Whola is an interactive game on Zoom and Google Sheets that employs the mechanics of BINGO-type icebreakers. The objective of the game is for students to get acquainted and interact with each other on their first day of synchronous class. Whola combines the word “who” and the Filipino word “hula” (pronounced /hula’/) meaning “guess.”
The game is a customizable icebreaker for getting to know people in the (Zoom) room. It is similar to its pen-and-paper counterpart, where players go around the room in search of participants who satisfy the description written in the boxes of the BINGO card. To some extent, it can also be played as an initial group activity on a particular topic, where concepts (e.g., answers) come from the participants themselves, as the game requires soliciting contributions from the group prior to the class. Icebreakers have been known to create openness and trust among students, make them feel comfortable, and provide a space for making connections that can promote a positive learning environment and introduce subject content.
Why did I create Whola?
My decision to develop the game was inspired by one of the recommendations I identified in my final paper for the class “University as a Design Problem” in Spring 2020, a core course in my graduate program. The paper explored the importance of the first year student experience, and how socialization may look like in Fall 2020 should universities decide to implement online learning and social distancing guidelines amid COVID-19.
Traditional approaches for socialization and community building among first year students relies on their physical presence on campus and inside classrooms. In particular, living learning communities have been known to facilitate student transition, student involvement, interaction with faculty and students, and learning new or different perspectives. Yet amid COVID-19, social distancing poses limitations on living arrangements and face-to-face classroom attendance. Moreover, some universities like Georgetown University are already preparing for a HyFlex scenario, in the event that this mode of learning is the most practical option for Fall 2020.
Researchers situate the use of an icebreaker in a classroom within Gilly Salmon’s five-stage framework of teaching and learning. The proposed game addresses access and motivation (Stage 1), online socialization (Stage 2), and information exchange (Stage 3). Throughout the duration of the activity or the course, the game should ideally build on knowledge construction (Stage 4) and development (Stage 5).
While the game does not focus on a specific content or topic, it aims to facilitate interaction and discovery of other participants’ ideas, stories, and values, which is often difficult to induce especially for students meeting for the first time in an online setting. Working collaboratively is already challenging in face-to-face environments, and this is further amplified in an online setting. The design of the game also addresses the concept of transactional distance in distance education, particularly between learners. One way to build community and increase participation in an online course is to design icebreakers to encourage connections, maintain interaction throughout the course, and create a space for reflection.
Using Google Sheets and Zoom as the “game engine” models the use of technology as virtual learning environments. Both students and the instructor are exposed to an online version of Think-Pair-Share, and the breakout room function in Zoom which can be used in subsequent online classes. Meanwhile, students can become familiar with online collaborative tools such as Google Sheets.
Zoom and Google Suite applications are ubiquitous education technologies, which I assume make them more accessible, both in terms of availability and platform for game development. Google Sheets also presents options for basic customization such as size, color, and type of text font, cells, and even inserting an image. What sets the game apart from traditional paper BINGO games is the basic interactivity of typing the answer. When the correct answer is typed in, the third cell in the box will show an additional fact, which may include a URL leading to an external website related to the information submitted by the player prior to the game.
Download the Whola design document with the game set up and instructions (opens as a Google Doc).