Learning Poetry through Bob Dylan and the Beatles
By Sara Bernard
Students, schools, and homeschooling parents are on a perpetual hunt for high-quality, vetted, free (or cheap) educational materials.
Shmoop, a growing collection of study guides and teacher resources on everything from SAT prep to the Civil War, is attempting to fill that need. It’s mostly free of charge, with some nominal fees for test prep and a few other features.
“We’re horrified at how much money is often charged to schools for this kind of thing. We try to make it inexpensive,” said Ellen Siminoff, Shmoop’s president and CEO. And last year, she says, Shmoop offered their test-prep materials for free to ten disadvantaged school districts.
Shmoop isn’t crowdsourced — the company and its authors own the content; it’s not edited by its user community — but the site is still going through a beta phase, with all the requests and recommendations from users. Shmoop is funded primarily through advertising and small licensing fees, and all of the content is produced by PhDs, K-12 teachers, and other subject-area experts.
“The requirement is that it has to be great content and authors have to know the material,” says Siminoff, “but it has to be funny and interesting, too. You can’t just know Ulysses, you have to like Ulysses.”
I asked Siminoff a few questions about the Silicon Valley-based company and how it works. Shmoop’s mantra: If content producers love their subjects, students and teachers will, too.
Q: Why Shmoop? How did it start?
My husband and I were looking at educational resources online for our own kids. We became quite angry at what was on the Web. It was reductive, it talked down to kids. So much was about how to cheat. We wanted to build something that encouraged students to learn. Anyone who loves any subject loves it because their favorite teachers taught it to them — often, those were teachers who loved their subjects, too. We wanted to do that. Continue reading