Look out, Slack, there is a new program in town.
Nectir, a new learning and communication tool at UC Santa Barbara, was founded by and for UCSB students to better connect the student body with each other as well as with their professors.
Nectir was founded by Kavitta Ghai ‘19 and Jordan Long, a third-year environmental science major who took a year off to launch the start-up to provide UCSB students with an alternative to Slack.
Slack is an instant messaging platform generally used by large organizations for communication on the business level. Nectir, on the other hand, is a system based entirely on improving communication at the academic level between students and instructors. Nectir is actively being built into the GauchoSpace program as an add-on, giving teachers and students the option to use it in their class as a tool.
According to Ghai, Slack is “a communication platform that’s made for enterprise,” meaning it is structured to support business at a corporate level, whereas the two envisioned Nectir as a structure for communication in an academic environment.
“While the idea of Slack is great, there are a lot of problems that make it unusable at schools. They don’t have data privacy for students … [and] it’s insanely expensive,” Ghai noted, adding that there are “a lot of technical problems” with Slack.
So Ghai and Long spent two years developing an alternative: Nectir.
In the last two years, the team has met with university administrators, professors, teaching assistants and students. The purpose of these meetings was to understand what problems these people are seeing and facing every day on campus at a communicative level — allowing the team to create real solutions to real problems, Ghai said.
One of the first classes at UCSB to use the Nectir program was a workshop class in the Instructional Development department led by one of their instructional consultants, Mindy Colin. By adapting her class to the program, Ghai and Long were given the opportunity to see how Nectir would function in reality.
Nectir was designed specifically to create lines of communication throughout an entire school, not just for one class or within one major. In order for students to use the program, professors must create a channel for their class — similar to those in Slack — that will be embedded in their class GauchoSpace site.
The program had its soft launch in Fall Quarter 2019 and since then, Ghai and Long said that 15% of the people at UCSB have used or currently have access to a Nectir channel for a specific class. It is working so well that, according to Ghai, the team is in the process of signing a contract with the school for funding.
The team’s goal is that “every single student on campus should have Nectir regardless of whether their TA or professor decides to use it,” Ghai said, by Spring Quarter 2020.
The purpose behind Nectir is to solve this “position of frustration” that students feel when they transition from a 30-person class in high school to a 500-person college course, Long explained.
“It takes days to figure out things, and you’re often alone in the library banging your head against the wall trying to figure something out,” Long said. “We don’t know how to fix it, we don’t know how to create a new educational system… but what we can do is use technology to connect people.”
Ghai added that a bonus of the program is that it was created by students for students, as opposed to being created by tech companies who create academic tools without factoring in student perspectives.
The actual set-up of the Nectir program was designed in-house; Long manages all of the technical parts in-house and runs the servers himself.
Long and Ghai have been able to manage a huge portion of the work by bringing their ideas to life themselves, allowing them to move very quickly through the developing process while not needing a significant amount of start-up money.
“Now that we’re starting to reach out to other schools, it will eventually be time to bring other people onto the team, but for right now, for everything we have done at UCSB, it has worked really well with just the two of us,” Ghai added.
The team plans to first completely integrate the system at UCSB before branching out and attempting to spread the program to other schools, such as Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and other UC campuses.
A version of this article appeared on p. 7 of the Jan. 30, 2020 print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Correction [2/03/2020, 7:49 p.m.]: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Jordan Long is a second-year student. This article has been corrected to reflect that Long completed three years at UCSB, and is currently not enrolled at UCSB.