Inspiration

In light of the current global pandemic, schools and universities around the world are moving to new modes of virtual instruction. As students ourselves, we understand the bulk of learning is collaborative in nature -- asking questions during breaks/discussion, working through difficult problem sets with friends, and discussing tricky concepts in study groups.

While video conferencing (Zoom, BlueJeans, Teams) and learning management systems (Canvas, Moodle) are helping facilitate that transition, students and instructors report that remote instruction lacks the sense of community and collaboration that have been integral to the traditional in-person learning experience.

Inspired by these challenges, we built Discuss Studio – an all-in-one, centralized learning platform that brings students and instructors back together in a virtual classroom.

What it does

Discuss Studio is a web platform for collaborative lecture watching. Due to time zone differences and difficulties of live streaming, instructors are opting to record their lectures, office hours, and discussions for students. Discuss Studio integrates smoothly into this existing workflow -- instructors simply upload their videos to our platform, and automatically receive timely and high quality lecture transcripts generated by cloud-based machine learning.

Once the video and transcript is ready, instructors can share the corresponding website link with their students, allowing them to comment, ask questions, and kickstart discussions on any part of the video. Each sentence of the transcript contains its own discussion thread, as well as the exact timestamp in which the sentence is spoken in the video, allowing for quick navigation.

For students, Discuss Studio makes it easy and fast to understand every part of the material. For instructors, Discuss Studio helps pinpoint specific parts of the material students are struggling with.

How we built it

We wrote Discuss Studio with React.js Javascript framework, using UI components provided by Atlaskit from Atlassian. Our database and backend is powered both by Google’s Firebase and a Python Flask server running on Amazon EC2. To obtain high quality transcripts from any video, we leveraged AWS Transcribe, Amazon's automatic speech recognition service.

Challenges we ran into

Our biggest challenge was connecting the backend to the frontend -- while deceptively simple at first, we struggled with issues such as HTTPs encryption and CORS in the process of building Discuss Studio into a fully functioning and accessible live web platform.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

It works!

What we learned

AWS, React, and more!

What's next for Discuss Studio

Collaborative lecture watching is only the first step. The ongoing crisis has highlighted the importance of access to quality online learning opportunities, and we're committed to supporting all types of educational content, such as textbooks, worksheets, and notes, on Discuss Studio in the future.

Our top priority now is to roll out Discuss Studios to colleges and universities in the US, starting with the ones we currently attend. We're continuing to gather feedback from peers and instructors that are using the platform, and we're excited to see where this takes us.

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