As we interact in a ever-virtual world, we tend to lose the human-to-human connection we get in-person. Especially with classes being moved to Zoom and Panopto, we feel that we are unable to connect with our peers, even when we are faced with the same coursework. Thus, we created Fat Penguin. Fat Penguin, "the leader in breaking the ice," strives to make our online world more interactive in order bring back some of the connectivity.
What it does
Fat Penguin is a simple web app that allows TAs, teachers, student leaders, and other zoom organizers to group their students/participants into smaller groups in order for them to get to know each other. But instead of having them talk, often leading to muted mics and no video, we wanted to make everyone comfortable interacting by having complete a quick and fun survey. The questions range from "Would you rather eat odorless expired ice cream or smelly pizza?" to "What is your favorite sport." These silly questions would then be quickly analyzed in order to group students of similar hobbies/interests so they can feel more comfortable talking online. How we analyze this data would be by categorizing questions and marking answers to group students of similar interests but differing opinions (on expired ice cream or smelly pizza) because we felt that this combination of traits would bring the most conversation. A cool feature we implemented is a canvas tool that allows students/participants to draw and later share their creation with their small group to have a quick laugh at computer art. We limited the time allowed on the survey to keep this process quick (5 mins) so teachers don't feel that they are wasting precious class time.
Challenges I ran into
Brainstorming ideas took more time than anticipated many of our ideas overlapped with Covid solutions had been established in the past months. Our ideas being less original than anticipated forced us to take time to zoom out as a team looking at our personal feelings. Where did we feel we lacked? Like many students peer connections was hard in online class. How can that be alleviated? We figured that if we attacked the problem right off the bat with first day of school/work icebreakers then people would feel less awkward, from there Fat Penguin was born. As we begun challenges arose when working with integrating our desired features. Designing a functioning canvas tool proved difficult, in addition to this integrating it into the website pushed our skillsets. However, persevering through these hurdles made way for a host of possibilities elaborated on in 'What's next for Fat Penguin'.
What's next for Fat Penguin
What we believe can be done to improve the program is to bring out more customization for teachers and TAs to create their own questions, own grouping algorithm, and own group sizes. This hopefully will become a tool that we see in virtual classrooms and having the same penguin questionnaire would not be exciting so expanding our database of questions and drawing prompts to allow for more variety is also something we have in mind. We truly believe that peer-to-peer connections are one of the most valuable parts of education and with the current technology, this interaction is greatly limited, not enhanced. Fat Penguin will restore these lost connections to have students feel more engaged and supported in their educational path.