raise-your-hand

Most students go about doing research for school projects in a very obvious way. They type a few keywords into Google. They click on two or three front page results, and they skim. They don’t have a great sense of what’s a credible source of information, and they don’t look at nearly enough sources. Google’s million search results are overwhelming to them, as a recent Pew study points out. My significant other, a high school history teacher, confirmed it in action — breaking kids of the “Google, Wikipedia, done” habit is one of his biggest challenges.

It’s not entirely surprising: School kids have lived their entire lives on the Internet; they don’t know about that period of Web history when no one believed anything online could be credible.

A new research tool called Instagrok has launched to make Web research for students easier, allowing students to search through nodes of learning and concept maps similar to those used by Khan Academy. That way the site’s interactive interface is more than a list of links, and the idea is that it allows them to grasp concepts, key facts, and relationships on a topic faster than they would by sifting through a glut of Google search results.

Growing by word of mouth, Instagrok has reached 600,000 unique visitors since launching at the beginning of this school year. It’s on track to hit 200,000 monthly uniques this month. Almost half of its visitors are repeat users, and the average time spent on the site is a whopping nine minutes.

This month, the site rolls out social functionality that will help it reach more students and teachers. It’ll add a layer of competition for votes of “helpfulness” between students and influence between teachers, Instagrok President Andrew Bender says.

Yesterday I wrote that bottom-up edtech startups are struggling to get traction at schools. Instagrok is one such bottom-up edtech startup, but, unlike its peers in the sector, its business model won’t lead it into school district enterprise sales hell. It might not be a favorite among parents and teachers, but it works to pay the bills. It’s advertising. College can target students based on the type of research they’re doing, Bender says. After all, the prestigious University of Phoenix is one of the country’s top digital advertisers.

Serving ads to kids as they study is more of an issue for schools than it is to the kids, Bender says. They don’t mind — they’d rather have the product for free. In the cases where ads are a problem, schools or parents can pay a fee (making Instagrok a freemium product) to turn off the ads.

Instagrok’s other freemium product is a teacher dashboard, which allows teachers to track their students’ progress on concepts on the site. Many schools offer teachers an allocation of “out of pocket” money for tools, which they use to purchase access to the edtech products they like. Instagrok hopes to be one such product.

Instagrok is bootstrapped.