Some may remember the desktop only Beta version of BuddyUp, launched in fall of 2014 at the Portland State campus as a part of a capstone project done by PSU alumn Brian Forrester. Thousands of students and hundreds of classes participated in the trial of the social media/study partner finder. On September 28, BuddyUp’s mobile app was released.
Today, PSU BuddyUp users average around 4,500 students from 250 classes. The study-buddy finder is being used at universities not only across the country but around the world, including the University of Sydney and University of New South Wales in Australia.
BuddyUp is a free app for students that connects them with others in the same classes looking to study material together. According to Forrester, when universities partner with the program, they typically have to pay a licensing fee.
Forrester came up with the idea for the app after failing a statistics class. In light of his failure, he realized the need for a better way to connect with study partners. As his capstone project, he built the program with the help of the PSU computer science department and students who offered their time.
“It really grew organically, and virally within PSU,” Forrester said.
Mark Blackmore is a professor in the department of math and statistics at PSU. Blackmore was Forrester’s teacher during his second attempt at statistics. Blackmore believes study groups are the “single best thing you can do to promote your academic success,” and even put it in the syllabus for his classes. Today, he asks Forrester to come in and talk with his classes about his success after initiating a study group.
“What does a study group actually do for you? Well, it gives you engagement, right? It gives you connection, you know people,” Blackmore said. “From a learning perspective, if I’m in a study group and you and I are trying to learn something, you’re going to tell me how you see it, and I’m going to tell you how I see it, and we’re both going to benefit from that. You’re going to use parts of your brain to tell me what you think that you wouldn’t have used had you just sat at home and done it alone.”
Originally Forrester applied for a reTHINK PSU grant for BuddyUp. According to the PSU website, reTHINK PSU is a presidential initiative that funds projects and charts them along a very specific road map to succeed at challenges. After being denied the grant, he took the initiative to create the program on his own.
Forrester said in the long run it actually worked out better for him to develop the program solo rather than be funded by PSU.
“Looking back, I’m so happy that I chose to do it independently and then partner with the university, rather than do it from within the university, because unfortunately when you do that there are a lot of constraints and challenges,” Forrester said.
Forrester originally got the most support from faculty of the math, world languages and literature departments at PSU. The program’s benefit to linking international students who speak the same language is evident.
As a startup company forged on the campus of PSU, Forrester remarked on how it’s going international somewhat on its own.
“We get requests all the time from students all across the world who are trying to use it or want to know how they can bring it to their school. We’ve had students reach out from China, India, Japan, Scotland [and] Iraq,” Forrester said.
One of the major challenges of BuddyUp is finding other students in the classes you are taking who also use the program. Without teacher support, or a push from other students to get classmates participating, the pool of study buddies can be too low to be useful.
Blackmore says this fits right in with mathematics. He described the knee of the curve and drew a simple exponential growth graph. It begins in low, low, low numbers, and at a certain point shoots up into the high numbers. Shortly after the knee of the curve, growth becomes explosive. “You need to get a critical mass. You need some catalyst to get you to the knee of that curve,” Blackmore said.
BuddyUp is now run by a team of five out of an office just off the PSU campus. Forrester said he is currently most excited about approaching Waseda University in Japan.
“They’re one of our sister schools, and I really am curious to see how BuddyUp takes off in Japan, because I think that’s going to be interesting both culturally and technologically,” Forrester said.
When and where BuddyUp will hit its critical mass and explode is still unknown. Born on the campus of PSU, BuddyUp has already gone international.
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