New website brings office hours online
Alumnus develops virtual space for students to study, chat with professors before exams
Published: Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 05:10
Social networking websites can be a distraction for some students trying to study, but one university alumnus hopes his peer-based study service will be helpful during last-minute exam preparation.
Nikhil Paul, a 2009 graduate, created the website Nfoshare.com to foster group studying online. Professors can register for the site with an email address and set up a virtual space for questions and messages from students, who access the site through Facebook.
The network allows students to ask professors, fellow students, teaching assistants or participating tutors from the Academic Enrichment Center questions during the night before an exam.
"My thinking was that we have social networks for everything—social networks for cat lovers, social networks for cars—so why don't we have a social network for the classroom?" Paul said.
Last year, approximately 20 classes and 500 students used the website, Paul said. This semester approximately 25 classes and 850 students have registered for the service.
Paul said some professors have hesitated to use Nfoshare because they feel it will take too much time to manage. However, he thinks the website would actually save time for professors since every student can see answers to questions raised by their peers.
"They get so many emails that ask the same questions, but with this they can answer questions, tag it, save it and then it will be there for future semesters," Paul said.
Paul said the site is currently only in use at the university, though he is hoping to create models that can be used elsewhere. He is in talks with Drexel University and Philadelphia University about piloting programs on their campuses.
Professor Chandra Kambhamettu said students in his introductory computer science course did not immediately gravitate toward the site last semester, but used the site more frequently as the course progressed.
Kambhamettu said he would access the site during the night before an exam to answer his students' questions. He said he liked the convenience of being able to directly speak to his students, and they liked receiving feedback while they were studying.
"They study the night before the exams, so they were more prepared to ask me questions, and I was able to answer them from my home," Kambhamettu said.
Senior Victoria Winslow, who used the website for an introductory psychology course, said she felt there were pros and cons to online tutoring. However, she thought the service was particularly helpful for students who might not ask questions during a normal class period.
"It gives students time to formulate their thoughts, write it down, and then get an answer fairly quickly," Winslow said.
Senior Nicole Sermabeikian said she thought the website was helpful for her introductory biology course last semester. She thinks the website will be a viable resource for studying, as long as discussion is focused on classwork.
"It has the aspects of social media but also online tutors and all those things to help you study," Sermabeikian said. "It's like a two-in-one."
Junior Arun Das said his upper-level engineering course will utilize the site this semester for exams. He thinks the site is going to be helpful with the difficult curriculum.
"There are a lot of physics concepts in the course, and students that really struggle with that could benefit from the tutors on the site," Das said.