University of Michigan startup LectureTools introduces software aimed at improving classroom experience
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
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.