A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education looked at the rise of “social network” style study tools targeted at college students:

“Our mission is to make the world one big study group,” says Phil Hill, chief executive of OpenStudy, a social-learning site that started as a project of Emory University and Georgia Tech. It opened to the public in September.

Many of the social-learning sites are, like OpenStudy, for-profit companies—or at least they aspire to be once their services take off. And some of their business plans rely on a controversial practice: paying students for their notes.

The big question facing all of these sites—a group that includes Mixable, from Purdue University, and GradeGuru, from McGraw-Hill—is whether students are really interested in social learning online.

It’s interesting to see universities themselves behind these products (Emory’s OpenStudy brands itself “the Match.com of study help”) — especially given the extent to which professors already complain that students become too engrossed in their laptops, detracting from engagement in the classroom. But I guess schools smell the money. Not so Andrew Magliozzi of Harvard, who isn’t following in the footsteps of Mark “Money” Zuckerberg:

When Andrew Magliozzi posted his notes from a Harvard course on a public blog, the professor told him to stop because he was disturbing the intimacy of the classroom.

Mr. Magliozzi, who declined to identify the professor, took the notes down. But the incident spurred him to create a nonprofit Web site, FinalsClub.org, that aspires to disturb the intimacy of classrooms across America’s elite colleges.

“I’m asking to change the default setting on education from private to public,” says Mr. Magliozzi, a 2005 Harvard graduate.

His vehicle for accomplishing that is a free online forum where student bloggers can share class notes and form study groups. Mr. Magliozzi chose the name as an ironic nod to Harvard’s final clubs—those elite organizations, immortalized in the film about the founders of Facebook, The Social Network, which are rumored to maintain private caches of study guides for Harvard courses.

Purdue’s Mixable, in contrast, relies on a Facebook plug-in, which has certain advantages:

Brittany Robertson, a junior studying elementary education at Purdue, says that she usually is on Facebook at least four or five hours each day, and that she appreciates that Mixable uses the same familiar interface and lets her easily shift from study to socializing. “If I want to show my classmates something, I use Mixable,” she says.

For one of her education courses this semester, for example, she uploaded her essay on citizenship via Mixable so that classmates could see it. She says the professor in the course often provides sample essays but in this case didn’t, so she thought her friends might appreciate peering over her shoulder, virtually.

“You could e-mail it,” she says, “but why do that when it can be right in front of you, and you can be talking to everyone at one time rather than using e-mail?”

Her one criticism of Mixable was that since her friends had never heard of it, some were hesitant to install the app. Facebook is filled with pitches for various apps that give companies access to a user’s personal information. But once Ms. Robertson’s friends realized that Mixable was made by programmers at Purdue, they were more likely to click “allow.”

Has anyone used any of these products? Are any of them in use among Williams students?

Print  •  Email