Interview | Pindi Albert Goes to OneSchool

The idea for OneSchool started with a picture message of a homework problem that was sent between friends. “That’s when a few of us at Penn State realized that students use their smartphones all the time, yet there was not a lot of useful information available when it came to colleges,” says 18-year old Pindi Albert, creator and Chief Technology Officer of OneSchool. According to Pindi, many college websites provide information about applying and other official information, but lack the day-to-day tools and resources students use every day. “We decided to change that by creating something that allows students on any campus to have the resources and practical info they need to succeed both in and outside of the classroom, available anytime and anywhere on their smartphone.” Founded in February 2011, the company has experienced growth at least as rapid as Facebook did in its earliest stages—but will it continue to catch on? Pindi goes in-depth here with some of his thoughts about the future of OneSchool and student learning in these “there’s an app for that” days.

Victor: What does the name mean?

Pindi: For us it meant bringing together everything for students into one experience, one application.

Victor: What is it? Who created it?

Pindi: OneSchool is the one-stop smartphone app for college students to find the resources they need for university life both inside and outside the classroom. It was a project we started at Penn State University with a founding team that includes myself, David Adewumi, and Zach Johnston. Zach and David met through their frat and David and I went to high school together.

Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?

Pindi: We provide students with all the information they need both in and out of the classroom in one app. It has everything you need for the college lifestyle at your fingertips. Students can search for courses, check the football score and schedule, find their next class, locate the best place to grab a late night snack, get a hold of their professor’s email, chat with other classmates, and more.

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?

Pindi: Some schools have paid a hefty sum to have developers create an app exclusively for their campus. OneSchool is completely free; we take the data that is offered publicly and organize it in a way that’s easy for students to use. We understand that every school has its own unique features, so we have Campus Founders, actual students, who are on the ground giving feedback on the app and helping us make it better.

We’ve seen a great demand for our mobile app and have over 150 schools on the waiting list that have requested we bring OneSchool to them. There are very few schools that have even produced such an app for their college, period: of the 4300 schools across the country, fewer than 300 have a dedicated mobile application. 

Victor: When was it developed? What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?

Pindi: We began working on the app back in June 2011. We built the first working version of OneSchool in three weeks from a frat house in Berkeley. It was our first time being in California as a team and the support we got was incredible. For the most part everyone at the house received us really well and was enthusiastic about the OneSchool project. We’ve since moved from Berkeley to what we call our Menlo Park “hacker house.”

Victor: Funny—where did it originate? Where can you get it now?

Pindi: We first started testing the app at Penn State University where my co-founders and I attended school. It is now available at 8 different universities, including Stanford, Columbia, UCLA, Yale, Univeristy of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Houston, and the University of Waterloo. You can check download the free app for those schools in the App StoreAndroid Marketplace, or WindowsPhone Marketplace. We’ll be continuously updating the app with help from OneSchool campus founders.

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Pindi: The app is completely free.

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

Pindi: Let’s say it’s the first day of the semester and you have a lunch break between classes and you want to find somewhere to eat that’s quick but still tastes good. Click the food button to see what’s nearby and then use the bus tracker to get there efficiently. Afterwards, when it’s time to find your way back to class, use the campus map to find the right building so you can get to class on time.

Our wall function lets students communicate with their fellow peers across campus in real time. We’re finding that each campus uses the wall differently; we’ve seen posts to sell a textbook, look for a roommate, find off-campus housing, ask for advice on course selection, sell tickets to a sporting event, and more.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?

Pindi: OneSchool is targeted for students to use on campus, though professors and other staff on campus find the app helpful as well for its campus map, sports scores, and food, for example. You must have a .edu email address to use the app.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Pindi: Education is definitely a hot market right now. In the last few months alone we must have talked to or met some 40 or 50 companies trying to change our education system. This is for good reason: the system is fundamentally broken. Each school hoards their data in their own silos just because that’s the way it’s always been done. Students across campuses can’t meaningfully share and connect, and even students at the same campus have trouble because of the outdated system schools use. 

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating OneSchool?

Pindi: In the summer before my first semester of college, I was struck by how impenetrable Penn State’s information systems were. I found myself having to tab between ten different Web pages to correlate degree and general ed requirements, course lists, prerequisites, and the actual schedules. And this is just one college: they all do it differently! As the semester started, I started to experience the incredibly clunky systems that actually manage data, like ANGEL (and I’m not alone (see https://twitter.com/#!/angelsucks ). Why can’t this kind of information and these systems be unified on an easy-to-use platform? I started working on OneSchool while in college with the goal of fixing these problems with a unified but open platform, and am now pursuing this goal full-time. 

Victor: How does OneSchool address some of your concerns about education?

Pindi: We’re taking the public information surrounding higher education and making it easily accessible for everyone. There’s a lot of potential for this information to be shared and there are even more tools that can be created for students to perform well in school. 

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Pindi: Though the system is broken now, we’re going to show that there’s a better way. The future of education is an open system that can seamlessly connect students, professors, administrators, and developers across schools.

Victor: Got any funny or interesting stories?

Pindi: At first I didn’t understand the big deal about why we needed to move from Pennsylvania to Silicon Valley. But last week at the gym, I ended up having a casual conversation with a stranger there about a nerdy t-shirt my friend was wearing, and it turned out he was also a startup co-founder using the many of the same technologies we do! I wasn’t at a startup networking event, but apparently even a gym can become one! That’s when I really realized how many like-minded people there are here.

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of OneSchool?

Pindi: OneSchool provides value for students because we offer practical information and tools. Our app is a utility first and the social aspects just add value beyond that.  We’ll soon be rolling out more features related to the classroom experience – stay tuned for more details.

——-

Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com

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