Queen’s student creates app to connect students remotely

Kaku provides program and course-focused chats for students to interact during COVID-19 isolation

According to Fillion, the app has acquired close to 1,000 users. 
Credit: 
Supplied.

Amidst a turbulent return to campus, Eric Fillion, Sci ’21, hopes to ease the effects of social isolation for Queen’s students with a new app called Kaku. 

Fillion first came up with the idea for the university-based social platform in August 2019 when he realized students were struggling to find and create course chats for their degree programs.

“I created a prototype for an app that automatically places students into tailored educational chats. Over the course of the school year, I put the project on hold [but] with COVID-19 being such a pressing issue, I decided to proceed with the development of the final version in May of this year,” Fillion told The Journal. 

He published Kaku ahead of schedule, using platforms Flutter and Firebase to develop the app for both iOS and Android under a single codebase, and noted the stability and good performance of the app so far.  

According to Fillion, the app has acquired close to 1,000 users and received positive feedback. 

In addition to uploading photos and communicating with other students, Fillion noticed users were independently shaping the platform to increase connectivity. 

READ MORE: SeQure app launches new COVID-19 tracker

“One of the most interesting things to happen so far was the #buckethatchallenge, where students would upload a photo of themselves wearing a bucket hat and challenge their friends to do the same,” Fillion wrote. “I did not start this and was surprised to see that it emerged naturally.” 

Fillion said Kaku will help combat social isolation by providing a platform for students to connect with one another in a safe and inclusive environment. Over the coming months, it aims to ensure Queen’s students have a place to connect with each other socially and academically.  

“Students are already vulnerable to social isolation, and COVID-19 is definitely making it worse. I believe Kaku can help mitigate the increase in social isolation due to COVID-19,” Fillion wrote.

“Imagine being a first-year student who’s living far away from campus and doesn’t know anyone in their program. This student can then create a Kaku account and be instantly connected to others in their degree and courses.” 

Under the name Vennify Media, Fillion and his brother have been creating educational content following the launch of Kaku, including planning the development of several open-sourced Flutter tools that would further assist these developers. 

“By creating Kaku, I acquired valuable technical skills related to app development with Flutter. I want to share my knowledge with the world to help aspiring app entrepreneurs,” Fillion wrote. 

Regarding the online transition of Queen’s University, Fillion praised the virtual delivery of course material and said the University has done a good job of adjusting academically given the circumstances. 

READ MORE: University establishes guidelines for safe return to campus

“In my opinion, there are two key components to the university experience: academics and the social experience. Personally, I’ve enjoyed the online lectures that my professors have been producing,” Fillion wrote. 

However, Fillion acknowledged that it’s challenging for the University to make up for the lack of social interaction due to COVID-19, citing the difficulty of fully translating Frosh Week to a virtual platform. 

“I think it is impossible to create a digital solution that fully replicated the friendship formation and group bonding that occurs during Frosh Week. Although there was a virtual [version], I’m sure it was nothing like spending an entire day with your frosh group or residence floor doing in-person activities,” Fillion wrote.

He said Queen’s should invest more into ensuring students, particularly first-years, have opportunities to meet and interact in a virtual social setting. 

“There are student-run clubs that these students can join, and perhaps the University can find ways to further assist these clubs or create their own events to help students meet new people.”

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