Class connection through Coursekit

By Alexandra Kukulka

Finals week is approaching, and this is the time to ask last-minute questions. However, many of these questions come up late at night, when almost no one is available.Though emailing your teacher is an option, the response may come too late. Facebooking a classmate is the next option, but that requires finding and messaging him or her. Now comes a better solution.

Coursekit is a new social network for education, launched on Nov. 29 to ease the problem of connecting students outside of the classroom. It was created by former University of Pennsylvania students Joseph Cohen, Dan Getelman and Jim Grandpre.

“The concept of Coursekit is basically to give instructors the tools they need to manage their course,” said Cohen, CEO and co-founder of the site. “It’s a grading, file management, scheduling, keeping track of students, communicating with them [and] management tool. But we do it far more elegant[ly]and far more complete[ly] than anything on the market.”

According to Cohen, the unique component of the website is integrating ideas of social media websites, like Facebook, to the classrooms. The students can get to know each other, share ideas and ask each other questions. This way, the conversation between students doesn’t only happen during class, but also occurs through

social media.

The idea for the site came to the Cohen and his co-founders because they wanted to better understand how “everything” is now online. They concluded that the classroom is very offline and not interactive online, according to Cohen. With this thought, the young men quit school and began raising money for the website.

“Our goals are not to build a replacement for Blackboard, necessarily,” Cohen said, referring to an online educational supplement similar to the Moodle service Columbia offers. “We want to do that, but it’s not all we want to do. We are trying to build up the academic social network. So imagine a Facebook that was just for academia.”

Competition does not seem of great concern to Coursekit, according to Cohen. The reason that people are getting frustrated with Blackboard is because it was created in the ’90s and is out of date.

“Our product is far better than anything on the market,” he said. “It’s far easier to use, it is far more elegant, far more simple [and] it’s far more powerful.”

Cohen believes the people who purchased Blackboard are senior technology members in the college who don’t even use the program. For this reason, Coursekit will be given directly to the teacher, not the institution, Cohen said.

However, according to Matt Green, director of Online Student Communications, Coursekit is not the first third-party application that encourages schools to use it. Green believes that the Coursekit founders will have a hard time getting people to use their site.

“The big challenge for them will be how instructors will know about [Coursekit],” Green said. “There is no official arrangement with [Columbia], so there is no way for us to formally tell students or faculty about it to use it.”

Third parties are creating their sites because they believe institutions are not doing a sufficient job with their portals because they are not interactive, he added.

“[Third-party applicants] never seem to go anywhere because they don’t have any buy-in from the college itself,” Green said. “So it is just next to impossible to get students and faculty to pay attention to it to get enough users to become truly relevant.”

In 2008, Columbia created a Facebook application that allowed students of the same major to talk to each other regarding their assignments and ask questions.

“After the first six months, we saw something pretty interesting, [which was] that students just didn’t give a crap,” Green said. “They didn’t want to use it to talk to people in their class because they were like, ‘I am in class with them, so I’m not going to it for that.’”

Luis Romero, junior art and design major, used the Columbia Facebook application when he first came to Columbia but decreased his use significantly as he made friends.

He now checks the application every once in a while to answer questions underclassmen have, he said.

“I think Facebook pretty much covers all the bases of any social media site,” Romero said. “However, most people in college spend a significant amount of time on Facebook, so if schools can capitalize on that use and improve communication between not only students but also faculty, then I say, why not?”

According to Cohen, besides Columbia, Princeton, Duke, Stanford and Cornell universities are just a few of the institutions that are currently using Coursekit.

“Maybe [Coursekit] will become the next big thing, and college students [will] start using it,” Green said. “That could totally be the case. I am always skeptical because there is just a lot of people trying to [be a thirdparty applicant].”