Want in to that psych tutorial with your bff Madison this fall?
Online "social schedulers" like WikiRoster, Scheedule and Koofers help university and high-school students figure out who's in their class – and encourage them to customize timetables so they can share lectures with friends. Often linked to Facebook, the new interactive tools let kids quickly map who is taking what and when as soon as itineraries are sent out in late summer. The websites help students co-ordinate their courses and breaks as well as study sessions.
Another modern indulgence? Or a smart study aid?
Educators have mixed feelings on the new class-skedding tools. While they can help alleviate social anxiety ahead of school's start, engage certain students, curb alienation and let bookish friends buddy up, staring down a class full of Facefriends sounds like a monster headache for teachers.
The new crop of interactive schedulers are the latest commercial tools among many – think real-time homework collaboration online and websites like RateMyProfessor.com – that offer today's pupils empowerment, experts say. These services reflect a move among students taking their experience into their own hands, and that includes managing back-to-school anxieties around their social lives.
"Most high-school students, as soon as they get their schedule, they're posting it on Facebook and checking with their friends immediately. It means a lot to them, regardless of how academically oriented they are," says Jason Lin, the high-school-aged co-founder of WikiRoster, which lets kids quickly cross-reference this vital information.
Launched last July, WikiRoster counts 4,000 users from 18 schools across the United States, with more added every semester. Aside from showing kids who's in their class, the site also lets them post homework on forums and share notes. Shreya Shanker, a 17-year-old senior student at Lin's school, the prestigious Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, used WikiRoster to get into a "relatively easy" math class populated with her buddies. "It's much easier to study with a friend," she argues.
Many of them created by young students, the sites push collaborative learning through social networks. "It's a way to work efficiently with other students in a way that we really haven't taken advantage of considering all the new technology out there," says Kiran Ryali, co-developer of Classwhole, a social scheduler for University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which saw 7,000 students using the tool during registration in January.
Judith Wiener, a professor in school and clinical child psychology at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, says that besides studying, there are many well-meaning reasons kids want to be in class with their confidants: "At a large university, being able to find your friends and have that connection when you're away from home can be very supportive and preventive of things like depression."
The only downside is that since none of the online services is affiliated with school administration, a high-school student has to head to guidance for a schedule change. "Of course it's a big pain for the school if kids come in and say they want a new schedule, and have to lie about why," says Wiener.
Lin admits he has run into trouble with school staff who didn't want to relinquish their course lists: "Schools don't want students switching classes for the sake of their friends."
Administrative headaches aside, social schedulers are the next step for students empowering themselves with technology, says Christopher Schneider, assistant professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia.
"University education is in some ways being pitched to students as consumers. They want the best bang for their buck. This makes sense in that respect," says Schneider.
Growing up online means students expect to extend their social networks into the classroom, he says. And while he can understand parental fears that "playing with your friends isn't an educational experience," Schneider isn't ultimately concerned about the student-hijacked course calendar.
"A lot of parents and authority figures, maybe they've forgotten that the first day going into class is extremely intimidating, particularly university. …The way students are socialized in high school and university plays out in very important ways in their lives, their peer networks and connections."