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Username: Nick

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The Boring Average

Right now, attending or teaching a class means waking up and opening Zoom or Google Meet, the standard for many educational institutes around the planet. However, learning on Zoom or video conference software has one big drawback:

It's boring. (and very unintuitive)

This unfortunate shift to online has taken away many tools in an exceptional teacher's arsenal. The difference between studying alone and with a teacher lies within the teacher's ability to convey information in engaging, meaningful ways while incorporating their own style of teaching. Without that, and with the advent of online lectures, classes have become more one-dimensional than ever.

After all, why sit there passively looking at a 360p screenshare of your teacher's notes when you can just go to Khan Academy or other asynchronous resources and learn the same way?

We feel as if platforms like Zoom and other generic video conference software are too limiting for a great teacher to properly engage their students. Trying to take current education beyond a screenshare and live chat in Zoom requires leaving the platform, which is unintuitive (and annoying!) to say the least.

Bento hopes to elevate the level of every classroom on the planet, and allows teachers to create their own online learning spaces that best fits their style of teaching. No matter the client, Bento provides a classroom for every type of instructor.

What is Bento?

Taking inspiration from the compartmentalized (and modular!) spaces of school lunches, or "Bento Boxes," we wanted to create an interface and platform for instructors to provide a more personal, tailor-made teaching experience for their classes.

Like putting a whiteboard on the wall or handing out worksheets, instructors can use our modular interface to simply drag and drop teaching modules that best fit their style on a blank canvas. The learning spaces, called "stages", are saved and can be deployed to live sessions, where students can learn in a custom environment crafted by their teacher.

For example, if I'm a CS teacher wondering how to teach Python to a group of enthusiastic students, I could model my online classroom/stage to my own liking.

My opinions/style of teaching, like:

  • I think every good classroom needs a whiteboard
  • I believe learning is better facilitated in an environment where live coding can be done
  • I also think that challenging the students' memory often is an effective way of retaining knowledge can be all taken into consideration when I'm setting my stage. When I'm content with how my classroom is set up, I just need to save my layout and start a session for my class.

Now I'm ready to teach in a way that accommodates to my style!

Bento also offers some pre-built templates, such as setups for CS or Mathematics. Teachers can use these templates for their classes or just use them as a starting point to build a more custom experience.

The Analytics

A good environment is a good start - However, arguably more important than our learning stage is the ability to keep in touch with your students. Helping a student starts with knowing them well - it's a real difference maker when making sure that every student in a class is getting an optimal experience. We record metrics to provide answers about important questions about students that need answering and store them on CockroachDB. Afterwards, accessing the information is easy as going to our custom dashboard page that shows you all you need to know about a student in a glance.

Some metrics we can garner from a class are:

  • Poll results: check your class' outlook on any topic and get the results straight to your dashboard.
  • Participation rate: How much are students using the chat? Asking questions in the questions tab? Drawing on the whiteboard?
  • Attendance: how often is a student logging into class? What classes did he miss?
  • Profanity & Sentiment Analysis: is a student using profanity or inappropriate terms in class? Is the way they type overly negative or positive?

Metrics on students allow teachers to do more: Suggest certain remedial classes for missed sessions - Consult with students struggling with material - Make sure the students are keeping in good mental shape - in an age of isolation, a time where a student might need the most support, our analytics hope to bridge the gap between a physical classroom and an online one.

How Bento was Built

Bento was built on Next.js for its superb server side rendering and static generation capabilities, allowing for a fast development pipeline. This makes Next a great framework for Hackathons, where moving fast and breaking things is a must.

With Bento being so focused on aggregating significant amounts of data to present it in a digestible manner to the end user, we thought CockroachDB would be an excellent choice for our database, since:

  • It offers really smart and scalable approach to databases, which is paramount for our purpose of collecting huge amounts of data based on user activity for future analytics. (especially as class sizes increase)
  • Postgresql also allows us to make very secure and powerful relational calls to our database. With the amount of data we want to aggregate to make Bento that much better, using a service like CockroachDB is a no-brainer.

Challenges we ran into

Bento ran into a lot of problems in its albeit really rapid conception and development process. We realized that many features of Bento that we would've liked to be in a live demo had to be cut, and struggled with removing bloat from our ideas. In the end, however, I think we've managed to locate our niche and started looking at the forest rather than the trees.

Accomplishments that I'm proud of

For being built so quickly, Bento has a really nice looking (and feeling) interface, and we're happy with how we were able to implement a smooth-feeling demo of one of our core ideas (the drag-n-drop) into our final product. (Thank you Nicholas!!) We're also content and feel that our demo could convey the core ideas of Bento to the user.

Bento: Looking Forward?

As students bored by lectures, we think Bento is a tool that we would personally use in our everyday lives if it were to be used by our teachers and professors. We hope to eventually create a working product and share it with the world.

For Future Features, we want to start implementing live versions of our modules, as well as new ones. Gamification and rewarding students for their efforts in a class also is something we'd like to see come out of Bento. Finally, we think that this tool could find a home in places such as:

  • Elementary Schools, High Schools, Universities, traditional educational institutes
  • Private Tutors & Small Cram Schools
  • Company Training
  • Asynchronous Experiences

Thank you for reading about Bento!

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