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Meet Club Academia, uncommon kids (who, BTW, love their library)

Shilpa, Roya, Ahran, and Karan

Mission: Club Academia strives to organize existing knowledge in ways that make learning easily accessible while simultaneously inspiring people to discover and innovate.

Sometimes you meet a group of kids for whom being college and career ready is simple not enough.   As a high school librarian, I am often honored to work with kids who demonstrate a certain menschiness beyond common expectations.

These are the kids who, in the language of our own standards,

  • Connect knowledge to the real world (2.3.1)
  • Show social responsibility by participating actively with others in learning situations and by contributing questions and ideas during group discussions. (3.2.2)
  • Demonstrate teamwork by working productively with others (3.2.3)
  • Contribute to the exchange of ideas within and beyond the learning community. (3.3.5)
  • Use information and knowledge in the service of democratic values. (3.3.6)
  • Respect the principles of intellectual freedom. (3.3.7)
  • Assess the processes by which learning was achieved in order to revise strategies and learn more effectively in the future. (3.4.1 )
  • Assess own ability to work with others in a group setting by evaluating varied roles, leadership, and demonstrations of respect for other viewpoints. (3.4.3)

One of my personal highlights at November Learning’s BLC was meeting four of the inspiring young people behind Club Academia, a volunteer nonprofit determined to supplement student learning globally with its concise video tutorials that are: of the student, by the students and for the students.  

These are kids who choose to make a difference–volunteering to learn, produce, and share their talents globally for the benefit of other kids. Beyond determining central ideas and writing arguments based on evidence, they effectively manage other kids, maintain a popular website, produce and edit high-quality videos, write successful grants, and speak at major conferences.

I asked the kids to share the back story of the Club Academia team.  

Shilpa, one of the co-founders, told me,

I tutored my friends before in my spare time. And I tried making tutorials before.  But one day, back in 2102, after the AP exams were, I bumped into Roya at a coffee shop.  We talked about our friends who complained that they didn’t really learn the material.  So, I asked Roya if she was interested in tutoring and making tutorials.  She said “yes.”

 At first is wasn’t extremely profound.  We never intended it to go global.When we started we wanted to try a few new things.  We wanted to create an environment students could relate to.  We became aware that others were watching. Then we realized the value of what we were doing. 

Along the way, we learned leadership skills.  In two months we had more than 100 videos on our YouTube account. We had to learn to manage so many (now 17) video makers.  

And we discovered how much you really learn when you teach.

As for the details of platform and approach.  The other co-founder, Roya shared

We were inspired by Khan Academy.  It’s amazing. But we wanted ours to be different from some of the more boring videos we’d seen.  We were also more interested in supplementing the classroom than flipping it. That’s partly why the videos are short. We want them also to be funny and cool.  We never tailor our videos solely for a test.  We’re also making videos for the curious.  Sure, we simplify concepts for the test, but we think it’s important to emphasize critical thinking beyond the subject area. 

Here is one of Roya’s physics videos, using cute guys, cars and houses as engaging metaphors.

So, what did it take to actually produce the platform and the videos?

According to Roya,  It was largely trial and error and we tried everything.   

In the beginning, each of the founding students was in charge of a few others.  Roya led the science team. Shilpa managed SAT vocabulary. Their friend Keshab Varma, a programmer, created the website.  

The first videos were well-received by their friends.  Initially, they relied on fellow students to evaluate the videos and make suggestions for accuracy and improvement.  After a while, teachers volunteered to vet the videos before they were published.

The team described starting kinda low tech, using tools they had at hand–Paint and PowerPoint.  

They soon moved to Screenium and used Sketchbook Express and Bamboo tablets. One of their teachers reached out to TechSmith and the team now has access to several copies of Camtasia.  

Roya shared: I don’t think we could find a better tool.  Now, we’re just learning to use it in more sophisticated ways.

Karan, who hasn’t yet gotten involved in making videos, shared how important it is to make it easy to watch videos on the go.  Everyone has a smart phone.  Making a mobile app was a no brainer.  He hopes to get the app out next month and to continue to develop the website

Club Academia is not just for AP courses.  The students eagerly noted that they plan to cover all levels of learning, as well as courses like music theory.  Their math instruction covers both middle and high school.

Ahran, the hands-down culinary genius of the group, whose home is a popular spot for meetings, is currently planning a number of cooking tutorials, starting with Club favorite, chocolate ganache.

Roya added 

We love having the opportunity to help other students.  The plan is to focus on a local organic growth model.  We believe that the best people to solve problems are the people who actually face them. We know how to capture the problem. We can cater to students’ exact needs.  Our audience can relate to us. 

Club Academia welcomes use, feedback and participation and invites student users from all over the globe to explore our videos, follow courses, compile study-lists, and communicate via academic profiles. 

The team is also recruiting student video-makers with strong understanding of specific subjects.

Participate as a student teacher or representative:
Follow the team:
Instagram: ClubAcademia
Or write to them at
Important note #1:  
This effort is replicable.  Even without joining the team, our students can contribute to the learning culture of our schools by helping to teach each other on a local basis.
Important note #2:  
I told the kids I was a blogger when we first started chatting.  At the end of our conversation I mentioned I was a librarian.  Their faces lit up as they told me about their own dear library and they filmed this spontaneous library love letter before we closed our little interview.

Club Academic from joyce valenza on Vimeo.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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