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The Story of SchoolHouse

How Schoolhouse Built + Launched a Community in Less than a Week

Interview with

Mariah Olson, Head of Community

schoolhouse.world

  • A platform for free, peer-to-peer tutoring–where anyone can learn and become a tutor
  • 2.3K+ volunteer tutors and 15K+ learners
  • Founded by Sal Khan (Khan Academy) and Shishir Mehrotra (Coda)

Goals for Community

  • Have a moderated platform for tutor-student engagement and support
  • Build a sense of community with interactive discussions
  • Customize the community to reflect Schoolhouse’s brand aesthetic

The Approach

  • Build a centralized community to keep discussions and content tight
  • Streamline channels to avoid overwhelming members and admins
  • Customize the community’s look and feel to increase adoption

The Results

  • Highly engaged community built within days
  • Tangible growth in student-tutor engagement since launch

Key features used

Leaderboard

Gamification

Moderation

key sso

Single sign-on

Introduction

Schoolhouse’s high school tutoring marketplace has been growing steadily with users around the world. But while tutors have a private Slack channel, there was no opportunity for tutors and students to connect in informal ways.

Leveraging Tribe, Schoolhouse was able to build and launch a tutor-student community in less than a week, giving people a place to connect that would have taken the internal team months (or even a year) to build alongside their other priorities.

Speaking with Tribe, Maria Wilson, Head of Community and Safety at Schoolhouse explained more about why Schoolhouse needed community and what it was like building one so quickly.

Schoolhouse’s story

Schoolhouse is a nonprofit that provides peer-to-peer high school math and SAT prep to students all over the world. Tutors are volunteers who help students via Zoom calls, making the program very scalable.

However, Schoolhouse’s scalability also provided a challenge. Tutors have to apply and are vetted. Once they join, they also get access to an exclusive tutor community hosted on Slack. Students, on the other hand, have open admission—anyone can sign up to receive tutoring—which made Slack an inefficient tool for building a student community.

Maria originally asked if the organization could build something in house, but that wasn’t possible given the size of the team and its existing priorities. That’s when she began to look for third party platforms.

A motivation to build space
for learners to connect

Maria wanted to build a tutor-student community after seeing the value from those connections. Tutors began connecting with students organically, trying to use the Schoolhouse platform to have more social conversations rather than traditional tutoring sessions. Maria noticed how much more valuable the relationships became, both for students and tutors, when they could connect with one another.

“Initially, we were seeing Schoolhouse as a service,” said Maria. “…But we started to realize how much of a back-and-forth learning really is. There’s so much more you can do and there’s so many more interesting connections that can be formed beyond even just the tutoring sessions themselves.”

Seeing the connections being made motivated Maria and the entire Schoolhouse team to want a community space to foster those relationships.

But to make it work, the community needed to be public (rather than direct message-based) and it needed moderation features so the Schoolhouse team could ensure the community remained a safe space.

Tribe has allowed us to rapidly experiment with new ways to connect the learners and tutors. This helped us build a unified community with continuous experience for learners and create a robust communication channel for long-term connections.

Mariah Olson
Head of Community, Schoolhouse.world

Why Schoolhouse selected Tribe

Speed

The team needed a platform that could get a community up and running quickly since they wanted to capture the relationships that were already happening.

Centralization

Tribe offered a main user dashboard with well-organized Spaces within it. This gave all the tutors and students a central space to exist, join, and collaborate.

Monitoring

Monitoring features gave Maria confidence that she could properly moderate the conversations and ensure they were appropriate and helpful.

Connection

Maria liked how Tribe’s feature set made it easy for members to see and connect with one another. The dynamic conversations resulted in stronger connections.

What it’s like working with Tribe

Maria was new to building a community, so she turned to Tribe for assistance. Working with her customer success manager, they were able to come up with a two-pronged strategy to increase community adoption and engagement:

1. Focus on core Spaces

At the start, Maria built out around 20 Spaces, each meant to discuss a unique and valuable topic. However, she found that it was difficult to seed all Spaces with activity, which made the community appear less valuable.

Working with her Tribe CSM, she strategized a smaller number of core Spaces that made it easier to seed activity and invite new members to start conversations.

2. Encouraging adoption

New communities can easily struggle with adoption. To encourage new members to use the community, Maria and her Tribe CSM planned a giveaway. Every member who introduced themselves and said hi to someone else in a comment conversation was entered into a giveaway.

Maria said both strategies were helpful in getting members to use the community and feel like it’s part of their overall Schoolhouse experience rather than an additional platform they have to remember to use.

Schoolhouse Community Structure
Schoolhouse Community Structure

The results

Maria said Tribe empowered them to get their community up and running within a week, giving students a new place to go to connect with each other and with Tutors. She also said that the community space gives a continuous learning experience, since students have somewhere to go when a formal tutoring session ends.

The Schoolhouse team also loves the community because it’s a centralized place where they can connect with students. Previously, this wasn’t possible since they only connected with Tutors via Slack. Now, they have the Tribe space to develop deeper relationships. Going forward, this will be essential for the product team because they can use the community to get first person feedback from students in conversations rather than relying on cold outreach.

“Tribe has empowered us to build this new part of our community and allow for all of these users to connect in a way that they couldn’t before without our very, very small product team having to divert a lot of their resources and time,” said Maria.

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