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Posted on Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 5:57 a.m.

University of Michigan startup LectureTools introduces software aimed at improving classroom experience

By Nathan Bomey


LectureTools co-founders (left) Kiran Jagadeesh, Jason Aubree and Perry Samson say their software application improves interactivity in they classroom. Samson, a University of Michigan professor, is known to the business community as a co-founder of Weather Underground Inc.

Angela J. Cesere |

A University of Michigan startup has introduced technology that undercuts the age-old collegiate tradition of napping during class.

Ann Arbor-based startup LectureTools is fielding a windfall of interest for its new web-based classroom software application, a product modeled after a research version created under the leadership of U-M professor and Weather Underground Inc. co-founder Perry Samson.

The company, founded in 2010 and nurtured last year at U-M's TechArb student-led business incubator, signed a lease for office space on the second-floor of an East Liberty Street building in downtown Ann Arbor and has 11 employees, including eight full-time.

Now, LectureTools is seeking new software engineers and sales talent to fuel the company's growth as professors throughout the country catch on to how LectureTools improves the classroom lecture experience for teachers and students.

The commercial product, introduced two weeks ago, exists solely on the web and can be accessed anywhere. It integrates PowerPoint presentations, allowing professors to interact with students by conducting real-time polls, fielding questions digitally and monitoring student comprehension of lecture topics.

While a professor is speaking, students can follow a PowerPoint presentation on their laptop, take notes that are tied to individual slides and swivel between lectures from past classes.

Samson, the company's acting CEO, said LectureTools improves student performance — especially in large lecture halls, where it's hard for students and professors to make a personal connection.

"Most students are intimidated to ask a question in front of a large audience," Samson said, adding that he created LectureTools "partly to allow better communication between myself and students. Part of it was allowing me to understand what the students understood and what they don't understand."

Samson's LectureTools co-founders are 2010 U-M graduate Jason Aubrey, director of sales and marketing, and recent master's grad Kiran Jagadeesh, lead engineer.

The company has leveraged $650,000 in Phase 1 and Phase 2 Small Business Innovation Research grants from the U.S. government and internal research funding from U-M to reach its current stage.

But Aubrey said the company may seek angel investment soon. Since LectureTools was founded by licensing intellectual property in coordination with the U-M Technology Transfer Office, the university owns an equity stake in LectureTools.

For now, the company is dealing with a wave of new interest since it officially introduced the commercial version of its product two weeks ago. LectureTools is set to be used by more than 4,000 students at U-M for free during the fall semester.

For revenue, the company plans to charge an educational institution for access — although the institution may choose to pass the cost along to students in the form of a "lab fee" of sorts, Aubrey said. He said it would cost $15 per user for one semester, $25 for two semesters or $60 for unlimited use for five years.

LectureTools is promoting an internal study conducted by the U-M Center for Research on Learning and Teaching showing that the research version of LectureTools boosted student engagement in the classroom.

Early clients include professors at Indiana University, Ohio State University, Ball State University, the University of North Texas and Texas A&M University.

"We have interested faculty at dozens of institutions," Aubrey said.

For college students, software like LectureTools could eventually replace the infamous "clickers" that allow students to cast "votes" during class but generally limit interactivity.

"Every student has a front row seat because they have LectureTools," Aubrey said.

Next, the company wants to introduce versions of its software for mobile devices such as Apple's iPad and iPhone and devices powered by Google's Android operating system. The company also has a vision of introducing a new version of digital textbooks.

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.



Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 2:24 p.m.

I find it amazing what assumptions are built into these products. Let's challenge some of those assumptions. First, PowerPoint is often a lazy way to make what could be an interesting lecture boring. Here's Edward Tufte's critique of PowerPoint: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Second, people often look to technology for a silver bullet to fix what's wrong with education. In Sunday's New York Times, there's an extensive article challenging the notion that incorporating technology into the classroom improves learning: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Third, if asking questions or lecture halls with hundreds of students are impediments to learning, are there more direct ways of addressing those issues?


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 4:41 p.m.

Thanks for those two links. I thought both articles were quite informative. Power Point is useful for graphical depiction of complex relationships, such as governmental departments, biological processes, or decision trees. Otherwise, engage students with dialogue, give and take. Technology has its place, but it has become the tail wagging the dog, rather than using it as a tool (but only a tool) to accomplish what cannot be accomplished with nontechnological means. On top of that, it is expensive and it has built into both the software and hardware virtual planned obsolescence.


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 1:39 p.m.

This is an interesting idea. I can certainly see it encouraging students to ask questions via the computer, where they might be hesitant to ask publicly in a class. What I'm a little less comfortable about is the way the software is paid for. Tacking on yet another fee will make college even more expensive for students.

Long Time No See

Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 3:10 p.m.

Students pay for the clickers and other tools that this can replace. This software can provide a significantly enhanced experience in class, giving the students more value for their time and money.

Stephen Landes

Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 1:36 p.m.

I've used LectureTools during a demonstration lecture a couple of years ago and found it to be just as described in this article -- a wonderful tool for working with students in a classroom or lecture hall.


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 12:33 p.m.

I bet it will be better at fleecing the public then educating people.


Tue, Sep 6, 2011 : 3:17 p.m.

That a comment like this nets 11 votes should be a clear sign to that the whole vote/recommender system on this site is not working very well.


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 1:59 p.m.

Alright you have a student afraid to ask a question in class so you let him sit behind a computor sreen to ask it? How does that work in real life when your boss asks you a question?


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 1:47 p.m.


Joel A. Levitt

Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 11:03 a.m.

Imagine canned descriptions of complicate diseases and medical procedures or of the issues in legal proceedings or of the duties of and tools available to people new to their jobs. Imagine the opportunity to ask and answer questions after, instead of during, a busy day. Imagine the time saving and improved understanding. Congratulations to Samson, Aubree and Jagadeesh -- hope you can extend your ideas to other fields.


Tue, Sep 6, 2011 : 3:17 p.m.

Sorry, Joel. I was being flip. Your comment did not lend itself to making your point clearly. Reread your first sentence and you'll see it sounds like you're asking people to imagine Wikipedia. I realize making a point by starting with a series of &quot;Imagine ...&quot; sentences is a bit of a trope, often used in ads. You just have to make sure that what you ask people to imagine doesn't already and obviously exist. Contrast these two: Imagine a newspaper-like entity where readers can add comments to articles.... vs. Imagine a discussion forum where commenters strive to make their carefully considered points clearly and respectfully....

Joel A. Levitt

Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 3:40 p.m.

Peregrine, What is your point? I am thinking about first communications between doctor and patient, with an opportunity for patients to ask for clarification.


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 2:26 p.m.

Joel A. Levitt writes: &quot;Imagine canned descriptions of complicate diseases....&quot; Joel, let me introduce you to Wikipedia: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Joel A. Levitt

Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 1:38 p.m.

Alan, Yes, at this moment it is an interactive classroom tool, but it is also a seed.


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 11:49 a.m.

Odd, I didn't read any of that in this article. It sounds to me like an interactive classroom tool, nothing more.