Socratic launches iOS app for homework help

Ronny Kerr · July 14, 2016 · Short URL:

New mobile app lets students simply snap a photo of their question to get answers

Growing up getting good grades was nice and all, but sometimes I went a little crazy putting pressure on myself to do well in school. I remember some nights freaking out because I was completely in the dark about a homework assignment. As a young millennial, I had some options: sure, I could ask my parents for help, but often I had to either A) hope that a classmate was on AIM or B) search Google for some answers.

But now I can officially be an old person and say it: kids today have it so easy.

Socratic, an online Q&A community to help students with their homework assignments, today announced the launch of its iOS app, making it as easy as snapping a photo of a homework problem to get help online. This is Socratic's first mobile app—an Android version is still in the works.

Since launching three years ago, Socratic has built up an online resource for students to get help across various subjects, including science, math, social sciences, and humanities. As you might’ve guessed by its name, the site is based on a system of questions and answers. (The Socratic method, named after classical Greek philosopher Socrates, employs a dialogue of asking and answering questions in order to get at Truth.)

So if you click over to the humanities section, you’ll see questions like:

  • What event marked the end of fighting during World War I?
  • What is the Biblical reference for the "Lilies of the Field" allusion in "Fahrenheit 451"?
  • How did the Espionage Act affect U.S. elections?

Anyone can join the community to help answer these questions, making Socratic a peer-to-peer learning service. The site likes to advertise that retired professors, graduate students, and teachers are the ones providing answers, but it's really anyone that can log in and submit answers. So how does the site verify whether an answer is useful or even accurate?

According to Socratic co-founder Shreyans Bhansali, who responded to my question over email: "Active members of the community care deeply about the quality and accuracy of the content on the site, and they spend a lot of time checking and improving new content on the site, and providing thoughtful feedback on how new answers could be improved."

Now Socratic is taking the next step by launching a mobile version of the service, which was developed through participation from over 150,000 of users in Homework Genius, a separate, unbranded app created by the Socratic team to help make Socratic smarter. Now students simply take a photo of the problem they’re trying to solve, and Socratic returns a series of swipable pages offering up content from the Socratic community relevant to the question. Content includes videos, textbook citations, and trusted web pages.

At launch, Socratic wiil be free to download, and the company says it doesn't have any immediate plans for monetization.

"We are not currently focused on monetizing, but strongly believe that the educational value we provide to students will make us a low-cost and high-value place for educational stakeholders (parents, teachers, school districts) to spend their money," Bhansali told me over email.

Socratic has gained a lot of momentum in the past few years. It says it has helped more than 15 million students with homework help thanks to nearly 200,000 questions answered. To date, the New York-based company has raised $7.5 million from Spark Capital, Shasta Ventures, Omidyar Network, betaworks, Box Group, a16z, John Maloney (former President of Tumblr), and Andrew Kortina (co-founder of Venmo).

Like most of the tech sector, education technology startups have had trouble raising funding recently, but the most valued startups are having no trouble finding investors. It's a big sector, but every company seems to have a different approach. One emerging company that raised $4 million in seed funding in April, Yup, takes a mobile-first approach to matching up students with live tutors that have been vetted by the company.

Socratic's approach is a bit more democratic, allowing anyone to participate in answering questions and seeking answers. It will be interesting to see how they fare as the edtech space continues to mature.

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