Through ethnographic research into student study habits and their use of technology, the idea was born for a collaborative online application that translates students’ skills in using social media (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and the like) into constructive behaviors within an educational context. This web 2.0 study-tool is called GradeGuru, a free knowledge sharing network, where college students can share and find class-specific study materials, collaborate, engage in peer-review and build their academic reputations to earn rewards, internships and career opportunities. GradeGuru’s university and class specific communities provide a relevant and intuitive social learning environment for thousands of students from over 300 universities. In many ways, the effective practitioners here are students - either with instructor guidance/ assistance or directly, students are using GradeGuru to help themselves:
GradeGuru is facilitating the practice of knowledge sharing, peer support and online study groups. Students are increasing their exposure to course-specific materials, getting a fellow learners’ perspective, giving thoughtful feedback on each others’ study materials, receiving encouragement and increasing retention.
This web 2.0 tool offers students access to a breadth of peer-generated study materials:
• Mind-maps showing their understanding of how concepts hang together
• Lecture notes with their interpretation and follow-up questions
• Study guides, capturing the key themes of the course
• Extra readings and bibliographies
• Other materials that helped them succeed in the course, such as flash cards and pneumonic devices
Students on GradeGuru are:
Professors are encouraging the use of the site by:
GradeGuru’s effectiveness has been and continues to be measured in several ways with various metrics:
1) Member Surveys and Focus Groups: over the last 18 months we engaged an objective, external Professor of Education to conduct independent research into the impact GradeGuru is having on students’ study habits. We intend to look at this data both longitudinally and point-in-time. The analysis of this research is being completed presently, but the early output shows GradeGuru has had an overwhelming positive impact and effect on student behaviors and sentiment towards their course work. We will be publishing the full research approach and findings in the Fall, but have included a summary of high-level preliminary findings below.
2) Site Statistics: the growth of the site is testament to its reception by students and faculty. GradeGuru has very high page-views, long average site visit durations and very low bounce rates versus other web-sites; indicating our visitors are impressed when they come across the site, and once they become members they visit often, and engage deeply with the content and tool
3) Unsolicited feedback: students often contact us directly through the site to express their opinions, give us suggestions on how the site can be improved, etc. Some quotes from these emails are shared below in “How this practice improves the pillars” – collectively they indicate that students’ practice of using GradeGuru is having a positive effect on their study habits, their engagement with the concepts and their self-perception in an academic context.
Early Findings from Our Member Research Survey*
* Please refer to the Supporting Documents section for research approach and validity details
Our early findings show directional support for some of hypotheses on the value GradeGuru will add for students. Wheeler in 2002 established that “Students feel they gain more out of collaborative discussions via electronic communication as it is faster and more efficient than current methods.” Our findings support this claim and more specifically begin to indicate the effect GradeGuru is having on student outcomes, including:
Summary of the Perspective of Students who Access Other Students' Study Materials on GradeGuru
% of Students who Regularly Use Other Students' Materials on GradeGuru Who Agree or Strongly Agree with the Statement
**Includes users who visit monthly, weekly or daily to view notes.
Agree and strongly agree were options 1 and 2 on a 5 point scale.
Looking at other students’ notes on GradeGuru gives me new ideas for my classes
reading other students' notes posted to GradeGuru has been helpful for studying purposes.
When I look at other students’ notes I get ideas for improving my study methods
Looking at other students’ notes on GradeGuru helps me work out what is important in the course
GradeGuru is helpful when I don’t understand something
Knowing I can refer to notes on GradeGuru makes me less anxious about my classes
GradeGuru is helpful when I don’t know where to start
Seeing the feedback and ratings on notes other students have posted to GradeGuru has been helpful for studying purposes
Control question: Looking at other students’ notes on GradeGuru makes me feel overwhelmed
Control question: Looking at other students’ notes on GradeGuru makes me confused
Control Question: I do not like looking at other students’ notes
Summary of the Perspective of Students who Share Their Study Materials on GradeGuru
% of Regular Contributors of Notes that Agree or strongly agree with the statement
% of Students who have contributed notes once or more who Agree/ Strongly agree
Includes users who share notes monthly, weekly or daily to view notes
Agree and strongly agree were options 1 and 2 on a 5 point scale
Agree and strongly agree were options 1 and 2 on a 5 point scale
Knowing other people are looking at my notes makes me feel proud
Getting feedback and ratings on notes I've uploaded to GradeGuru has been helpful for studying purposes
Because I share my notes, I am more careful when putting my notes together
Control question: Sharing my notes has no impact on my studying
Access: GradeGuru ensures all students, including non-traditional, mature age, part-time students and those in distance learning/ online courses get equal access to peer-support. Particularly where students do not have a face-to-face relationship with their peers, or naturally developed friendships in an on-campus environment, the lack of support and community engagement can result in students feeling isolated. GradeGuru brings class communities, knowledge sharing and peer-feedback to students who might not otherwise have access to these opportunities. It makes academic collaboration more efficient even for those in traditional classroom settings. Some students have always found ways to get help from their peers, forming study groups etc. Others have been left out. GradeGuru makes sure everyone has equal access to shared knowledge and support.
Faculty satisfaction: GradeGuru is in many ways about students helping each other and themselves. The site is very intuitive and requires little to no faculty support or training. It was built using the internet concepts students and many faculty are already familiar with – sharing documents (like sharing photos on Facebook), sharing ideas (like on blogs), giving ratings and feedback (like on Amazon, eBay, major press/ media sites and blog commentary), building up status and a profile (like on Facebook, Experts Exchange, Yelp and other social media sites). Even for faculty who are not comfortable with technology, it is a tool they can share with their students just by distributing the www.gradeguru.com URL and let students work it out for themselves. Of course for interested faculty, GradeGuru runs WebEx sessions, has 24 hour turn around support and also has a network of campus ambassadors, students who are well versed on the site and are ready to answer faculty and peer questions. GradeGuru is moreover a time and cost effective way for faulty to be able to facilitate additional support in their classrooms in an intimidation-free environment. Hundreds of faculty have taken an explicit interest in GradeGuru and are encouraging its use amongst their students.
Learning effectiveness: GradeGuru helps build a sense of connection and community for students across their classes and offers alternative perspectives, increasing students’ time spent with learning concepts and materials. By rewarding students for productive study habits, GradeGuru increases their engagement and their concentration and pride in creating their own learning materials. Giving peer-feedback gets students reflecting on the concepts and methods and viewing receiving feedback helps students assess and review. We hypothesize that both the peer-to-peer, voyeuristic nature of the class communities and the support/ comradely feel of the site combine to make it compelling.
Scale: GradeGuru is free and accessed through a web-browser. It is easily scalable. GradeGuru is already nationwide present in 300+ US universities (as well as active in the UK). In terms of GradeGuru’s role in helping institutions scale their online courses, GradeGuru helps take on some of the support role that otherwise falls to faculty and adjuncts – leveraging the other students in the class. While there is no substitute for instructor contact, having peer-support as an alternative/ back-up or in addition makes for engaged and successful students by cost-effective means.
Student Satisfaction: The feedback from students on how GradeGuru is impacting their studies has been overwhelmingly positive. Our survey data indicates GradeGuru makes students feel more confident about their courses; it helps them when they don’t understand something, easing the frustration that can occur if students are stuck and it gives them new ideas for their classes. Our more qualitative feedback indicates students really enjoy their site experience and the sense of achievement they get from being awarded the status of “Guru.”
Quotes derived from emails from our student members:
The only equipment needed is a computer with internet access, a browser and a flash reader which can be downloaded for free. Part of the functionality of GradeGuru is that it takes content of any format and renders it in flash - so students and faculty can share materials created with any application they usually work in (word processors, mind mapping tools, flash card applications, graphical tools, quantitative tools, etc) and everyone else can view those materials through GradeGuru without needing that application.
Access to GradeGuru and its associated tools is free. Moreover, getting started is simple and using the site is very intuitive – in our experience it requires no training. Students can set up an account in under a minute or just login using their existing Facebook account. Their class communities are ready and waiting – no cost, limited set-up.
Details of the above survey results are yet to be published – this data represents our early analysis of our survey, to which there were a total of 732 undergraduate student respondents from across the US at a spectrum of 2 year and 4 year universities, in a wide range of majors, including freshman to seniors. Of these surveyed students, 154 were in the category of regular contributors of student materials to the site** as defined above, 433 had contributed to the site once or more**, 189 were regular users of others’ study materials on the site** as defined above and 451 had used other students’ materials once**. The survey was conducted and data was collected by an external party. This data represents the findings of survey 3. The final research report will include investigation into the relationship between students’ uses of GradeGuru and their studying strategies and attitudes at three time points across three surveys: 1) baseline (beginning of academic year 2009), 2) mid-year and 3) end of academic year.
Wheeler, M. (2002), Can Web-Based Environments Talk the Talk?, Sheffield Hallam University, 2002 http://www.networkedlearningconference.org.uk/past/nlc2002/proceedings/papers/46.htm
Given its innovative use of web 2.0 technologies for education, GradeGuru has been much discussed in the press and in academic circles. For example: