This is a guest post written by Brett Haensel, a junior at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
Three years into my college experience, with 30+ courses under my belt, I’m still entirely unsure of where one could go to find individual, one-on-one help for any given subject. And it’s not because I’ve never needed it.
Outside of professor and TA office hours — which are, more often than not, far from a private experience — seemingly few forms of academic support services are readily accessible, at least on my campus. Even then, these drop-in sessions inhibit our ability as students to seek out help when and where it is convenient for us to do so.
Of course, private tutors might be available on or around campus, but they are often hard to find, harder to trust, and all but impossible to afford. That is, finding a tutor that suits your style of learning is not easy unless there is a centralized database with adequate advertisement of available tutors, ideally working on behalf of the university itself. Furthermore, the price that comes with an hour of private instruction is usually prohibitive for low-income and disadvantaged students, who may be in most need of help.
High-quality academic support shouldn’t be this difficult to come by. Most students enter college with the expectation that they’ll experience academic difficulties, and the intention to utilize support services whenever necessary. Yet, four years later, few will have found a suitable way to seek assistance and even fewer still will have actually made use of the support that is available.
Whether because of the aforementioned barriers to accessing support or the negative stigma associated with seeking help, students — often the ones most in need of academic assistance — resort to tackling classes on their own. This leads to shortcuts and sometimes results in cheating. While you might be tempted to blame this on student laziness, it would be unwise to ignore the failing efforts of many institutions of higher ed to properly educate their students about available resources and ensure that those resources are built in a way that makes them accessible for all students, even those that you don’t often hear about.
Fortunately, a platform exists that can immediately empower universities to overcome the obstacles standing in the way of providing meaningful academic support services: Knack.
First launched at the University of Florida, Knack has since expanded to 60+ campuses, and its advantages are fairly easy to articulate. Using technology and an Uber/AirBnB-style sharing economy model, Knack is able to:
- Offer students flexible employment as peer tutors. When an institution partners with Knack, the university onboards best-fit students as peer tutors. In addition to earning an hourly wage for tutoring sessions, peer tutors also get the benefit of reinforcing their own knowledge of the subject matter they are teaching and developing valuable career skills along the way.
- Ensure students have free, on-demand access to a peer tutor. Once peer tutors are referred by the university, the rest of the student body will have access to the Knack database, which showcases available tutors and the courses they can help with. Students can then, in most cases, request a tutoring session with the peer of their choice at no cost. The university covers the cost of the session, paying the peer tutor, thus ensuring that all students have truly equitable access to academic support.
- Meet students where they are (and when they want to be there). Walking 15 minutes across campus on a Friday evening to attend a 7pm office hours session with an unknown amount of other students is neither enjoyable nor particularly helpful. Instead, Knack allows students to receive help at the time and location — whether online or in person — of their choosing.
- Tap into the benefits of peer learning. Peer tutors are often better positioned than professors to empathize with a given student because they were more recently in the student’s shoes and, as such, are less likely to suffer from the curse of knowledge. Consequently, the educational enrichment that students receive through working with a peer tutor cannot be recreated in any other way.
From a student perspective, Knack is truly a no-brainer. It creates job opportunities that are specifically designed for students — an easy way for institutions to help them secure low-stress, flexible, and empowering employment — in addition to solving a number of problems posed by traditional academic support services. The freedom to seek help when, where, and with whom you want will inevitably result in more students utilizing support services. In fact, it already has: approximately two thirds of the students who get tutored on Knack have never utilized campus tutoring before.
Schools can no longer rely on traditional support services alone — current offerings are failing students and inhibiting them from getting the help they need, which is a real shame when the solution is so simple.
Written by Brett Haensel
Brett Haensel is a junior in Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In addition to his Journalism major, Brett is pursuing minors in both Classics and Business Institutions. He has written for the News & Observer in Raleigh, NC, and he has interned at the University of Chicago Urban Labs for Crime and Education. Brett is an avid runner and an aspiring writer who spends his free time watching and playing any and all sports. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.