OpenStudy Aims to Create Worldwide Study Group


OpenStudy allows students from across the globe to turn to each other for study help. The company, which was started in Georgia Tech's Advanced Technology Development Center, is comprised of Ashwin Ram, associate professor at Georgia Tech's College of Computing; Phil Hill, Chief Executive Officer; Chris Sprague, Tech alumnus; and Preetha Ram, associate dean for pre-health and science education at Emory University.

November 16, 2010

Think about online courses. They’re great, right? You take a
professor who’s interested in teaching a certain topic, say computer science,
and hook him or her up with hundreds or thousands of students across the globe
who want to learn.  Add some
podcasting technology and you’ve got an online class where people from all
walks of life can learn about computer science. Except there’s one problem.

“What happens when the students need help? Who can they turn
to?” said Ashwin Ram, associate professor in Georgia Tech’s College of
Computing.

So, Ram teamed up with his wife, Preetha Ram, associate dean
for pre-health and science education at Emory University; Chris Sprague, a Georgia
Tech alumnus; and entrepreneur Phil Hill in 2007 to create OpenStudy, an online
system that links students with other students from around the world in real
time, so they can get help at any time, day or night.

“We want to make the entire world your study group,” said
Ram.

OpenStudy debuted this August and already has more than 11,00
users from 151 countries, with a particularly large presence in the U.S., China,
India and Brazil.  Using OpenStudy
is free. All a user has to do is sign up and connect with a study group that
covers their topics of interest.

But why would people bother answering others’ questions?

“We’ve found that people get significant gratification from
helping people right now,” said Hill. “Connecting, conversing and helping a
stranger in need provides a unique feeling and actually helps the learner to
better understand the material herself.”

“We’ve seen some fantastic examples of students, worldwide,
connecting and helping each other, such as a student from Los Angeles being
helped with chemistry by a student from Istanbul, Turkey,” added Ram.

Currently about 90 percent of the questions posed on
OpenStudy are answered, and each question asked receives input from an average
of 4.5 other students.

Each user has a profile page that shows how many questions
each one has asked and answered as well as how helpful their answers have been.
A few weeks ago, OpenStudy added a feature that allows people to rate the
quality of the answers they’ve been given.

“We’ve found that this feature helps to motivate our users. Strong
peer recognition is really important to people who provide help,” said Hill.

OpenStudy has more than 350 study groups that users can
join, such as AP History, Natural Language@Georgia Tech or Emory Biology. To
join a course, just use the search function to find a topic of interest. The
site has also teamed up with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s
OpenCourseWare, the world’s largest provider of free educational classes.
Students taking one of their courses can join one of 10 official MIT study
groups on the MIT website.

“We will continue  to extend
the reach of OpenStudy so that study help is within reach of every student in
the world regardless of location, social background or the time of day,” said
Hill.

OpenStudy is a
for-profit spinoff that was started in Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology
Development Center and is funded by the
National Science
Foundation
, the National Institutes of Health and the Georgia Research
Alliance
.