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New site hopes to give Internet classroom feel

Rex Barber • Oct 24, 2012 at 9:24 PM

There may soon be a new go to place on the Internet to learn just about anything and also connect with those you know or may want to know.

Colin Lokey, Christopher Phillippe and Bryan Black recently founded the website Classmate, which could be described as a free-to-learn, open-source social media educational management system. It can be accessed at classmatelive.com.

“It started out as an attempt to build a better learning management system for universities, colleges, institutions,” said Lokey, an MBA student at East Tennessee State University. “Learning management systems are just the systems that teachers use to share their course documents and materials online with students and that students use to electronically turn in assignments.”

ETSU, for instance, uses something called D2L as a learning management system. Other schools may use a service called Blackboard, or something else. But these are typically private and only enrolled students are allowed access to their specific courses during the semester.

Lokey said Classmate differs in that it incorporates an open-access online education site model where educators can log on and create content that is shared with the public for free or for a fee.

“It’s for anybody. Anybody can create a course and anybody can enroll in a course as long as that course is made public,” Lokey said.

There is a feature on Classmate called quick classes, where users would share knowledge about anything. For instance, how to hard boil an egg or how to solve a calculus problem.

This open access model would be similar to a website called Khan Academy that offers lessons on just about anything for free.

“Khan Academy is one example of one element of the site,” Lokey said. “So we’re taking what Khan Academy does and then combining it with what a Blackboard or a D2L does and then throwing in some Facebook as well. It’s a mix of three types of sites.”

Teachers utilizing the site also would have the option of managing their own institutional curriculum through private courses.

All the co-founders said social media was a major factor in the development of the site, which they said is not common in other educational sites.

“We didn’t tack this on like so many other sites ... ” said Phillippe, who got a master’s degree in computer science from ETSU. “We sat down for hours and went through problem after problem trying to come up with solutions, how can we really integrate social in.”

Black has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from ETSU. He was instrumental in creating the actual website.

“When you enroll into a class (on Classmate) you instantly make a connection with all the other students,” Black said. “You become aware of their activity within the site. And eventually we want to integrate into existing social networks and bring that content into our site.

“In our vision you can post on the course wall and you can talk to all the students who are taking that class or, you know, working through that lesson. You can talk to the teacher, ask them questions about the homework assignment and everyone can see that just like you were raising your hand in class.”

Lokey said that classroom feel was important in the design of Classmate.

“The main point is that education and learning are social activities, so we think that the social goes hand in hand with the education,” he said. “And of course the classroom is a social construct, right? So if you don’t design it from the ground up with social in mind then you won’t faithfully replicate the classroom experience.”

Lokey, Phillippe and Black began working on Classmate earlier this year. New features are being added from time to time but it is live now and people have been using it. The creators are seeking investors for Classmate at the moment.

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