Q&A: Thomas Swalla -- President, StudyMode

Cropped shot of young college students working together in classhttp://
Cropped shot of young college students working together in classhttp://

What is StudyMode Drive?

StudyMode Drive is the first 100% crowd-sourced content sharing community for specifically designed for college students.

What problem are you solving?

We are trying to make it easy to help connect students with high quality, free resources that will help them study smarter and save money. Our vision is that the best student in the class will share her study guides to help out others, and in exchange she will be able to get help in another class.

What does crowd-sourced mean in the context of content?

It means that all the content is user-generated. We designed the product to be extremely easy, free, and fair. If you give at least 1 piece of original content, you instantly gain access to everything contributed by all other students at the school.

What kind of content will you accept?

Drive is based on the honor system. Students can contribute whatever they think is helpful to other students whether that’s lecture notes, problem sets, coding assignments, tests, quizzes, or syllabi.

Are you concerned about cheating?

We trust the judgment of college students. They know the difference between collaboration and taking other people’s work. We also give some guidance about what’s appropriate. For example, we don’t want copyrighted material.

What are you hearing from professors?

A lot of passionate responses. For example, some professors ask that students never share old tests from previous classes (usually because they don’t want to create a new test). Other professors post every single test/quiz/midterm they have every assigned because that’s how they expect students to learn the material and prepare for finals. And there is a really interesting divide emerging between academic departments and schools.

How so? Do business schools want students to work together more?

It really depends on the individual department’s attitude toward technology. The more tech-savvy the school, the more they want students to work together in groups and to study together. At StudyMode we often hear from students that they learn best when they can bounce ideas off of classmates. The reality is that most college students never meet their professor, so the more time they spend learning together, the more likely they are to succeed. Drive is just one tool that helps make that collaboration happen.

How did you come up with the idea of StudyMode Drive?

The idea for StudyMode Drive came from one of our customers. A student from the University of California Irvine asked how she could find all the lecture notes for her school for free. When we asked her why she wanted the lecture notes she told us that she has a part-time job and can’t always make class, and it takes time to make friends with people in the class to share notes. So we thought about how we could create a community around that need.

If it’s free, how will you make money?

We want to keep Drive free because charging for access excludes too many students. They already have to pay too much for textbooks and tuition and housing and food. The reality is that if students find a lot of value then we can offer other services that are valuable.

What’s next for Drive?

We just launched at 50 colleges in October 2015, and the feedback has been amazing. One school already has 3,000 students and 3,500 documents. So right now we are just focused on learning what students like and what new features they want to see because feedback is the best way to learn.