Picking up Slack's slack: ASU student creates University-specific messaging app

An ASU student is developing a group messaging app to connect students and faculty on campus and beyond

Pitch, an app and website currently in development by ASU technological entrepreneurship and management senior Drew Langhart, is looking to change how students and faculty connect with each other.

Langhart, originally an ASU Online student, began development on Pitch after he became distraught by how difficult it was to communicate with his professors and reach out to other online students. 

"I wanted to be able to connect with other online students, but there was no easy way to do so," Langhart said. "Essentially they all had the same issue that I did, they were given a link to their class and Blackboard, that's it."

That's when Langhart decided to reach out to Philip Regier, a professor and CEO of ASU's EdPlus, to discuss if there were any workarounds for his communication issues.

"I told him the education is great; however, there's no way for me to connect with other students," Langhart said. "So he put me in touch with a team that builds these types of experiences, and as the team started to grow more and because my existing digital product background they offered me a job."

Pitch is intended to be a platform where both online and on-campus students can connect and chat over channels for general discussions or even their specific classes.

When asked about his inspiration for the layout of Pitch, Langhart cited Slack, another app used to connect people through various filtered chat rooms. 

"Essentially we were like, Slack works, why don't we just use Slack, but it quickly boiled down to the price," Langhart said. "Slack is $6 standard per person (per month), and ASU has a student population of over 100,000 students and 3,500 staff members, so we quickly decided that it wasn't going to work."

While Slack was an inspiration for the app, Langhart said the team is working to develop other features that Slack does not have. These additions include class channels, where students are filtered into their specific classes and are able to chat among their peers and professor. The app connects with a student's ASU ID to determine his or her classes.

Pitch also has Devi, a chatbot the team hopes will be able to help advise students and answer questions they might have, similar to a success coach.

Lisa McIntyre, executive director of student success innovations, said she has a strong belief that Pitch is a useful tool when it comes to online students connecting with faculty.

"I believe they are able to connect with their support services across the University, like with an academic coach or with a professor from one of their classes," McIntyre said. 

She also said the app will help students connect with student interest groups and find others on campus with similar interests.

Although Pitch originally started as an app focused on online students, it has begun to pick up steam on campus as well. 

Gregory Broberg, a lecturer in the School of Social Transformation, has incorporated the use of Pitch into his homicide and serial killers course.

"I think that it's great for my students who are trying to communicate with each other outside of class," Broberg said. "The funny thing is you never know how these tools work with students. Like some of the students were sending notes, if a student in their group wasn't in class, they were messaging them, sending them a little note saying, 'Oh, here's what we talked about today.' "

Broberg said some future improvements he would like to see are with the overall structure of the message board and how media can be shared.

"If I put a post out there, I'd like to have it always show up at the top of the message board, so for me it's mostly tidying things up," Broberg said. "One of the things that I would really love is the capability to have students post a video response to a question rather than just using texts."

Austin Villegas

Screenshot of the web page version of ASU app Pitch, showing the homepage and the general channel, as well as classes that students are enrolled in. 

Pitch isn't yet ready for mass use, Langhart said. The app is currently in a beta phase and is constantly being updated based on student and faculty feedback so that it can one day be used to connect ASU both online and on campus.

"We're designing something from students, from the voices of students," Langhart said. "This is completely a student-driven tool. It's brand new, so it's not perfect, this is part of building a new product."

Reach the reporter at amville8@asu.edu or follow @AustinMVillegas on Twitter. 

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