature works. It is an interdisciplinary art form linking the generative open-endedness of both biology and computation within aesthetic experience. Since 2008, A.N. have had over thirty-five exhibits across nine countries,including festivals such as SIGGRAPH (Yokohama), Microwave (Hong Kong), Digital Art Festival (Taipei), conferences such as ISEA (Singapore), and EvoWorkshops (Tubingen), and venues including La Gaite Lyrique (Paris), CAFA (Beijing) and City Hall (Seoul). It was awarded honorable mention in the international VIDA competition, 2014.

Christopher Collins ( is the Canada Research Chair in Linguistic Information Visualization and an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT).  His research focus is interdisciplinary, combining information visualization and human-computer interaction with natural language processing to address the challenges of information management and the problems of information overload.  His work has been published in many venues including IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, and has been featured in popular media such as the Toronto Star and the New York Times Magazine.  Dr. Collins received his PhD in Computer Science from the University of Toronto.

Data Stories Podcast with Christopher Collins

The latest episode of Data Stories features Christopher Collins with hosts Enrico Bertini and Moritz Stefaner. The episode, titled Text Visualization: Past, Present, and Future covers tools for text processing, discussion of some of the works from this lab, some favourites from the research community, and some ideas of future challenges in this area.

The Data Stories folks have transcribed the episode and challenged the audience to visualize it!  You can get the transcription as a document or view it in an enriched version made by Chris Kim from vialab.

Vialab visiting researcher Menna El-Assady has already created some views of the transcript using her lexical episodes visualization.

A segment of a lexical episodes visualization of Data Stories episode #62, but Menna El-Assady.

A segment of a lexical episodes visualization of Data Stories episode #62, but Menna El-Assady.

Vialab to receive $300,000 for new research

On June 22nd, the Honourable Ed Holder announced that UOIT researchers and trainees will receive $1.9 million through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)’s Discovery Grants program. Of this funding, $300,000 will be given to Vialab’s Dr. Christopher Collins in order to develop new techniques, purchase new equipment, and conduct training to allow for the development of new ways to present large volumes of text-based data easily to users.

During his speech at the announcement, Dr. Collins had this to say: “My laboratory focuses on new ways of visualizing big data, extracting meaningful information that makes those data relevant to groups like businesses and policy makers. The NSERC Discovery Grant and Discovery Accelerator Supplement enables us to explore how visualizing big-data can discover hidden patterns, unknown correlations, market trends, customer preferences and other useful information that can help Canadians make informed decisions. The grants also assist the next generation of researchers, like the students in my lab, to become future leaders and innovators.”

This new funding will allow 10 students to work at Vialab, provide the ability to give them data science training, and increase the budget to enable the purchase of new equipment for the lab.

After the announcement, a tour of the lab was given to the Minister, MP Pat Perkins, and the President of NSERC, Dr. Mario Pinto, during which members of Vialab gave demos to showcase their research projects. The reception they received was favorable, and the demos being shown impressed many of the guests.

The UOIT and NSERC news websites have the full story.

Credit for the photos goes to: Kalvin Taylor/UOIT

Presenting TandemTable at Graphics Interface 2015

We are happy to announce that Erik Paluka and Christopher Collins are headed to Halifax, Nova Scotia to present their work on TandemTable at the Graphics Interface 2015 conference. Their paper, entitled “TandemTable: Supporting Conversations and Language Learning Using a Multi-Touch Digital Table”, encapsulates how the research activity in the vialab goes beyond just information visualization and deals with many different types of interfaces.

New Equipment Funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation

This afternoon Honourable Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science and Technology), made the John R. Evans Leaders Fund national announcement, which included $55,000 in equipment funding for the vialab.  New equipment to be procured includes state of the art eye tracking and motion capture systems, and two high resolution multi-touch and pen displays.  These new pieces of equipment will help us to conduct state of the art research into new visualization and interaction techniques to provide efficient and pleasurable ways to explore, analyze, and make decisions about data in domains as diverse as digital humanities, healthcare, and business analytics.

The news website has the full story.

Seminar: Adaptive Technologies to Support Language Learning by Carrie Demmans Epp

Carrie Demmans Epp from the TAGLab at University of Toronto will give a seminar entitled “Adaptive Technologies to Support Language Learning” as part of the UOIT Computer Science seminar series.  Ms. Epp shares research interests with members of the vialab, including technology for language learning, as exemplified in our projects TandemTable and our collaboration with Quillsoft on the iWordQ series of applications.  The details of the seminar are below.  The talk will be webcast live and archived.

When: Wednesday, Jan 21, 2015 @ 3:30pm

Where: UA 4170

Who: Carrie Demmans Epp, University of Toronto

Title: Adaptive Technologies to Support Language Learning

Abstract: Technology use is deeply rooted within language learning. From the early use of language labs and more recent use of multi-media, we have seen the wide use of technology by language learners. This talk will present two adaptive language-learning tools and discuss their deployment in various cultural and educational contexts. The first tool is a computer-based pronunciation tutor for Russian (ProTutor) and the second is a mobile-based English communication support and study tool (VocabNomad). Both systems employed representations of the user’s knowledge (learner models) to drive their adaptive content recommendation and personalized feedback.

These adaptive features helped to motivate learners, enabled their self-regulation, and supported learning activities and outcomes. Their use by high school and university students also demonstrated the need for them to be accompanied by appropriate pedagogical practices when used as support tools in formal learning environments.

Biography: Carrie Demmans Epp is a doctoral candidate in human-computer interaction at the University of Toronto. She completed her BSc (Computer Science and Russian) and MSc (Artificial Intelligence in Education) at the University of Saskatchewan. She has recently finished visiting researcher terms with the Open Learner Models at Birmingham group (UK) and the Graduate School of Language, Communication, and Culture at Kwansei Gakuin University (Japan). She was a recipient of the 2013 Weston Fellowship and is a current Walter C. Sumner Memorial Fellow.

Carrie’s work focuses on the development and use of adaptive educational technology and the mechanisms that are used to provide feedback to learners within these environments. Her work bridges populations and has included university students, underprivileged children, students in special education settings, and language learners.


HCI and Information Visualization MSc and PhD Positions at UOIT

  • Vialab is at capacity and not accepting new students for fall 2018.

Dr. Christopher Collins, Canada Research Chair in Linguistic Information Visualization, is seeking highly motivated MSc and PhD students for funded research positions in information visualization, visual analytics, and human-computer interaction. Positions are available on an ongoing basis, including Fall 2015. Successful candidates will join the visualization for information analysis lab (, a well-equipped research facility at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, Canada. UOIT, founded in 2002, is Canada’s newest university, located just 40 minutes east of the vibrant and multicultural city of Toronto.

Research Themes

Themes of research at the vialab include visual text analytics, interaction design for gestural and multi-touch interfaces, social media analytics, and computer-assisted learning. In our world of big data, experts who can research, design, implement, and manage projects to sift through, analyze, and reason about data are in very high demand. Business intelligence, data science, and text analytics are some of the fastest growing sectors of the economy. Graduates of the vialab are equipped with interdisciplinary skills in data analytics, visualization, interaction design, and research management and leave the lab well-equipped for a variety of opportunities with governments, business, industry, and academia.

Example new project areas include designing intuitive guidance for visual text analytics (how to help people use visualizations effectively), and investigating ways to infer and respond to user state (frustration, engagement) with a variety of state-of-the-art sensor hardware. Many topic areas are possible upon agreement with the supervisor.

Skills Needed

Good candidates will have:

  • A bachelor’s degree or higher in computer science, information visualization, and/or human-computer interaction (non-traditional candidates with demonstrated technical skills are invited to apply)
  • Strong programming skills
  • Demonstrated design skills or an interest in learning about design
  • Good written and oral communication skills (in English)
  • Be excited to join a creative, motivated, fun team of people!


Funding is provided at levels commensurate with other Canadian and American universities as long as the student is in good standing in the graduate program. Students also receive full funding to attend international conferences (e.g. ACM CHI, ACM ITS, IEEE VIS) to present their research. Doctoral students are encouraged and supported to participate in internship opportunities at industry partners.


Interested applicants should email as soon as possible and include a CV and a statement describing your interest in the lab’s research. After an initial contact, candidates will be encouraged to apply through the official application process.

More information about the CS Graduate Program at UOIT is available at


UOIT Password Research featured in New York Times and other media

The password security research of vialab researchers Christopher Collins and Rafael Veras, and collaborator Julie Thorpe from the Faculty of Business and Information technology has been featured by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Ian Urbina in a feature article in the New York Times Magazine.  In his article, “The Secret Life of Passwords“, Urbina investigates the stories behind the passwords we use.  Through the concept of keepsake passwords, the article investigates the evocative stories hidden in passwords. Our research relates to this work in that we have been investigating the numeric and linguistic patterns in passwords, in terms of how these patterns affect security as well as how these patterns reveal the culture and language.

Our research has also been featured in additional media, including:

We have also been featured on UOIT Homepage, including and article entitled “Heartbleed update: UOIT researchers analyze why consumers use weak passwords


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