The following is a report done in partnership with Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods Program, the capstone class for the Temple Journalism Department.
Social networking hasn’t hit education like it could, says David Simnick.
“The beauty of this idea is in its simplicity,” said Simnick, 23, a first-year social studies teacher at Young Scholars Charter School in North Philadelphia through the Teach for America program, in an interview with Technically Philly. “We want to unleash the potential of social media in the classroom.”
Simnick’s vision to maximize social media’s educational potential has come to be known as TalkChalk, an online education platform that debuted at Philly Startup Weekend late last month and is aimed at teachers and professors who want to reach their students where they already are. Namely, Facebook.
“If you take the approach that Facebook is evil, you will lose,” said Simnick, originally from Illinois. “So turn it into an educational tool that you can use.”
The inspiration to use Facebook as an educational tool in the classroom came to Simnick through first hand experience as a teacher at Young Scholars, where many of his students are high risk, low income children without steady home lives.
“A lot of my students are essentially homeless,” explained Simnick, who also launched socially conscious SoapBox Soaps. “Yet they still have regular access to their Facebook accounts.”
For Simnick, his students’ ability to access social media on a regular basis despite their housing situation proved that education can last beyond the bell in an online setting.
Slated for a beta release this coming April, TalkChalk will provide teachers with an online platform in the form of a Facebook application that integrates and expedites the learning process in a familiar digital setting.
Features such as collective flash cards for online group study sessions, an inclusive discussion board and a messaging system between teachers, students and parents are TalkChalk’s attempts at harnessing the addictive quality that social media has for educational use.
“We need to use a medium that kids already know how to use to further their education,” explained Simnick. For less social-media-savvy educators, TalkChalk will also provide a standalone website.
With plans for video conferencing and interactive educational games that award achievements with experience points in future updates, Simnick said the goal of TalkChalk is to provide a more innovative, accessible and cheaper alternative to competitors like Blackboard, EnGrade and MyGradeBook.
Initial use of TalkChalk will be free of charge and ad-supported, with plans to move to a low-cost pay model in coming years.
The TalkChalk team, consisting of Simnick along with co-founders Daniel Doll, Melih Onvural and Nikhil Paul, plans to push its service to Teach For America educators and other social-media-minded teachers in the Philadelphia area after the program’s initial release.
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