Stanford Students Start Their Own Course-Management Web Site

A student-run Web site at Stanford University seeks to convince students to input their class assignments to keep themselves—and their classmates—more organized. It could, founders hope, grow into a student-run course-management system.

ClassOwl launched this week and has 750 members, according to Sam Purtill, its founder, who is a sophomore majoring in philosophy. The site allows students to “follow” their classes and input class assignments and due dates, which then trigger notifications as deadlines near.

Students already keep track of their class schedules and assignments in applications like Google Calendar, Mr. Purtill says, but ClassOwl would allow others to benefit from this behavior. Once one student adds an assignment in a class, everyone else in the class has it added to their calendars, as well. Ultimately, he’d like to expand the site to include social events on campus, to help students better plan every aspect of their lives. He also plans to allow students to flag incorrect assignments.

The site is now limited to Stanford students, but Mr. Purtill says he hopes to expand to other campuses by the fall. He and his team of three other student “employees” envision the site as an eventual competitor to course-management systems like Blackboard and Moodle.

Their business model is a bit up in the air. Mr. Purtill says he would like the site to remain free and would consider bringing on advertisers down the road, potentially textbook stores that could tailor their ads to students’ schedules.

ClassOwl isn’t the only student-run site specializing in course scheduling. Business students at the University of Pennsylvania recently launched Coursekit, which offers a discussion board, in addition to a calendar and course syllabus. Coursekit is paying students up to $200 to input class information, but ClassOwl is hoping students’ own interest in organization will be incentive enough, though rewards, such as clothing and free food in exchange for information, are possible in the future.

Mr. Purtill acknowledges that choosing an owl as its mascot rather than Stanford’s Cardinal, risks alienating their student base, but he says they chose the owl for its reputation as a wise bird. Plus, he says, it looks good on a T-shirt.

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