Power in the hands of students; studying in the digital age

Imagine arriving in college and immediately being able to connect to every student in your class, or every student in your school for that matter. Just like that, studying got a lot easier and you’re no longer just a face in the crowd.  The new educational app, StudyRoom, makes this very much a reality for students at four universities.

With the digital age upon us, students now have a much different learning experience than generations before. “This is the most connected and social generation ever, but when it comes to education there’s nearly no other way to connect with all of your classmates,” said StudyRoom co-founder Emerson Malca.

Emerson

Sometimes students need a little help from friends, or classmates, but can’t all be at the same place at the same time. That’s the problem that Malca came up against a few years ago. “Our friend was 50 minutes away, and she had a problem that we couldn’t help her with. She had over 100 classmates (in that class), but there was no way to connect with them,” Malca said. With a degree in computer engineering from San Francisco State University, Malca and his friend Pindi Albert used their skills to find a solution and came up with an app to connect students with their peers to help get to know each other and study together.  A year and a half ago their app StudyRoom was launched.

Designed for computers, iPhones and iPads, the educational platform breaks into two sections: school page and course page. The School page shows the list of courses provided during that semester and serves as a base point and as a community builder by putting all students in communication with one another.

“Students can talk about whatever they want on the school page,” Malca said. “They’re selling textbooks, organizing rides to concerts, finding people in their major or forming a get-together to meet people and make cupcakes,” he said.

Both pages are set up for dialogue, but while the school page allows all students to meet one another and has more of a social atmosphere, the course pages give students the opportunity to pose questions or ideas to their peers about their specific class.

“The course page is 100 percent focused on the course: when assignments are due, questions about a topic, or if someone misses a class they can say ‘hey can anyone share their notes?’” Malca said.

The pages are very simple and straightforward allowing students to post questions, answers, files and pictures. Yes, it’s a public sphere, but students can interact and discuss topics one-on-one as well.

The founders have also included a unique feature that adds a bit more life to online studying. Those equipped with an iPad can take advantage of the whiteboard option, which allows one to draw a picture or diagram for more visual learners. Wildly useful for math students, the whiteboard can be used for a slew of topics and subjects.

The app works on computers, iPhones and iPads and comes with a whiteboard drawing feature

The app works on computers, iPhones and iPads and comes with a whiteboard drawing feature

StudyRoom creates a chance for classmates to get a head start on creating study groups and getting to actually know their peers outside of the two or three they sit next to. “One of the most amazing things that we’ve seen is that two days after the semester started we saw people trying to find study groups — we think it’s amazing. Without a platform, people don’t do that until they’re about to take a test-a month into the class.”

As developers, both founders have control over the platform together; Albert works on web and servers while Malca heads the iPhone and design sectors. The two were able to get the product going with a start-up incubator-Imagine K12, which provided funding and expert mentors.

Studyroom founders 1

No matter how great an idea is, it can’t get off the ground without followers. So Malca and Albert were hard at work putting up flyers, tweeting at students and connecting with fraternities and sororities to get students’ attention about the app. They even went so far as to talk to students on the bus.

After their hefty publicity venture, StudyRoom made its way into the eager hands of students at San Francisco State in the fall of 2013. Malca and Albert decided to use a pilot with 500 people in a few courses in order to learn about what the students wanted and what would help them best. It was met with staggering success.

“The students loved it.” Malca said. “The fact that they have a platform (at all) was fundamental.” StudyRoom is now available at San Francisco State, the University of California at Santa Cruz, Penn State and San Jose State and has 24,000 students involved.

With the goal to get StudyRoom into every university in the country, Malca sees the young app as a way to put power into the hands of the students.

“There are a lot of problems with higher education: financial, academic, and StudyRoom empowers students,” Malca said. As a former tutor and a firm believer in the power of peer-to-peer social learning, Malca hopes that StudyRoom makes every student involved smarter. The goal of the app is to make it easier to study and do well in class, and it’s a point that Malca takes to heart.

“For us it’s all about helping the students and giving them power for their own learning and education, and hopefully that creates a big change in the long run.”

While it’s still early into the app’s life, the product has shown great promise and hopes to expand to help students across the nation.  Times are changing and Malca and Albert work to create positive changes with the digital age. Now with the possibility to easily get connected with peers and take charge of not only the education itself but the environment as well, StudyRoom is making it a great time to be a student.