Aussie app brings peer-to-peer culture to university tutoring
Known as Vygo, the app gives struggling students access to affordable tutoring from peers who have done well in the same class.
Vygo CEO and co-founder Ben Hallett said the app “gives students a business in a box” and brings the share economy onto campus.
“The app’s name comes from Lev Vygotsky, his work in educational psychology and theories of social development,” he explained.
“[Vygotsky's work] basically came out to say that peers are one of most undervalued learning resources and often appear much better placed to help people level-up, because they understand not only what people are trying to learn but also what they are going through.”
Hallett said he and his co-founders Joel Di Trapani and Steven Hastie, had all worked as tutors and developed a passion for “the process, benefits and rewards of tutoring others”. They also wanted to find a way to help their friends and peers succeed.
When we were at uni, we saw lots of friends failing courses and dropping out. So that inspired us to come in and fix it.”
What followed was a six-month trial at the University of Queensland (UQ) in 2017, then a rollout of the platform for Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Griffith Universities.
The results of these initial programs have been promising, with survey data showing a 20% improvement in student grades. Hallett said the reactions and responses they get from students and peer-tutors are also inspiring.
“Hearing that we were the difference between someone passing and failing is what keeps us going.”
Peer tutoring on-demand
While some universities offer listings for tutors and even peer-tutors, Hallett said it can often be hard for students to get help when they need it.
"The big difference with us is that we really engage the whole community consistently," he said.
“It’s not just a list and hoping someone contacts you… That’s the dead end students are finding at midnight when they have an assessment the next day."
This type of service needs to be on-demand, and that’s the way we expect things these days…you need that instant feedback.”
Vygo requires student tutors to be active on the service and offers support and training resources for them so that both the tutors and students get help when they need it.
“For tutors, we set a minimum grade requirement of 70% and that gets them onto the app. But then they also have reviews and ratings [from students] and they only get that through doing sessions.”
In terms of cost, the average Vygo session is $25 per hour, compared to an average of $65 per hour for a traditional tutoring session. Vygo tutors can choose to set their own rates but Hallett said the convenience of the app helps keep fees down.
“Because students are earning money on campus between lectures, they’re happy to charge much less.”
The app also offers a 100% session fee guarantee for students who use it for tutoring and encourages feedback for each session.
Building the university community
The response from students using Vygo has caught the attention of universities across the country, with the tech startup now in discussions with a number of guilds and unions.
“Some universities have the early workings of Vygo,” Hallett said. “They may have a page or listing service for students who want to look at being a tutor or getting a tutor, kind of similar to Gumtree.”
“So unis see that they need this type of space and some have peer-listing platforms but Vygo is the evolution of that and brings it into the modern economy.”
Hallett said Vygo’s set up meant that they get live feedback that could also help universities with student retention.
We have a finger on the pulse about where students are struggling and get instant feedback, whereas sometimes at university that data isn’t picked up straight away, if at all.”
This means the app can also help universities by providing real-time information about what courses and degrees students are struggling with. With 1 in 3 students in Australia failing to complete a degree within the 6 years of enrolling, this type of information could be a key to improving conditions for universities.
Hallett said feedback from the three initial universities had been positive, with QUT “signing up straight away”. In a press release about the service, QUT Guild President Isobella Powell said it was excited to be working with the startup.
“Far too often we see students failing subjects and even dropping out because tutoring is too expensive. Not only does Vygo make tutoring more accessible, but it also helps provide income for students as tutors, so it's a win-win for us.”
Vygo is also backed by River City Labs Accelerator (powered by Telstra’s muru-D), which was founded by Shark Tank’s Steve Baxter. To find out more, visit the Vygo website at vygo.com.au.
Pictures: Shutterstock, Vygo