Y Combinator alum Study Edge changes the way Florida students learn Algebra

By Erin Griffith , written on March 4, 2013

From The News Desk

Study Edge is not your typical Y Combinator company. For one, it entered the program in 2012 much further along than many of its peers, some of which are merely in the idea stage of development. Study Edge, which provides online tutoring and educational content via Facebook, already had a video studio and a pool of Florida-based tutors pumping out professional-grade educational content.

Beyond that, the company is based in Gainesville, Florida. After its requisite three months in Palo Alto, the company's founders moved back home (but not before meeting with and learning from the Valley elite).

Lastly, Study Edge is also not a consumer Internet app. It's a study aid for students, and its tools have become so effective and in-demand that it is causing the entire state of Florida to change the way it views social media.

That's because Study Edge's tools and videos are based on Facebook. The company's videos, hosted on Facebook, mirror students' textbooks. They're posted online, and students can then discuss questions on the content with each other on a dedicated Facebook Wall for each class. They can talk to any other student taking the class, but don't have access to the personal information of any student they don't already know. The discussions are moderated by teachers.

It's proven an ideal way for students to learn, says co-founder and President Ethan Fieldman, because many cash-strapped school systems can no longer afford to give each student a textbook. So they have a single set of classroom copies, which the students can't access on nights and weekends. Beyond that, a subject like math is easier to explain via video than it is via flat textbook diagram.

With Study Edge, students go to Facebook -- a place they're already hanging out -- for homework help. Fieldman says he built the platform there, even though most schools block access to Facebook, because high school students are already familiar with it and (for now), it's "cool." Even students without Internet or a computer at home have access to a smartphone.

"We use Facebook, because its magical and cool and social. Kids are more willing to try (Study Edge). Kids are more likely to post a question on the Wall because its something they already do," he says. Expecting students to register for a new website related to their schoolwork is a stretch. And as to the question of Facebook losing its edge with the youths, Fieldman says Study Edge could always move off of Facebook if it ever becomes less cool.

For now, the platform is working just fine. It also helps Study Edge with viral growth among students -- their interactions, including rewards given out for helping other students -- show up in the News Feeds of their classmates.

Today the company launched its biggest program yet, funded by the University of Florida, to help 250,000 8th and 9th graders prepare for a state-wide Algebra exam. The Algebra 1 exam is required to graduate from high school in Florida; last year 52 percent of the state's ninth graders failed it. Study Edge's white labeled "Algebra Nation" product will be the technology backbone to a statewide push to turn around those dismal performance numbers. Next year, Study Edge will power Geometry Nation and Biology Nation, among other exam prep courses.

Any student not in Algebra Nation's purview must pay a fee of $25 per month to use Study Edge's tools. Fieldman says that as Study Edge expands, state legislatures and school districts will fund the access to the tools. He's already had requests from other states and districts. Since 46 states have adopted something called the "common core," which makes English and Math standards universal, it will be even easier to expand beyond Florida, he says.

Study Edge is even working with districts to unblock Facebook (only the part related to Study Edge), so students can use Algebra Nation to study at school. He judges his success by the level of engagement he sees between students on the platform. As of now, there are around 500 posts a day from students in Florida. "If students find Algebra entertaining, they're going to study more. If they're going to study more, they are going to do better," Fieldman says.

[Image courtesy World Bank Photo Collection]