3 min read
How did being a full-time college student influence the way I built Toucan? In many ways. But the biggest motivating factor was what I had to live through every single day: virtual school. And sadly, attending “virtual school” was, at the time, a synonym for feeling stuck and tired of Zoom all. the. time.
Don't get me wrong, teachers and professors really did their best when it came to translating their curriculum to an online medium. They were thrown into the pandemic blindly, just like the rest of us. So it's really not their fault. But the bottom line was that the online tools we were using for virtual school simply weren't good enough at delivering an engaging interactive virtual classroom experience.
Multiple times a day, in class, I'd sit in a lecture (like I would when school was in-person), but in an effort to get people involved, at some point in every class, the professor would say the dreaded words: "Ok, so now I'm going to put you all in breakout rooms."
At times, I would physically squirm. Or groan. Or bash my head into a wall. It depended on the day.
"PUT" me into a breakout room? You want to drop me randomly into a completely isolated box with four surprising faces staring at me? Or worse, just some white text spelling out someone's name and pronouns - accompanied by the red muted mic icon in the bottom corner. It's clear from the first second that nobody wants to be there.
I can never tell if it's because I'm extroverted or because I'm always the least comfortable with silence, but time and time again, I was the first person to speak in those situations. I was the icebreaker, I was the one guiding the conversation. Every. Single. Time. I cannot tell you how exhausting this gets.
So what did I do? I stopped going. Not to class, but the breakouts. I was so sick of playing moderator and showing my face to a group of people that wouldn't do the same that, when I heard the awful signal, I'd just leave the call. And I'd sit around for about 10 minutes before rejoining the class.
I'm not saying that I'm the best student, I'm not saying that I'm any smarter than anybody else. But what I am saying is that there must be something fundamentally broken about these tools if they're leading the people who are normally excited to participate and learn to cut class. This is why it's so important to me that we usher in the next generation of video tools. We need a way to talk with others online that preserves the fundamental choice that you have in an in-person room over whom you talk to. And we need a way to do that all while demonstrating the energy in the room.
From day 1, that's been the goal at Toucan. To create a gathering place for all of us - because using the same boring, boxy tool for EVERYTHING is simply not the human way.
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Antonia Hellman is co-founder and CEO of Toucan.
She is a recent graduate of Stanford University, having studied political science and economics.
She enjoys long walks to explore new cities, listening to audiobooks on 1.2x speed, a cup of hot water, and re-watching mediocre movies.
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