Year of the Student

Looking ahead to 2014 – the Year of the Student.

GUEST COLUMN | by Andrew Grauer

CREDIT Course Hero Year of the StudentAs 2013 comes to an end, it’s only natural to reflect back on the year – consider the highlights and lowlights, both as a company and an industry – and think about what 2014 has in store. This past year was a momentous one for us at Course Hero. We nearly doubled our employee count, moved into a new, much larger office space, launched a tutoring platform, expanded our Flashcards features, received some humbling accolades and most importantly, continued to create the best educational resources available for students across the globe. As I consider the possibilities of a new year, there are a few trends that come to mind, all of which are focused on the student: our core audience at Course Hero, and the central figure in education technology.

As I consider the possibilities of a new year, there are a few trends that come to mind, all of which are focused on the student.

Accessibility of knowledge

Traditionally, the distribution of educational content followed a business-to-business model, one in which the path between the creators and consumers of content was punctuated by several road bumps. Take a classic learning management system (LMS), like Blackboard, for example. This kind of LMS is sold in to university administrators, who provide it to professors within their respective educational institutions. Professors then utilize these LMS tools when building out their specific courses, which facilitates the students’ engagement with the subject material. While this is still common practice in academia, students are no longer beholden solely to this model.

Today, information flows much more freely – due in part to the accessibility of the Internet and the rise in Web-connected devices. In 1995, there were fewer than 40 million people using the Internet, that number rose to 360 million in 2000 and according to the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency, there are an estimated 2.7 billion global Internet users in 2013, a figure that is continuing to grow exponentially.

As result, students can not only access educational content directly from the source but they also have the option of deciding what that source is – with the freedom of exploring multiple avenues of content and sharing that content with their peers. At Course Hero, we facilitate this kind of knowledge sharing and provide students with new ways to connect to each other.  Through our products, students can access the resources they need, such as practice problems or lecture notes, and also contribute materials that they think would benefit others.

The rise of mobile learning 

As the number of Internet users rises, so does the number of connected devices.  In fact, according to research conducted by Cisco, global mobile data traffic increased by 70 percent in 2012 and by the end of this year, there will be more connected mobile devices than people in the world.

With an increasingly connected population come the benefits of doing things on-the-go and education is no exception, within reason.  The convenience of learning anywhere, at any time is undeniable, but there are practical realities to consider.  While reviewing flashcards on a smartphone eliminates the need to carry around hundreds of index cards and improves the learning process, writing a term paper on a 2”x4” screen without a keyboard is unrealistic.

The deep functionality that devices require in order to satisfy mobile learners is currently lacking.  Most U.S. students are still using their laptops to write papers, complete assignments and even study for exams, but as more complex Web apps enter the market, and the technology evolves, these mobile learning numbers too will grow.

In a more formal capacity, mobile learning is being implemented in developing nations – with UNESCO leading the charge – in an effort to use technology to increase access to education on a global scale.

Collaboration is key 

Increased access to knowledge, combined with a growing number of Web-connected students has resulted in a higher degree of collaboration in education. Peer-to-peer collaboration is booming; group projects have long been a staple in the classroom, but now the tools to facilitate these interactions are being used much more frequently and with greater ease.  Resources such as Edmodo provide teachers with the ability to engage on a deeper level with their students, Google’s documents and spreadsheets allow for real-time collaboration at no cost, Cardinal Scholars connects students with top-tier tutors, Quizlet helps students master material with digital flashcards, the list goes on and on.

In our globally connected world, collaboration also extends beyond the walls of a classroom.  Students learn from teachers on the other side of the world, thanks to the likes of the Khan Academy, and share their knowledge across states, countries and even continents.  Using Course Hero, an English major at UCLA can gain new perspective on the symbolism in Shakespeare’s Hamlet by reviewing the notes from a student at Oxford.  The connections extend even further: on the one hand, we have tutors in India helping students in Canada, while at the same time our resources are connecting students at the same university, in the same class.  And this is just the beginning; we’re still at the early stages of trying to reach as many students as possible – and the numbers are only going to increase from here.

On a broader level, this emphasis on collaboration leads to a bottoms up approach to the open marketplace – we see this in education, as well in the economy as a whole as people are now sharing and renting cars, apartments and even pets.

Improving education, together

While our focus at Course Hero has always been on empowering students, it’s time for the rest of the industry to follow suit. We need to think collectively about the resources that students really need in order to succeed and find more ways to make these tools and services accessible and affordable. The educational landscape is constantly changing and as we ring in a new year, let’s commit to changing it for the better, for the student.

Andrew Grauer is the CEO and Co-Founder of Course Hero, Inc. Write to: agrauer@coursehero.com

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