This past year of remote learning has been a taxing time for students of all ages. Many aspects of in-person school have not translated well to a remote learning environment, leaving students with feelings of isolation and loneliness. Buddi is a product system that is designed specifically for students in middle school, focused around recreating social interactions that have been lost.
Overarchingly, Buddi has 3 main goals. First, Buddi is designed to foster social connections between students, giving them a chance to reconnect with existing friends while also opening doors for creating new ones. The second is to encourage students to get motion into their day and play again, not completely in front of a computer screen. Third, Buddi helps create a sense of social community, outside of an academic context, to remind students that they aren't alone.
The Buddi system is composed of 2 main parts: a physical object and a digital chrome extension. The physical object is designed to be comfortable to hold, fun to fidget with, and easy to squeeze. The physical object facilitates intuitive and tangible interactions for a multimodal experience. The second part is a chrome extension that connects with Google Classroom to import existing student profiles and class rosters. The chrome extension adds a digital interface that helps students connect with each other through conversational interactions.
The Buddi interactions are based on time of day, with one set of interactions designed for passing periods, and another set for longer breaks like lunch and after school. During class time, Buddi acts as a passive object the student can fidget with, while not distracting students from their class.
During passing periods, Buddi facilitates spontaneous interactions between the students in their upcoming class. The Buddi extension prompts students to get up and move during their break, taking the Buddi object with them. Based on different inputs from the student, the Buddi will send signals, through vibration, sound, and light to the student's classmates. The types of inputs are based on reciprocal interactions that would happen in person, like saying hello to a passing friend, having a longer conversation, and poking or hugging somebody. Towards the end of the break, the students can see who they interacted with on the chrome extension.
After school, the student can use Buddi to play games with classmates and friends. Buddi through its haptic signals and form, makes it easy for students to play physical games again, while still connecting with other students remotely. The games provide opportunities to interact with other students, encourage more motion away from the screen, and creates healthy competition and motivation structures.
Overall, Buddi is designed to bring back some of the joy of in person social moments that have been lost through remote learning to improve student well-being and connection.
I started this project with the central research question: "How might we create social presence in remote learning environments to help students form social connections?" From that point, I narrowed my target audience down to middle school students as it is a period of time with many developmental milestones. It is when students begin developing independence in learning and growing from social interactions.
For my research, I first conducted secondary research, understanding existing research about the impacts of remote learning on students and understanding the developmental goals of students in my target demographic. I then conducted user interviews to develop a deeper understanding of my problem space. I talked to 5 middle school students and their parents to understand what their experiences have been like with remote learning and determine what potential spaces for intervention could be.
After my interviews, I created an affinity diagram of my insights from the interview. The key insights I pulled from this diagram that guided my design were:
1. While many students have adjusted to the academic side of online learning, they are struggling with the lack of social interaction and stimulation that comes from Zoom.
2. Students are having a hard time meeting new people because there is little space for social interaction during class time.
3. Students are struggling to get a break in between periods which creates a draining school day.
4. Parents are concerned about the amount of time students spend seated in front of their screens.
The research showed that the lack of space for social interaction was the biggest challenge these students were facing. I also wanted to design something that would help students with this problem but not add burdens to teachers or create more concern for parents, keeping the interests of all my stakeholders in mind.
Parental concern about screen time and lack of motion confirmed my idea that I needed to create a physical object that facilitates motion. I created many iterations on physical form, getting input from other students about the feeling of the form in their hands. When creating a physical model of the object, I also played with Arduino to understand the feasibility of this object and to understand how to create layered outputs through rapid prototyping.
In terms of the digital part of the project, I decided to create a chrome extension as it would be the most accessible for students, as not all students are guaranteed to have a smartphone. Additionally, a chrome extension would most easily integrate with the already existing systems students use, like Google Classroom and Google Calendar.
Impact & Further Considerations:
I designed Buddi specifically to help alleviate one of the many issues that have arisen during the covid era. However, while this design is catered to remote learning, many functions of Buddi could be translated into in person learning environments. This transition could lean into the affordances of the physical form and haptic signals Buddi provides, further deepening connections and opening new opportunities for play between students.