Wait…I paid $40,000 for this?

by kavitta ghai, September 8, 2018

Do you remember what you were told college would be like? Not only from friends and family, but from social media, movies, and more. I remember everything, buying every idea that they sold to me. My wild imagination painted a vivid picture that featured incredible classes that would expand my worldview, parties that looked like “Project X” come to life, and vast opportunities to change the world. After 3 years at one of the top public universities in the world, I can say with confidence that someone definitely lied to me. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love college and the parties are pretty wild. I’ve been given endless opportunities to grow and I’ve even taken a few life-altering classes. The most salient thing I’ve learned, however, is that some of the greatest knowledge you’ll acquire comes from outside of the classroom. It comes from the people around you, from the diverse community that your university offers you. If you look at the major success stories that are born in college, such as innovative startups or breakthrough research, they all stem from the ability to communicate and collaborate with fellow scholars around you. But if the most useful part of attending college is the network of students you’re given to connect with, why do the classes themselves discourage student interaction? It’s ironic how in a communication-driven age, the supposed institutions of innovation have not yet caught up.

It only took until the first lecture in my college career for me to receive my reality check. Astronomy was a subject I was so excited to explore at a university level, and I spent all summer imagining passionate lectures leading to thought-provoking conversations with my peers. Instead, I just got a wrist cramp from transcribing the professors lengthy monologues. This isn’t to say that I wasn’t learning, just that I clearly wasn’t absorbing information in a way that engaged my interest. For a 5-digit price tag that seems to follow you around for life, I believe that we deserve to feel an equally valuable passion for the subjects we spend hundreds of hours learning. When you read reviews for college courses on sites like Rate My Professor, almost every review is reduced to the criteria for how easy it is to get an A, how little reading you need to do to pass, and how many times you can skip class before it becomes a problem. Shouldn’t we instead be inspired to write about how exciting the lectures are, the vibrant dynamic amongst your classmates, or the magnetic pull of the topics presented? Higher education is beginning to feel less like a privilege and more like an economic and societal burden that is a prerequisite to making ends meet.

It wasn’t until the summer before my junior year that this idea was challenged by a graduate student professor who would unknowingly change my life. From the moment we walked into his class, we were greeted with upbeat music and told to add our favorite songs to the class Spotify playlist listed on the board. There was instantly a buzz of excitement in the room from the possibility that this class may not be like the others. The naive and hopeful freshman inside of me reappeared and wondered if this could be the type of class I once imagined. Luck was on my side that day, as it turned out I was right. Below the link to our class Spotify playlist was another URL, this one an invitation to a class Slack workspace. If you’re not familiar with Slack, it is a revolutionary tool used to increase rapid communication amongst large groups like company teams and organizations. When used in the classroom setting, it gave me and my classmates an organized group chat where we could ask each other questions, create study groups, share resources, and more. Rather than have us raise our hands to ask questions, which we all know rarely happens, the professor suggested we post our thoughts into the group chat. The transformation that soon took place was incredible. Within the first lecture, students began posting their questions in the chat. Other students who understood the topic they were asking about would quickly answer, allowing everyone to smoothly continue on through lecture without confusion. The Slack workspace created an interactive atmosphere that functioned in and out of the classroom. By halfway through the course, we were using Slack to create our own study groups and share study guides that resulted in soaring grades. As the refreshing course came to a close and I left retaining more knowledge than ever before, I realized that somehow we needed to scale this solution across every single class out there. It was here that the drive to disrupt the education industry as we know it was born.

The course I took that summer burned in my memory for months. I familiarized myself with Slack until I knew it better than the back of my hand, and thus realized that creating a Slack workspace for each individual class and then sending out that custom link was not a viable solution. How could we scale this communication solution to every class at every university across the nation? We live in an era characterized by vast social networks and rapid communication, so it didn’t make sense why nobody was creating a platform where students on the same campus could easily connect. Luck met opportunity when my housemate Jordan approached me with a brilliant idea to solve this very issue. Hundreds of candid conversations with students and a deep passion for revolutionizing education came together to create Nectir. Nectir is a social education tool that drastically multiplies student communication. Optimized to each individual university, students use their .edu email to quickly create an account and receive access to class group chats for every course on their campus. Searchable by major, one simply has to select their classes for the quarter and are then instantly added to each channel with the rest of their classmates. As long as you’re a student of that university, you’ll always have access to every channel at your school, meaning you can view the valuable messages and resources in each channel whenever you need. Classmates can use these permanent channels to ask and answer each other’s questions, share resources, create study groups, and more. Lost on an important topic from lecture today? Post your question in the class channel and another student will have the opportunity to reinforce their understanding of it by reiterating it to you. Dropped your Hydroflask while the professor was announcing the topics on the final? No problem, simply open the Nectir app, ask away, and a fellow classmate will fill you in. You can also use Nectir to directly message your classmates, create private channels for study groups, and even create public channels for any classes or topics you don’t see. Whether you want to join the #Econ10A class discussion or find out what’s happening at the #AnacapaDorms, it’s an app personalized to your community that connects the campus with ease. Nectir does more than solve simple communication issues, it provides a resource for students to instantly connect with a deeper wealth of knowledge than ever imagined. By giving college students a much needed tool to make passive learning more active, we are encouraging a shift in how education should be provided everywhere.

The first iteration of the Nectir app.

Eric Mazur, a Physics professor at Harvard, described his traditional lectures as simply a “transfer of information”, noticing a widespread loss of learning and retention amongst his students. For years he remained puzzled as to how to wake up his class and keep them engaged, until he looked to the students themselves for the answer. Creating a conversational environment, similar to my beloved summer course, unsurprisingly resulted in better grades. In his master class on the benefits of interactive teaching, Mazur explains how something as simple as students communicating to collectively find the answer can “triple learning gains” and help students become emotionally invested in the subject. Nectir optimizes this practice to allow every class on campus to become instantly interactive. With an easy-to-use app that students can access at any time, we are taking learning into our own hands. The best part is that Nectir was made by the same students who will use it, ensuring that every facet is created with one thing in mind — adding more value to our education. The future of higher education has finally arrived and it’s only getting better from here.

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