Digital education company BenchPrep is taking advantage of free informational content with its newest feature OpenPrep.
If you stepped into a classroom of collegians and asked, “How many people have used Wikipedia to research something,” just about all of the hands would be up. Wikipedia, YouTube and other more regulated sources such as Khan Academy Tutorials have acted as a avenues for quick answers and plain English explanations. BenchPrep chief executive Ashish Rangnekar wants to use the information students are already tapping and integrate into the BenchPrep application.
BenchPrep takes content from publishers such as McGraw Hill and soon Pearson, and turns it into an interactive study guide for the iPad, iPhone and Android. With this new feature, BenchPrep’s back-end algorithms find and assign free informational content to appropriate sections of the study guides. For instance, if you are learning about a certain element in chemistry and there is a relevant Wikipedia page, the app will glue the two together. This free content is taken from the above named sources in addition to university websites. Teachers can also upload new or change out old content if they find something more compelling.
“We’ve actually seen a lot of tutors use it,” said Rangnekar in an interview with VentureBeat. “We don’t see this as a product that will replace a teacher. It will actually make that teach student interaction a lot better.”
BenchPrep has primarily focused on test preparation for exams such as the SATs, MCATs, LSATs, and more. The company is looking to move into official certification courses as well as higher education. Because of this origin in test prep, BenchPrep has appealed to tutors and individuals. Rangnekar explained that for tutors, acquiring educational materials can be very pricey. They also are lacking in technological resources, given their self-employed nature. In essence, tutors are limited in their teaching materials. BenchPrep sees its original product in addition to this new feature as a way for tutors to connect and expand their teaching materials.
But free content is a gamble. You may think you’re getting a video on chemistry, but you may be exposed to something more along the lines of anatomy. BenchPrep may also run into trouble with sources that welcome editing from all, such as Wikipedia. These don’t always reflect the most accurate information, and are even banned in certain college classes from being as source for essays. That said, the company is assured that its back-end knows what content it is looking at and can assign it confidently.
The company is also working on aggregating content from the Associate Press through application programming interfaces to layer on top of its content.
BenchPrep competes with other digital education tools such as Kno and Inkling, which make interactive textbooks for the iPad. It is available on the Web, iPhone, iPad and Android, and syncs activity across all devices for grab-and-go learning.