Planning platform helps organize hectic academic lives

When she was in high school, Julienne Lam considered herself to be an organized student, planning out her courses, assignments, and deadlines with relative ease.

Students can compare the time they take on an assignment to that of their peers.

But when she started attending Stanford University, she found herself struggling to keep her head above the deluge of college coursework.

“As a freshman it was really difficult to adjust to all this planning,” she said. “I was not ready for this new environment.”

Figuring other students may be feeling the same way, she and another classmate, Sam Purtill, created ClassOwl, a social academic planner that has now partnered with big names in education technology like Pearson and Sakai’s CourseWork.

While many students and educators use learning management systems (LMS) to post assignments, deadlines, and other important course material, the systems are often fragmented, separating information by course. ClassOwl pulls all that information together into one online planner.

But that’s not all it can do.

Professors can use ClassOwl to let students know how much time they should spend on an assignment. When they’ve completed an assignment, students can compare their times with that of their classmates.

Administrators can then use the data for accreditation purposes.

The social aspect of the planner comes into play when students, professors, and teaching assistants interact through the platform, updating assignments and deadlines in real-time.

Next page: Take our poll and read more about how ClassOwl uses a “bottom-up approach.”

Administrators may appreciate the service, Lam said, but ClassOwl was created with students and professors in mind.

While other education technology companies and start-ups may focus on the technical needs of a university, she said, ClassOwl focuses on the learning and planning needs of the students, and the instructional needs of faculty.

“There’s really not many tools out there that help empower the student and help them be better learners and that’s really a shame,” Lam said. “Education should be more innovative in terms of helping students. That’s why we wanted to take a bottom-up approach and really target the students and professors first. That’s where the real need is.”

Lam and Purtill created ClassOwl as sophomores. A few weeks after opening the site up to their friends, more than 1,000 Stanford students were using the planning platform. In the summer of 2011, the pair sold ClassOwl’s license to officially be used at Stanford.

ClassOwl has since been accepted into Pearson’s start-up accelerator, Catalyst for Education, and was integrated into the publisher’s OpenClass LMS. ClassOwl is also available as a planning tool on Sakai’s LMS, CourseWork.

The co-founders graduated in June and now work on the platform full-time. Lam said she thinks more young entrepreneurs should focus their talents and energies on helping solve some of the problems that students face.

“Young people that could really be helping with this technology and helping other students, they’re working with these big corporations in really saturated markets,” she said. “Our job is to take what we’ve learned, and our closeness to the learning environment, and apply it to these great causes.”

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Follow Jake New on Twitter at @eCN_Jake.

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