Cocoa Break

Introduction

About the NYU MakerSpace

The NYU Tandon MakerSpace is a cutting edge lab created to foster collaborative design projects. It features rapid prototyping and PCB production equipment, as well as advanced machining and testing capabilities. Apart from providing a wide range of facilities, the MakerSpace is also a great place to hangout, meet other students from across the campus and engage in fun and informative events.

About the Greenhouse

The GreenHouse at the MakerSpace is a student-run area dedicated to ideation, programming and collaboration. The GreenHouse supports the entrepreneurial spirit, creates opportunities for multidisciplinary initiatives, and allows students to meet each other and to learn new skills by organizing various events ranging from technical skills to ideation and prototyping concepts to design and engineering workshops which would benefit the students and also foster networking to build a better community. The GreenHouse is also a hub for the School of Engineering’s many student clubs and organizations as they use the GreenHouse space for meetings, events, and outreach.

About the Cocoa Break

One such event that was conducted a couple of times in the previous semester was the Cocoa Break which was initiated to help the students in taking a break and connecting with fellow peers. Raksha and I, being the Greenhouse Guardians of the MakerSpace (really proud of this title) and UX enthusiasts wanted to turn the cocoa break into a design intervention to understand student behavior and map out their reactions through this interesting opportunity.

Project Members: Cherisha Agarwal, Raksha Ravimohan

Duration: 10 weeks

My Role: As a Greenhouse Guardian, I was responsible for the design, marketing, logistics and planning of the events at the NYU MakerSpace to increase interactions in the space and help students build better connections and skills through this design intervention.

Goal

How might we enable more people to interact with the space and each other and come up with ways to make the cocoa breaks more engaging and effective?

Current Scenario

At the beginning of the Spring semester 2018, we started working at the MakerSpace and realized there are a few limitations in the space and a few challenges as follows:

  • Students are not allowed to eat inside the Greenhouse area but can drink beverages
  • Students often work on their own projects or complete assignments in the MakerSpace individually
  • There is a need to improve the networking opportunities among students
  • A peer-to-peer academic connection needs to be established to enable cross-department collaboration for projects
  • Students need to be made more aware of the resources and capabilities provided in the MakerSpace

Brainstorming

To address the challenges above, we decided to conduct the Cocoa Break on a weekly basis every monday at 4PM. As it was winter season, we realized cocoa might be a good incentive to bring more students into the makerspace and increase interaction. We decided to promote the event all around campus by designing flyers about the cocoa break.

We decided to have a unique and fun activity each work which would interest the students and enable them to network with one another and learn more about the MakerSpace as well. We aimed to let students network engage in some fun activities while relishing hot cocoa and marshmallows. Our brainstorming included some of the following ideas which could be held at the Greenhouse and be completed within an hour.

Design

The Greenhouse is a small area in the MakerSpace that has a TV, VR headset and a bunch of tables for working. We decided to place the cocoa table and the activities in the Greenhouse as it would force people to come inside the MakerSpace rather than just getting the cocoa at the entrance and walking out.

We thought this would be more effective as people would have to cross by the activities to get to the cocoa and also engage in these activities while waiting. We also leveraged the use of the TV to display the cocoa break poster and any promotional material. We could also move tables and white boards around with respect to the activities that we were conducting.

Execution

Bingo: We started off the cocoa break by conducting the Bingo activity where we prepared a MakerSpace theme bingo grid sheet and people had to cross off the activity or task in each box to complete and win a personalized laser cut coaster. During the first cocoa break, a lot of students came in to grab a cup of cocoa who weren’t inside the makerspace. Our promotions had worked to bring students to the makerspace. Some students participated in the bingo activity but it wasn’t engaging enough to to most students.

Origami: To improve upon this, the next week we asked one of our student who was an Origami enthusiast to prepare some samples and teach origami during the cocoa break. This was very well received by the students and a lot of them enjoyed creating origami artworks while sipping cocoa. Though we received better participation with origami, we still needed to improve the interaction among the students.

Pictionary: The following week we decided to have pictionary during the cocoa break. We prepared the words with the theme of NYC and targeted terms that students were most familiar with in the city and on campus. This definitely increased participation although it did not address our goal of increasing awareness about the makerspace as well.

Legos: Thus the week after, we had the students play with legos during the cocoa break. This activity by far showed most promising results as students were engaged with the legos for a longer time period, they interacted with each other while creating unique models and also inquired about other resources at the makerspace. While there was a significant improvement, we still needed to ensure that students are able to connect and collaborate on various project needs and academic requirements.

Speed Dating: To address this, the following week we prepared a professional speed dating questionnaire. This listed a set of questions to get the conversation going. Students who came in to get cocoa, picked up a sheet and started speaking to another student they had never interacted with before. The questions helped them get to know each other and increased networking among different departments.

Survey Results

During each of the above cocoa breaks, we observed students loved the idea of making their own cocoa and enjoyed it with marshmallows. However, we also asked a quick survey of how we could improve the event and what kind of activities they would prefer to have in the next cocoa breaks. The responses are as summarized below:

Iteration

There were a lot of factors affecting the participation during the cocoa break in the first half of the semester:

  1. The location of the cocoa table i.e, at the center of the Greenhouse
  2. No food provided
  3. Nature of activities
  4. Marketing within and outside the MakerSpace

We wanted to change our approach with respect to the above mentioned areas to achieve the following results:

  1. More people engaging in activities
  2. More people from inside the MakerSpace getting cocoa in order to satisfy our initial goal – networking with peers and building a stronger community within the MakerSpace
  3. Incorporate some of the suggestions in the feedback
  4. Experiment with different positions for the cocoa table to understand how students interact with the space

We decided to shift the cocoa table to the entrance so that more people who enter and leave the MakerSpace can get cocoa. Taking the survey feedback into account, we also got cookies and much to our surprise, the turnout was better and students seemed to enjoy the cookies more than the cocoa.

MakerSpace Frames: After this shift, we decided to keep light activities or fun things to do while having cocoa. We created 3 MakerSpace frames inspired from Polaroids, Instagram and 3D Printer Ultimaker so people could take pictures with them. This received quite an interesting response as many people were quite excited to have their picture taken with the frames.

CAIRN: We also decided to demo a MakerSpace research project – Cairn, which the students were very interested in learning about. We reduced the amount of social media promotion but still managed to get a good crowd and in turn even received more followers on our social media handles.

The most interesting insight was the week when we couldn’t hold the cocoa break due to another event and a bunch of people showed up asking for cocoa. This is when we realized we were onto something good here and it needs to be continued. We also analyzed the number of participants for each activity we planned during the cocoa breaks and mapped the results as shown below.

Activity Vs Participation

Next Steps

We plan to experiment with different kinds of activities to figure out which one gets the best participation since the students are mostly looking to spend only 5-10 minutes during the break. We want to include opportunities for students to showcase their projects and get feedback. Since the cocoa break happens from 4 to 4.30 and not all students arrive at the same time, the activities need to be designed carefully such that it is effective to a small group of people.

We are slowly moving towards making the cocoa break a popular event by talking to students working at MakerSpace, students who attend events and by promoting on social media, so that it is an event that students look forward to without being prompted. It is certainly a disadvantage for students who have a class at that time every week. However, they can still connect over events and through the skill share board. We did manage to overcome some of the challenges this semester by trying out different activities and understanding what works best. We were also successful in creating a stronger community of students in the MakerSpace and getting them engaged in various pursuits. Moving forward, we plan to incorporate the insights to hold even better cocoa breaks.

Next time you want to network, you know where to stop by!