About the Founder

Background- Dan Himes

I received my Ph.D. in Physics from UVA in 1992, the era of the 40-year-old post-docs. Fortunately, I discovered a hidden talent.

While I was a student there I was a teaching assistant for the Physics Department and a tutor for Navy ROTC and the Post-Bac programs. In my final years I won the first-ever graduate student teaching award for the department and, in fact, was the only graduate student allowed to fully run a class (that is, sign a grade sheet).

The summer after I graduated I stayed on as a Visiting Assistant Professor.

In the fall I moved to the Washington, D.C. area to join my new bride and started my career at Northern Virginia Community College, where I taught at the Alexandria campus until 2002.

Although the World-Wide Web was not yet omnipresent, local businesses recognized that computer technology was becoming ubiquitous in their environment and they wanted our community college students to come out of our programs comfortable with this technology. They gave the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) a lot of money (I was told our network was one of the very best anywhere), and we had to figure out what to do with it.

The VCCS adopted the Teaching, Learning and Technology Roundtable model developed by Steve Ehrmann at the AAHE, which focused on developing and discovering best practices for using technology for teaching. I co-founded and co-chaired ours at Alexandria, which became the model for the VCCS.

Imagine a time when a presentation was the best time to take a network off-line.

I presented a convocation address to our faculty where I introduced them to the World-Wide Web, and excited their imaginations about the possibilities for teaching. Our IT department decided that, because all of the faculty would be busy at convocation, this was the perfect time to take the network off-line for repair. Oops!

Fortunately, I had printed back-up slides which I used on an overhead projector for my address.

In 2002, said bride moved me to Boston where I began working in educational software.

How Study Swami came to be

In my position as a Professor of Physics I had the good fortune to be able to teach small classes of a remarkably diverse student population. Each student was usually with me for two semesters, and the intimate setting enabled me to get to know them quite well. Many of the students were “unconventional” in the sense that they were changing careers, veterans of the armed forces, or returning to school after a long layoff. Some were dealing with changing life circumstances or struggling with emotional adjustments.

Regardless of circumstance, they had things in common. Their ultimate ambition was to take control of their lives. They were very happy when their efforts paid off, and they were very angry when they felt they were being treated unfairly. They were willing to work hard on a task when they saw the value of what they were doing, but if they didn't see that value then they spent their time on something else.

As I worked to understand how to better teach the courses I had to explore how the students were learning.

I had a few observations:

  • Some students did well on the exams by knowing which equation applied to the situation, but didn't know the concept behind the equation. Over the years I tried various forms of "equation sheets," including letting students bring in their own. That ended when some students were scoring well above others simply because they happened to have the correct equation written down.
  • Some students quickly grasped the "big picture" but struggled with the details required to work completely through a problem with the result that they were incoherent on the exams.
  • Some students could do well point-by-point through the problems but did not get the overall picture. They struggled to apply ideas across chapters.
  • And, of course, many, many students fell into the "I do well on the homework but I can't seem to do well on the exams" camp.

I was as frustrated as my students with the lack of results that some of their efforts produced. I started looking into how they were studying the material.

Now, without exception, every student I talked to thought they had a study method. They studied in a way that made sense to them. In reality, however, some students approached their learning in a very haphazard way while others were methodical and disciplined. Quite often the student with the better skills outperformed the student who was able to grasp the ideas more quickly.

I started coaching the students on how to study the course, and building in assignments that encouraged proper learning strategies. I also took away certain crutches. In particular I quit allowing equation sheets on exams. They had to concentrate on the fundamentals of the course and be able to derive the specific cases, rather than just getting lucky by having the correct equation on a page.

As a result, their grades went up. They were actually learning, not just "number jamming." We could talk about, for example, chapter 5 things in chapter 9, because they were actually learning- and that made chapter 9 much easier.

I began working in the field of educational software to reach more students than I could by staying in the classroom. Eventually I founded a company with the mission to try to help students learn how to learn.

As I continued to delve into the research of study skills and methods it became quite clear: Technique definitely matters. I hired teachers and experts with real experience to help me expand the study skill repertoire to cover the other academic subjects besides the mathematical sciences. And I hired people to help me build Study Swami as a vehicle to get it to you.

It's important to understand that the methods and skills presented in Study Swami are the best we know about today in education research. When things change, we update the site. Where possible, we present several options and allow you to experiment (and track) what works best for you and under which circumstances. For instance, you may do one thing for Calculus and something totally different for Biology or World History.

We do make some assumptions about the users of the site. We assume that you don't mind working as long as it pays off. Therefore, you won't see things like "Five easy ways to boost your memory" or other silly click-bait titles. We also assume that you are willing to become a mature learner, and learn to treat your education and yourself in a somewhat professional manner. Becoming professional is, after all, the very point of spending all of this effort and money on your education.