Eliezer Guerrero is struggling to solve a problem where he must find two vectors on his physics homework. As the clock hits midnight he realizes that no professor, textbook or set of notes can help him now that he is stuck.
“I just couldn’t figure this problem out and the website I use to turn in my homework for class only gives you five chances to get the right answer,” Guerrero said.
More than 5,000 struggling students at SF State like Guerrero who are in dire need of a lifeline are closer finding answers on StudyRoom, a website and iOS app where they can get tutoring from classmates.
Using StudyRoom, students can create or join course sections for classes they are enrolled in. There, they can post questions, share notes and send private messages with other classmates.
“I’m good at English, but Math and Science are not my strong suit. So I got the app to help me get through the semester when I needed help,” Guerrero said.
Emerson Malca, co-founder of the service, describes it as a social learning network that helps connect students similar to how Facebook connects friends.
“Learning is inherently social,” Malca said. “Sometimes you just need help with something you’re stuck with and all it takes is someone to help point something out that you’re missing.”
After being in development for more than a year, Malca officially launched StudyRoom in January with the start of several universities’ spring semesters.
StudyRoom has more than 5,000 users at SF State, a far cry from the few dozen students using the service last semester when it was quietly released for testing. Students from several universities including UC Santa Cruz, San Jose State University and Pennsylvania State University now make up the more than 20,000 students using the service.
While StudyRoom has caught the eye of students in recent weeks, it has also received attention from wary professors who fear the app may lead to cheating instead of learning.
Bill Sokol, a labor studies and employment studies professor at SF State said his class, which is primarily tested through multiple choice online quizzes, may not benefit from the service.
“It seems to me like this kind of application could seriously be used for simply swapping answers,” said Sokol.
Although StudyRoom currently doesn’t implement an abuse reporting system, Malca says he is confident college students will not use the service to cheat.
Malca believes that often getting an immediate answer and moving on to the next topic is what keeps students from learning and it’s a deep-seated flaw in the public education system.
“Many times when a student doesn’t get something, they’re forced to move on because the class has to move on and that really hurts students when it comes to taking quizzes and tests,” Malca said.
Although Malca has yet to make a profit from StudyRoom, Sokol worries that Malca’s StudyRoom will move into the education technology space and eventually privatize the public education system which has failed to implement a competing technology to benefit students’ learning.
“The current technology is not particularly good. It needs tremendous work,” Sokol said. “What the administrators and the academic staff should be thinking about is ‘How do we get out ahead of this technology to take advantage of it and use it so that it works for us?'”
With plans to expand its user base at several other colleges and the addition of several new features in future updates, Malca is continuing his goal of making StudyRoom the premier learning service for college students.
“We want to become the ubiquitous platform that is the place to go whenever students take a class in college,” Malca said.