Sean Conway of Notehall on the Latest in Educational Technology

Udemy caught up with Sean Conway of Notehall.  Notehall is a leader in the “Class Document Marketplace”; they allow students to buy and sell their class notes to each other!  Sean was kind enough to share his insights about Notehall and the changes in education technology that Notehall is helping lead.

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came up with Notehall?

Justin Miller and myself came up with Notehall in October of 2007.  We met one another through the University of Arizona Entrepreneurship Club. We ran into one another at the University of Arizona library after a year of not seeing one another.   We were both students and we knew there was a huge supply of student generated notes and study guides and even a larger need for these materials.  Justin brought up [the idea] about putting notes online, I formed the business model around Notehall and we knew it was the idea we had to take action on.

2. What is your relationship with university faculty and administration?

Keeping a close and transparent relationship with university administration and faculty can only help Notehall succeed.  We have passed senate resolutions at both University of Arizona and ASU that has stamped Notehall an official student service for the student body.  We have created an academic advisory board which some of the top professors in the country sit on.   The advisory board helps us take the University and professors perspective into account when making company decisions.  We have also released a beta of the professor lounge which will allow professors to easily view the document within their Notehall class and stamp it with their approval.  This will also [allow] faculty to flag documents if they feel its not something their class should be studying with.

3.  Notehall allows students to share their notes amongst their peers.  How do you think marketplaces, where students pay for notes instead of taking the notes themselves can help students learn better?

Our primary goal is having quality material posted on Notehall.   The best way we found to obtain this quality material is by offering students a incentive for posting their work.   What we have found student sellers in the same class will actually compete to sell the very best notes.   The best notes or study guides at the end of the day will be determined by the student buyers ratings.   This marketplace ensures the best study materials are being posted and consumed.

We also found some students learn through auditory and visual methods, while others are Tactile/Kinesthetic Learners and they each like their different types of study guide.  Notehall caters to individual students’ specific learning styles, especially those in “core class.”  With the content we have amassed we are able to determine the class subject areas that are most prevalent and widely taught to ensure content will be available for every type of learner.  Our goal is to offer materials that are created from a student’s perspective and relevant that will create deeper engagement.

4.  Notehall provides a marketplace for students to exchange essentially real-time information, i.e. course work as it occurs.  Given the changes occurring in education today, such as the shift to more online learning, what else can we expect from Notehall in the future?

Well that is a little secret : )   What I can say, is we have plenty of engaged students that ritually visit Notehall. Professor ratings, textbooks have already been done.  The supplemental learning space is a 17 billion dollar industry. We want to be the very best place for students to get what they want to learn in the format they want to learn from.   We will continue to look for more personalized and value added ways for our users to become knowledgeable in certain subjects in the shortest amount of time. This will require Notehall to create various ways for students to study and test themselves the same subject. Higher Education has an exciting and transformational next few years.

5.  Finally, outside of Notehall, what other innovations in educational technology personally excite you?

I think one of the scariest things in our society is the amount of college debt graduates are stuck with going into the work force looking for a job.  Even worse is there are so many unemployed people that have degrees from well renowned universities, however, they still can’t get a job that pays enough to pay of their loans in a reasonable amount of time.  Even worse they can’t get a job at all.  I see this first hand as an employer. There were 50 universities this year that have now increased their tuition to over $50,000 a year.   The college degree is getting diluted however the tuition prices are going up and up.  Technology companies that educate people in an affordable way (Under 10k a year) which can create a Harvard brand name under their degree will be a highly successful company.  I think University of the People is a company that has the right vision in mind.  Also technology that can quantify how skilled a potential employee is without having employers just trust the brand name of an applicant alma mater or a cumulative GPA.