It’s 3 a.m. on Tuesday. You are at your desk trying to make sense of the calculus problems that will inevitably show up on tomorrow’s exam. It’s midterm time, so you’re not the only one up. But after taking inventory of your hallmates, you realize you are living on the only floor on campus made up solely of English majors. You’ve already checked Prometheus but to no avail. E-mail is a lost cause because your professor won’t get back to you in time.
So what do you do? Where do you go for help? One GW alum said he discovered the answer and named it Smarthinking.com.
If you look at society in general you see 24-hour support for every other facet of our society, said Chris Gergun, 29, CEO and co-founder of Smarthinking and GW graduate school alumnus.
If you buy a lawnmower you get 24-hour support. With a credit card you get 24-hour support. But in academics if you are studying at 11 p.m., and you have a question or problem, there is no where to turn.
Smarthinking is the first virtual learning assistance center that connects students to online e-structors and independent study services in real time. The site provides academic support 24 hours a day, seven days a week for core courses in education.
The idea behind Smarthinking was to make the ultimate leaning assistance center, Gergun said. Smarthinking provides two services, an online writing lab and a math lab. The online writing lab allows students to e-mail the Web site with anything they may need help with and get a response back in 24 hours.
Students are using it for all types of things, including cover letters, resum?s, as well as for English and sociology papers, Gergun said.
The math lab has e-structors available from 7 a.m.-10 a.m. and 4 p.m.-1 a.m. As services expand this summer Smarthinking will offer support in statistics, economics and chemistry, as well making e-structors available 24 hours a day.
E-structors are graduate students from across the country with substantial experience in tutoring and/or teaching in a given field, Gergun said. They must also participate in an intensive online training program by Smarthinking.
While Smarthinking is doing well, encouraging people to use this new service is a major obstacle to success.
It’s like slamming a huge library in the middle of a campus when no one has ever used one before and saying use this, this is valuable and encouraging people to walk in the doors, Gergun said.
Currently the site’s services are free. The company is running a pilot program and analyzing student’s patterns of use. In the fall of 2000 when Smarthinking goes public and starts round-the-clock support, it will cost $30 a month for unlimited access to basic services.
If you think about it, you’ll spend $80 on a textbook, Gergun said. If you could buy an e-instructor with that textbook, it becomes a personal study guide.
The demand from students and universities for complete online learning packages is substantial, he added. Most universities nationwide have turned to online suites of services that help facilitate the learning process. At GW students can register, obtain assignments, check grades, see hours of buildings on campus, get notes and even take classes online.
What is missing is the academic support piece that Smarthinking supplies, Gergun said. We are directly part of that entire learning platform and experience that students are asking for.
Smarthinking’s philosophy is go big or go home, he explained. The company plans on following the learning and growth curve of other Internet companies. Within two years they plan on having an extensive service that not only serves the college market but the high school, international, graduate, test prep and corporate markets as well.
I want people to get a successful and satisfying education experience, Gergun said. I want people to get value out of it. If you think about the way students study, it’s late at night, and you run into problems, and you don’t know where to go. Smarthinking provides the opportunity to get help when you need it most.
This article appeared in the March 16, 2000 issue of the Hatchet.