By: Nathaniel Tok

If you have ever wanted to speak up in class but were hesitant to voice your thoughts aloud, this new app may offer a solution.

SFU Beedie School of Business alumnus Jon Harris along with friend Jeremy Jackson have developed an app, BuzzIt, designed to facilitate a virtual chat room among users based on their location.

“The root of the matter is that society has a self-censorship problem. We’re often too ready to stop ourselves from saying what we think,” Harris explained in a recent interview with SFU News. “Where we run into trouble is when we’re unwilling to break the silence, even when there’s something that needs to be said.”

The inspiration came after Harris, the app’s product manager, consumed some burnt food at a fair and wanted to inform others who were at the event of his disappointment. Harris envisioned having a way to communicate and share thoughts with other people who were near him.

The goal for the app has since expanded beyond food at the fair to classrooms and meetings. Harris told The Peak he believes the app can help less outspoken post-secondary students voice their thoughts.

The app was recently tested in a second-year business class and prompted students to participate and ask questions, according to professor Sarah Lubik. At least half of the class installed the app, logged in, and started chatting about the presentation.

“It was interesting to see the messages and conversations thread start rolling in,” explained Lubik, who is also the director of entrepreneurship at the university. “[The students] were definitely more excited, and it did help surface some questions from those that may not have participated otherwise.”

The app can also be used by speakers to get feedback in real-time as listeners post comments into a chatroom that the speaker can monitor.

“The people that are always willing to speak out will continue to choose in-person

discussions over staring at their screens. Those that usually stay quiet when they have something to say sometimes do that because they think they’re the only one with their point of view,” Harris said.

“By letting this second group share openly, BuzzIt will help them discover that others feel the same way, and that should give them the confidence to join in the discussion in real life.”

There are other technologies with a similar concept already being used in SFU classrooms, including Top Hat which allows professors to create interactive components for student smartphones. Lubik noted that, based on her experience in the classroom, this new app is promising as a way to help students engage with the lesson.

“I think there is potential for encouraging discussion in classes where the instructor is interested in engaging introverts, or surfacing confusion or comments students might not want to vocalize,” Lubik said.

BuzzIt allows its users to retain privacy, letting them access the closest chat rooms relative to their location and start chatting without giving away permanent contact information. The chats can be permanently ended by simply being deleted. However, you can also keep your chat history handy as you move throughout your day.

“The history section keeps you connected to anything you’ve posted, favourited, or commented on, even when you’ve left the area where it started,” Harris added.

“This is a very important feature, especially for a multi-campus commuter school like SFU. It will let you pick up chats as you move through different classes and locations during your day, and then connect back to those same groups when you’re on transit or at home studying.”