Written by: Catalina Zhao
“Of the students, by the students and for the students.” This is the motto of Club Academia, a student-run, non-profit educational organization that makes video tutorials for students.
Club Academia founder junior Shilpa Yarlagadda always wanted to tackle the problem of helping students understand and learn academic material. “There are always students who don’t grasp the material in the classroom,” Yarlagadda said. “It’s hard for the teacher to accommodate each and every student, so students often turn to online resources and their peers for help.”
After realizing the helpfulness of peer-to-peer explanations, Yarlagadda founded Club Academia last summer when she started making video tutorials about SAT vocabulary. Three of her friends joined, each choosing her own topic to focus on, and in the period of one month, the four had made over 100 videos. By that point, the students thought that their idea was significant enough to market to other people, and they started recruiting other students and making a website to organize their videos.
Unlike those of other educational sites, Club Academia’s videos are created by students, and incorporate the student perspective needed to explain material well. “We really understand the concepts we’re teaching because we just learned it a year ago or currently,” senior Roya Huang said. “We personally struggled, and we understand the explanations needed.”
In addition, the videos average two-and-a-half minutes in length, which are much shorter than those of other educational sites. According to Yarlagadda, this time frame is beneficial because it captures the essence of the teenage attention span. The videos also focus on specific topics instead of a broad range of information.
Club Academia has over 400 videos on topics that include music theory, calculus, algebra, physics and French.
Club Academia’s videos not only help users understand and learn material, but also benefit the video makers. “For the people that make the videos, it’s beneficial to them too because they learn the material better by teaching it,” senior Mikaela Klein said. “We’re not regurgitating information that the teacher explained to us, but we’re explaining in a different way that made us learn, because we’re the students.”
Club Academia has received numerous grants, such as $20,000 from the Westly Foundation. Advisor Esther Wojcicki helps to connect the organization with resources and companies such as Collegeboard and video software company Camtasia.
Instead of having officer positions, Club Academia runs on a task-based management system. It has a list of all the tasks it must complete, and students sign up for whichever ones they want. “It’s really efficient,” Huang said. “Everything gets done on time and every task has a team assigned to it.”
The members decided on this type of management because they wanted to focus only on creating a product. “We’re trying to avoid the whole politics scene,” Yarlagadda said. “We put all the emphasis on work, and we’re amazed with how fast we’re moving.”
Although Club Academia currently has only seventeen video makers, it hopes to reach a point where anyone can make videos. In order to accommodate this, Club Academia is developing a ranking mechanism, which they have filed a patent on, that will rank all videos in terms of relevance. It is also working on a teacher approval system, in which each newly-made video automatically goes into private mode until a teacher has watched and approved it to make it public.
Even without any efforts towards publicizing yet Club Academia has already had over 8,000 views on its YouTube channel. Its beta launch took place in February at Gunn, Palo Alto High School and other local schools, while its national launch will be in August. Club Academia’s members have already presented at numerous conferences, like Florida Ed Tech, and they will share their idea at the Computer User Educator’s conference.
The members aim to expand Club Academia into an educational social network to connect students. “We really hope it becomes what we call a ‘social nerd-work,’ where students come together to learn the material, discuss the material, and from there foster new interests because of the similarities in what they’re watching,” Huang said. “We want students to create profiles. They would be putting in their own academic experiences, work experiences, and we want them to be able to communicate with each other via video discussion, forums and groups.”
In addition to expanding Club Academia nationally and possibly internationally, the students hope that by the end of this summer, they will have over 1000 videos and will be able to create internships for students to focus solely on Club Academia. They also want to launch full courses and offer school credits or community service to students making videos.
The members are dedicated, hardworking and willing to tackle difficult challenges. “The hardest thing is that it’s very time consuming,” Wojcicki said. “They are very dedicated, and they’ve got great goals. It’s admirable that they’re trying to do this themselves.”
The educational solution that Club Academia proposes is unique and beneficial and motivates the members. “The fact that high school students can come up with a solution that other students value and appreciate is really great,” Yarlagadda said. “We’re really proud to be a nonprofit, because I don’t think education should come with a price.”