A growing number of UCSB classes now offer online course readers through a web platform called StudySoup, with over 1,000 students participating in the program since it began last spring.
Founded by UCSB alumni Sieva Kozinsky and Jeff Silverman, StudySoup provides course materials that are accessible through computers, smartphones and any other internet-accessible devices. While readers cannot be printed out or downloaded onto other devices — due to a host of copyright issues — the new site gives UCSB students a cheaper and more convenient alternative to conventional printed booklets.
During Fall 2012 and Winter 2013, StudySoup worked with the UCSB Bookstore and print shop Grafikart to provide over 1,000 UCSB students with online readers. The site is now being tested by the University of Oregon and UCLA, while other Californian institutions — like UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz — and some universities on the East Coast will be trying out the program next quarter.
Kozinsky said he first developed the idea for the site during his sophomore year of college, as the task of carrying books and loads of other course materials had become a drain on his time.
“I was living off campus, and so I biked onto campus every day carrying my three course readers for the day’s classes and my laptop,” Kozinsky said. “I’d have to spend, like, eight hours on campus because I didn’t want to have to bike back with all my stuff.”
The inconvenient heavy loads led to the epiphany that has now grown into the creation of StudySoup, Kozinsky said.
“I thought, ‘Why can’t we get these course readers online? I do pretty much most of my reading online anyway,’” Kozinsky said. “Course readers are expensive, unwieldy, heavy, and you can’t sell them back at the end of the quarter. It wasn’t efficient.”
The company hopes to see more schools use the online system as technology seems to have an increasingly influential presence in the classroom, according to Kozinsky.
“We are expanding to reach different schools who need this solution … you look around in class and everyone has a laptop or an iPad,” Kozinsky said. “Bookstores don’t have the engineering resources to build a program like this, so it’s really easy and cheap for them to just work with us.”
The site currently offers a variety of online tools to enhance educational and organizational aspects of online course readers, including features such as interactive note-taking, highlighting, in-text word search and definition options. Additionally, students can view a compilation of self-generated notes within a particular course reader, thus enhancing the overall studying process.
Italian studies professor Claudio Fogu, one of the first professors to use StudySoup, said he is generally pleased with the system’s overall progress in conjoining educational methods with modern technology.
“It’s a good tool for students … so they don’t have to spend money on something heavy,” Fogu said. “What I found especially useful was the ability for students to look closely at notes.”
Fourth-year global studies major Beverly Lehman, who works as an intern at StudySoup, said the company is working on new ideas for digital features. Lehman also said student feedback to the program has been generally positive, even in the earlier stages of platform development.
“I’ve had a couple friends that mentioned they were using the digital course reader and that it saved them a lot of money and was really convenient to have on their computer instead of as a bulky book to carry around,” Lehman said. “Basically we are trying to get everything in one base — localized and easy to use.”
A version of this article appeared on page 5 of January 30th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.