Georgetown students have joined forces with StudyHall, an online learning platform that they believe can complement Blackboard as a useful online platform for education, though they have not reached out to the Georgetown administration.

Approximately 650 Georgetown undergraduates have signed up for the service, as have approximately 1,000 people throughout the university.

StudyHall performs many of the same functions as Blackboard but also provides a simple tool for communication between students in a class, something site developer Welles Robinson (COL ’14), who joined StudyHall as an intern this summer and built the website before its launch this fall, said Blackboard lacks.

“If I had a question, there was no one to ask it to,” Robinson said. “If you sit next to someone, you know their first name — that’s not enough to look them up on Facebook.”

According to Robinson, Blackboard has a diverse role at Georgetown and at other schools beyond its learning platform. He said that StudyHall does not seek to compete with Blackboard in those respects, but he believes that StudyHall’s online learning tool is more effective.

“Blackboard is so embedded in Georgetown,” Robinson said. “Not only is it a website, but they also do everything, including card swiping on GOCards. [StudyHall] is much more about the ability of students to interact with each other online, opposed to Blackboard as a destination site where you go to download an assignment and leave.”

In addition to providing a platform for students to communicate with each other, StudyHall would provide a platform for professors to share material with people outside the Georgetown community through video lectures and online learning tools.

StudyHall founder and CEO Ross Blankenship echoed Robinson in describing his reasoning for developing the service.

“I didn’t see any passion, any energy about Blackboard,” Blankenship said. “Students are using Google Docs, Dropbox and 10 other things [in addition to Blackboard]. We want to make it easier for students.”

However, Blankenship stressed StudyHall’s unique role, independent of whether Blackboard remains the main university-sponsored online learning tool.

“This is not just to replace Blackboard. What I’m talking about is giving professors the opportunity to reach out to the world,” Blankenship said.

At present, StudyHall has student users at approximately 30 colleges, but does not partner with university administrations specifically. Instead, the service’s strategy is to reach out to student leaders through the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and to count on word of mouth to promote its platform at individual colleges.

“We spend a lot more time going to students first because the administration tends to be very slow to react,” Robinson said. “Students are much faster to adopt new technology than universities themselves are.”

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