Heya.space is an initiative to build a virtual community around purposeful collaboration.
In this time of global challenge, schools have had to adapt and explore new ways to do things we have always taken for granted. While tools such as Google Classroom and Zoom help serve the needs of delivering an academic curriculum, we believe there is an unaddressed need to provide tools for students to mix and work together in a less structured, more organic way.
Normal "in-person" school has clubs and groups that are structured according to topics of mutual interest rather than by academic year-group, class, or social-group. It is the needs of these groups we wish to help address.
Heya.space is for school clubs, groups, competitions, or any purposeful conversation that may interest students from across the school.
While we are building this specifically with virtual learning in mind, it is hoped the tool will prove so valuable that it will find a lasting place in our school once things are back to "normal".
Our focus right now is on a heya.space minimum viable product so the tool can be used at our school. Our starting goals include:
- Each student and staff member using the system will have their heya.space identity linked to either an email address or mobile phone number.
- A range of "spaces" can be created (sometimes called channels or rooms in similar products). Each space will be a place for purposeful discussion and collaboration on a particular theme or topic. Examples include clubs, competition teams, subject based homework help, interesting news articles linked to a topic (eg: AI research), university course discussions, writing or creative groups, and so forth.
- Each spaces will be overseen by a teacher for content moderation/safety purposes (remember the intent is for purposeful conversations that are somehow school related, we are not trying to be a substitute for you private student-student conversations). Spaces may also be assigned student moderators to assist which may allow the teacher to be mostly hands off.
- Most spaces will be open for anyone to read, but you would have to join it to post. Space owners will also have the option to set the space as private so people must be a member to read as well as post.
- Joining a space will allow you to post to that space. Most spaces will be open for anyone to join but some may require an invite request / confirmation process (at the discretion of the space owner).
- Communication within spaces will be by text message, with the option of file attachments. At this time we are not intending to have voice or video communication.
- Communication will be real-time between those who are actively logged in. Chats will be archived so other space members can catch up on the conversation when they subsequently log in at a later point.
- We are hoping to facilitate users to opt-in to phone notifications on a space-by-space basis. This will likely also have to have some "quiet time" so notifications turn off at certain hours.
- There will not be a direct user-to-user message feature. All communication will happen in the group spaces where moderators are present.
+ whatever else we dream up!
Can I help?
Heya.space is under development by students for students, under the guidance of our Computer Science teacher. If you attend STC and would like to contribute please email Mr Baumgarten. We need technical students to help with programming, but we would also love non technical help for graphic design, content curation, product advocacy and more!
The best way to make sure heya.space becomes a great tool is to be part of the team that helps create it.
Regarding the technology stack, we are currently using the following architecture:
- Python 3.8 with Flask & SQLAlchemy
- MariaDB 15.1
- React 17
- Nginx 1.18 with uwsgi
How is heya.space different to ...?
Sometimes the best way to understand a product is to learn about the design decisions that caused it to be created in the first place, compared to similar products already available.
No other tool provided the mix of collaboration and safety that we were looking for. Maybe we could have made one of them work, but in the end we decided it would be more fun to create our own!
What about Slack?
Slack's channels come close to achieving a number of our core goals. Two main issues prevented us from going with Slack.
- Firstly the 10,000 message history limit on the free plan was a bit of a turn off.
- Secondly, and more importantly, is the inability to turn off the direct messages feature. To be endorsed and supported by the broader school community, it was important that all communication occur within "rooms" or "channels". Students who wish to communicate with one another privately have a variety of technologies already at their disposal (WhatsApp, Instagram etc) so we have no desire to seek to provide a forum for that type of communication.
What about Discord?
Though different to Slack in culture and style, Discord's product is quite similar. Ultimately the reputational history of Discord and the prevalence of content that would be unacceptable within our school environment meant that Discord was a non-starter for us.
Similar to Slack, Discord also has the problem of being unable to turn off direct messages.
What about Google Classroom?
Google Classroom is a tool built for teaching and learning around lessons and assessments. Some issues include:
- While it does, in theory, support discussion forums, the user experience is not enticing.
- Classroom lacks the capacity for real-time discussion and collaboration.
- Each "Classroom" is an isolated silo. We want an environment where students can mix, where they are grouped by topics of interest rather than academic year groups or assigned classes.
What about Hangouts?
There were two possible approaches to Hangouts that could be used, each of which has significant flaws.
- Create one large Hangout that the entire school is invited to. In this scenario, the conversation becomes an unmanaged mess with people getting notifications for discussions about which they have no interest.
- Create lots of small Hangouts for every possible club or topic. This would kill any sense of the "virtual community" we are wanting to culturally build. Students could be navigating dozens of Hangout chats and would be unable to freely explore the different discussions available to see what might interest them. They would have to know a Hangout exists and would then have to request invitations to join it.
The fact that Hangouts has been disabled by school admin on more than one occasion speaks to the problems that such an unstructured chat tool can cause.
Can I get heya.space for my school?
While we would be thrilled at the idea of other schools adopting it, at the moment our priority is to produce a minimum viable product that will meet our own urgent needs. Further on, however, we would love the idea of seeing heya.space become a stable and mature product that others might be interested in.