Robert Romano is the Founder and CEO of BookheadEd Learning, LLC, the creator of StudySync. With an M.A. in Literature and the Teaching of Writing, Robert developed the successful EdVantage Software with renowned educator James Moffet, which sold to Riverdeep Interactive in 2001. A successful entrepreneur, Robert is committed to producing innovative, effective educational technology for today’s students, and here he shares why, as well as his thoughts on the role of books in education, his ideas about ideas, his thoughts on technology—and what he thinks about the future of learning.
Victor: Why did you create StudySync?
Robert: Books are the repositories of human knowledge. They’re filled with the concepts and ideas that have advanced civilization. Really, what’s bigger than that? So why are many young people finding it difficult to get through them? There are lots of reasons. A big one is that their world is fast paced, filled with distractions. Information comes at them in short bursts from all kinds of techno-gadgetry. I get it. It’s exciting. I live it too: Android in my hand, iPad tucked under my arm, all syncing through the cloud with the MacBook Air in my shoulder bag and desktop at home. But even if we’re talking sound bytes and blogs, intelligent communication has to be thoughtful at its core, has to derive from a fundamental understanding, from knowledge, from a comprehension of what is written in that great body of texts – fiction and nonfiction. Having had some previous success in ed tech, I took it as a challenge – How can technology encourage student interaction with important texts, somehow make it relevant to their everyday experiences, even entertaining, advancing my belief that it’s cool to be smart?
Victor: Why did you choose the name StudySync?
Robert: Of course, sync means to harmonize, to link up, and in this case we’re talking about ideas. I think that’s at the heart of the product, that great ideas are communally built, individual contributions to the whole. Einstein’s work, unquestionable visionary, was founded upon the work of his predecessors in physics. There’s no short cut for study, for putting the work in. Clearly, that’s what it takes to acquire knowledge. So, StudySync is a process to help students obtain knowledge by analyzing ideas and socially constructing meaning, thinking critically, sharing and collaborating to advance those ideas. That’s why our tag line is “together we’re smarter.”
Victor: What is it? Who created it?
Robert: StudySync is a web-delivered academic tool created for teachers that uses a variety of technologies, social interaction, and multimedia to connect students to the great ideas of mankind. Currently, it’s a subscription based-classroom product, though we’ll have a home/consumer version coming out soon. The product’s creation was a team effort. One thing I will take credit for is assembling incredibly smart and creative people that believe that what we’re doing is the future of education, inspiring students to participate … not telling them what to think.
Victor: How is it different from other similar products/services?
Robert: StudySync respects kids, validates the things they believe are relevant in their lives, gives them a voice. It’s founded on solid academics and sound pedagogy from the ground up. That’s at the foundation of it all. But around that core is a modern web experience, a dynamic social network, and broadcast quality videos that engage through entertainment. That combination makes us unique.
Victor: When was it developed? What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?
Robert: When I started my first Ed-tech company in 1996, I began developing language arts products for CD-ROMs. Some investors resisted because their children’s schools didn’t yet have that technology. Developing educational technology is like skeet shooting in that way, you have to anticipate the target’s motion. BookheadEd Learning, StudySync’s parent company, is founded on the same forward-thinking principles. With StudySync we set out to get in front of the curve as best we can while still using technologies that teacher and students have access to, blending the use of multimedia devices, entertainment, and of course smart academics.
Victor: How do I get it?
Robert: Subscriptions can be purchased through our website at www.studysync.com. While it’s an online purchase, we stay very close to our customers and add a personal touch to ensure that each teacher’s, company’s, and district’s needs are met. We also offer a 60-day free trial to back up our belief that once educators try the product, they will want to purchase it and incorporate it into their classrooms.
Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?
Robert: A teacher can have up to 90 student logins with full access for an entire year for $175. That’s our introductory price. Entire school use, as in every classroom and every student, ranges from $1,500 – $3,500 per year, depending on the size of the school –roughly $2/student/year. As for options, we’re continuing to expand the library of texts and video lessons, updating more each month. We’re also adding features that track college requirements, provide SAT prep, and a host of other tools for university-bound students. Oh yeah, and we’ll soon be implementing StudySync Challenges, a chance for classrooms to compete for technology scholarships.
Victor: What are some examples of it in action?
Robert: The product is just being launched and is currently being used in all types of schools, from suburban settings to elite private to urban schools. Some schools using it have a 1:1 computer ratio or mostly iPads; other districts have incorporated it with very limited technology. Its delivery is flexible in many ways. The only real requirement is a decent Internet connection because nothing resides on school servers; it’s completely web-delivered. I’ll tell you what was very cool, that some of our student-users, seeing their writing improve so much so quickly, posted their own college application essays and AP homework on the StudySync network to get critiques from their peers for a revision. To me, that speaks to the real heart of the product.
Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for?
Robert: This is a middle and high school product, though it has applications for higher Ed, especially at the Junior College level. As to whom it’s for, well, any educator who feels their students can benefit from reading more, from writing more, and from learning how to analyze texts and think critically. If there’s a school with Internet access and students who would be engaged by a dynamic use of technology in the classroom, then this product is for them.
Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?
Robert: To say it’s changing quickly is stating the obvious. The question is, what will that change bring? The purpose of education is to build knowledge and develop the skills required to be successful productive members of society. Knowledge is the accumulation of all that is known, much of which is written down in the texts that fill our libraries. The skills that are needed are many, but prime among them is the ability to focus, to think critically, to collaborate and communicate effectively, and to use technology in a purposeful way. We’ve brought that all together in StudySync.
Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating StudySync?
Robert: This one is simple to answer. StudySync is a reflection of the collaborative process that I’ve used as an entrepreneur all my life, how ideas are formulated, expressed, and advanced. It is how we all work in the real world and it will only be more so in the future. Critical thinking and thoughtful collaboration are essential components to success.
Victor: How does StudySync address some of your concerns about education?
Robert: One of the biggest challenges of education is keeping up with exponential change in the way information is processed and communicated. The textbook is becoming obsolete, marginalized a moment after it’s printed. Even digital books, though capable of being “updated,” are not dynamic. They are a one-way resource that doesn’t reflect the evolutionary development of knowledge through discourse, through shared analysis and collaboration. StudySync is only a tool and the texts in our library only the beginning, the fodder. The real content is that produced by peer-to-peer interaction. That’s where the magic happens.
Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?
Robert: Everyone knows that technology will play a major role in education going forward. No surprise there. The communal aspect of learning, which is an essential component, will be transformed from brick and mortar to a blended model, which includes a version of virtual – no great insight by me with that news, either. What won’t change is the fact that ideas evolve with knowledge, knowledge that has been accumulated by brilliant minds over the centuries and written in the great body of fiction and nonfiction that exists. The promise of technology is that it can deliver content dynamically, anywhere, anytime, and offer a mechanism for the collaboration of human ideas and creativity. Education will be a continuous experience in the future, just part of the way we live. It will continue to be collaborative, in all disciplines. That’s how knowledge is advanced.
Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of StudySync?
Robert: StudySync is about engagement; it’s about ideas. It offers a dynamic experience that builds from understanding the great ideas written in fiction and nonfiction. It helps make those texts relevant. StudySync builds confidence in students to think critically, communicate effectively, refine collaboration skills, and prepare them for the challenges they are sure to face in the future.
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com