A society’s view of education is simply a reflection of the broader culture. Back when America was far more homogeneous and agrarian, we developed schools that reflected those values and ideals, right down to the calendar we taught kids on. I would argue one reason there is such confusion over where education should go in the future in this country, is because we now have so many competing visions of what our culture is and how that should collectively define us in the 21st Century. But if you step back, remain objective, and keep your eyes open, what is happening in the world today is pretty clear. And when we understand the direction of the broader world, the role and direction of education comes into focus.
MathCrunch, a San Francisco-based edtech startup that offers on-demand math tutoring via mobile devices, received additional funding from from Stanford University’s StartX Fund. Along with the investment comes the launch of a subscription model for students who need regular tutoring sessions.
Founded in 2014, MathCrunch surpassed 100,000 student sign‐ups and completed over 200,000 successful math-tutoring sessions.
Having a background in language coaching, I tend to keep a close eye on the latest global trends in language learning. After a period of little innovation in the space, there is definitely a new wave of language learning startups hitting the market.
Live video lessons, the hot trend from seven years ago that proved to be little more than a flash in the pan, certainly had a chilling effect for edtech entrepreneurs and investors in the language learning space.
It never failed. During each of the twelve(!) academic quarters I spent as a teaching assistant during graduate school, the days, nights, and hours immediately preceding a quiz, exam, or assignment deadline were always chaotic. Students I had never even met before would come out of the woodwork needing last minute help. Undergrads queued up outside my tiny office during typically silent weekly office hours. Emails flooded in at all hours of the night. This crunch time sometimes involved tears, outrageous stories, and excuses you would not believe. These fond memories all came back to me when I met Alison Johnston, co-founder and CEO of InstaEDU, last week for coffee.
As co-founder of in-home tutoring service Cardinal Scholars with her brother Dan, Alison noticed a lot of the same patterns I observed as a TA. Urgent questions kept coming up at all hours of the night. We all remember that panicky feeling of being stuck on that one last problem in a set, or needing a couple points clarified for an important test at a time when the chances of getting a hold of your TA are slim to none. While it would be impractical to schedule an in person study session to meet all of these last minute needs, Alison and Dan knew that there were many capable tutors – students at elite universities such as Stanford who had successfully taken the same course before, for example – online at all hours who might be able to help.
InstaEDU, who recently raised a $1.1M seed round from the Social+Capital Partnership and others, offers a great solution for last minute study woes. Currently in public beta with a network of 1000 experts vetted from Top 25 universities in the U.S. (based on the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings) as well as Oxford and Cambridge, students can log on to the site, indicate what kind of help they need, and be matched with a tutor in less than one minute, on average. Sessions can be conducted over video chat (or audio only, if preferred), and assignments can be uploaded so student and expert can concurrently work on the same problems.
Although the company is still in its early stages, I believe that InstaEDU is one to watch, and am looking forward to seeing their wider roll out as the academic year begins this fall. There are many aspects to their services and business model that make me a fan of InstaEDU. From a student’s perspective, it is an economical way (first 10 minutes free, 50 cents per additional) to get help when they need it, even during odd hours and stressful times. It is also a great opportunity for students to earn extra cash during their free time. The system notifies experts currently online when a student is seeking help, providing a truly “on demand” service, and the tutor can choose to accept or ignore the request, working solely on their own schedules. At $20 an hour, serving as an expert pays more than most on campus and work-study positions, and could certainly help graduate students and postdocs supplement their stipends as well.
Alison and I also discussed some features that InstaEDU is considering adding to their arsenal. Students can currently rate and review their expert after a tutoring session, so more detailed profiles and testimonials will appear in future iterations of the website. Moreover, the team is working to find optimal ways for proactive students to schedule sessions ahead of time with their preferred tutors. From my experiences of being an overwhelmed TA, I suggested a case where individual universities might have a list of reliable experts that can be recommended to students in the event that their own TA might not be available, which could provide quality help for students, a bit of cash flow for the tutors, and a slightly lighter work load for the TA, resulting in a win-win-win for everyone.
As options for online learning grow, and class sizes can range from just a handful of students to tens of thousands, another future endeavor of InstaEDU is to personalize the experience of a distance learner. As one of thousands of students in a live streaming lecture course over the Internet, you may not be able to easily engage with your professor, but with InstaEDU, you can have an expert in your subject area help you one-on-one in under a minute.
Are you in need of a study session? Interested in earning some extra cash as an expert? Go to instaedu.com to find out more.