Knowledge@Wharton reaches out to teens

Since its initial launch in 1999, the online business journalKnowledge@Whartonhas grown to become a widely respected network of digital business news and research publications with 1.7 million readers around the world.
It is published in English, Chinese, Arabic and Portuguese, and has sites covering business news about Latin America and India. But this month Knowledge@Wharton entered what may prove to be its most challenging market yet—high school.

Knowledge@Wharton reaches out to teens

“It became very clear to us, especially once the financial crisis hit, that there is a lot of concern about the fact that so many Americans are illiterate when it comes to financial literacy,” says Robbie Shell, managing editor of the new Knowledge@Wharton High School (KWHS) edition.

“This illiteracy starts back in high school,” she says. “We’ve heard people say, ‘Why can’t we educate high school students better in managing their money and learning about careers and learning business concepts?’ and this is worldwide, not just in the United States.”

The goal of the new publication, she explains, is to show high school students that business affects everything they do in life.

“If you want to be involved in any career or any project, you need to know business,” Shell says. “It’s not just about working for an investment bank or being a consultant. If you want to be a sports agent, you need to know finance, you need to know marketing. If you want to be in fashion, you need to know how to collect and interpret data. In medicine, doctors these days are told they have to run their own businesses and have to know the ins and outs of health insurance.”

From the start, the plan was to make KWHS teen-friendly, interactive and international. With that in mind, the online journal was launched on March 21 in both English and Spanish and with extra features such as embedded videos, a virtual stock market game, other business-oriented interactive games and a video glossary of business and financial terms that will help young readers boost their vocabularies as they use the site. It also has companion sections that feature teacher blogs and lesson plans.

“We found there was a need to call out terminology that a student may not be familiar with,” says Sanjay Modi, IT director for the site. “We thought it would be cool if there was a faculty member from Wharton, or somebody from industry, explaining the term to you, and it wouldn’t disrupt your reading of that story.”

Content on the new site will strongly focus on topics of particular interest to high school students, says Diana Drake, editor of KWHS. Stories will generally fit into categories such as technology, life after high school, the environment, social impact, fashion, food, sports and entertainment. 
“We want to tell our stories through teenagers as much as possible,” Drake says. “If we are doing a story about understanding your paycheck, for instance, then maybe we’ll interview someone who worked their first job last summer and was surprised that his check wasn’t the $7.50 an hour he expected to be paid. Then, we’d maybe quote somebody from, say, a payroll association to give an explanation.”

Funded by Wharton alumni and a portion of a grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to the Penn Lauder Center for International Business Education & Research, the KWHS site will target students in grades 9-12. Because students in this age group often communicate about new trends through social networking online, KWHS will have accounts on Twitter and Facebook. It will also be on iTunes and its videos will have a YouTube channel.

Mukul Pandya, executive director of the Knowledge@Whartonnetwork, says the high school site is the “most radical departure we’ve ever had from the traditional Knowledge@Wharton publishing model.

“When we started Knowledge@Wharton in 1999, the nature of the web was very much one-to-many communications,” Pandya says. “Meanwhile, the nature of the web has changed dramatically in the last decade. We introduced a little interactivity, but that was limited to being able to comment on an article, much the way newspapers have done. In the high school edition, you will see the greatest acceptance of social networking capabilities.”

“This is a huge population that is important to reach,” says Mauro F. Guillen, director of the Lauder Institute. “This is the kind of thing that sets Penn apart from other universities.”

“There is no other site that is offering the product that we are offering,” Shell says, adding that she hopes educators will also use the free site to enhance their classroom lessons, especially during these difficult economic times when education budgets are being cut.

Additionally, many states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, have recently instituted laws requiring that financial literacy be taught in high schools, and the new site can help, says Pandya.

“The challenge for schools is they don’t have materials to teach business and that’s where we have a huge opportunity,” he says. “By being the first business school to launch a portal for high school students, we will be able to fill that gap.”

“It’s a collaborative resource, it’s an interactive resource and we hope it will be a site that educators can turn to for help,” Shell says.

“We say that Knowledge@Wharton’s informal tag line is ‘the knowledge behind the news,’ ” says Modi. “I think of the high school site as ‘the knowledge behind your life.’”

Originally published on March 24, 2011