New website creates online study forum

Gelman Library study rooms booked? A local startup that launched at GW Tuesday offers a Blackboard-meets-Facebook website that lets students study together online instead.

The website, StudyHall.com, allows students to video chat, swap notes and share files – offerings the company hopes will revolutionize the market for online classroom tools. It went live Tuesday to five schools, including GW.

Geared toward student needs, the website encourages collaboration, unlike faculty-driven Blackboard tools, Ross Blankenship, the website’s founder and chief executive officer, said.

He added that students have told him they want to move away from Blackboard – which is mostly used to post assignments and syllabi – to collaborate with their peers online. At schools like Cornell and Harvard universities this year, Blankenship said nearly one-fifth of their undergraduate bodies signed up for the program.

Enticing students with a Blackboard alternative is “almost like stealing candy from a baby,” Blankenship said, adding that years of navigating more user-friendly social networking sites had made “their taste palate so refined now that they will switch from Blackboard in a heartbeat.”

The website does not require a buy-in from GW. Students register by giving their school, grade level and courses, and can be rated by classmates on their quality as a study partner.

It will not look to challenge Blackboard’s supremacy as the main learning management system universities use to link up students and professors, but the small company may want to join forces, Blankenship said.

StudyHall.com got its start from a TechCrunch competition. As one of 30 finalists, the program picked up funds from investors, and began beta-testing at Cornell, Harvard, Georgetown, Middlebury and Yale in September.

Freshman Casey Syron said he could imagine his study group habits moving more online.

“Usually for study groups, my classmates and I get a room in Gelman or go to J Street,” Syron said. “I would rather use StudyHall. Anything new would be nice.”

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