SFU Graduand Builds Software To Help Instructors Customize Their Courses

June 06, 2022

By: Andrew Ringer

During his time at SFU, computing science graduand Laton Vermette focused on building software that can help people. This June, he is graduating with a Doctor of Philosophy Degree from the School of Computing Science.

Now a computer scientist, Vermette comes from a math background. SFU computing science professor Parmit Chilana was his supervisor while he was doing his masters in computer science at the University of Waterloo, and she invited him to join her at SFU as a visiting graduate student when she accepted a professor role at SFU’s School of Computing Science. What attracted him to SFU was Chilana’s focus on helping people get the most out of their software and lowering the barrier to skills that would otherwise be out of reach. Having enjoyed the experience at SFU as a visiting graduate student, he decided to stay to do his PhD.

His thesis was on improving the lives of educators by providing ways for them to customize the classroom software they use for teaching. Vermette’s tool, named Customizer, allows instructors to easily share example customizations which each other in learning management systems (such as Canvas). Using this tool, instructors are able to learn about the customizations that other instructors have made to their courses on Canvas, test these features without real changes or consequences to their course, and share their own customizations and rationale easily with others. This tool was well-received by instructors in a deployment study, and Vermette hopes that it can eventually be used more widely to help educators harness the full potential of their classroom software.

One of Vermette’s highlights of studying at SFU was his experience in the Interactive Experiences Lab (ixLab), which began shortly after he joined the university. Now a prominent lab featuring multiple faculty members and students, it started as a relatively small group of only a few students, including Vermette, and Chilana.

“It’s been a highlight for me to be a part of growing the ixLab into this thriving hub for human-centred design and human-computer interaction research,” he says. “What makes the ixLab very special is the focus on empowering users.”

Another highlight of his was presenting his research at CS Research Day, where he won the second-place prize in 2020.

As part of his degree, Vermette completed an internship at Microsoft, where he worked with a team that built educational software that millions of teachers and students use. This experience helped him contextualize the findings in his own research and see how the gap is bridged between academia and industry.

Now graduating, Vermette is currently interviewing for different positions, hoping to find a software engineering role where he can work in collaboration with designers and researchers to build software that will have a positive impact on people’s lives.

See a video on Vermette’s research, presented at ACM SIGCHI >>