By Michelle Nagler ’98
While most Cornell seniors are stressing over resumes and graduate school applications, Daniel Cane ’98 and Stephen Gilfus are concentrating on his company’s first academic marketing conference at the end of next month.
A company based in Ithaca it produces academic software that helps college educators at campuses across the country put their courses online. And there are at least 25 courses at Cornell that use the interactive service, Cane said.
CourseInfo employs 11 Cornell undergraduates and one alumnus, making up the company’s three basic departments: finance, product development and sales and marketing. While nine of the employees major in the College of Engineering, three, including Cane, are agricultural, resource and managerial economics majors (ARME) in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The office works primarily as a team, said Stephen Gilfus ’97, company co-founder and head of sales and marketing.
“It’s not a matter of proportioning it out into little pieces of the pie,” he said.
“It is a full-speed-ahead team effort,” said Cane. “The key, I feel, is trusting and empowering your employees.”
After rapid growth during the summer of 1997, CourseInfo moved from its original headquarters in a room in Cane’s Collegetown house to its new location in the Student Agencies building on College Avenue. From its four-room office, CourseInfo provides its services to clients at universities including the University of California at Berkeley, Clark University and Moorehead State College.
Now in the process of developing version two of its product, the company has plans to expand rapidly in the next year, “hopefully,” said Cane, “to Boston.”
Until now, 15 percent of CourseInfo’s funding has come from student backers, with the rest coming from Cornell alumni and parental support, Cane said. The company now is being looked at by a broader spectrum of investors with greater capital resources, he added.
Cane got the idea for his company during an independent study he completed as a sophomore in 1996. Cindy van Es, senior lecturer in ARME, was Cane’s advisor and was working on a Website for her class.
“I wanted to add interactivity and to go beyond the course Website just being an electronic bulletin board,” she said. “And so I asked Dan to help me to create some parts of the page that would facilitate communication with the students, because I teach a large class. I wanted a way to use the Website to enhance both education and communication.”
After much development, the CourseInfo software now allows users to create a Website that includes a general front page for course announcements, with links to pages such as “Course Documents,” “Staff Information,” “Assignments,” and “Communications.” An educator can choose to put any information on these pages, making materials such as syllabi, course rosters, sample exams and links to other relevant Websites available to students. Also, group project chat rooms and discussion boards are available through CourseInfo, and students can link their own personal e-mail accounts or Web pages. Educators also can post surveys and quizzes, which can be quickly graded or analyzed.
A major goal of CourseInfo is to keep programming to a minimum for faculty members using the service. No knowledge of html, the technical language for creating Web pages, is necessary.
“You can put your class online in less than half an hour,” said Gilfus. “You just need to click and read.”
“I use it for all three of my courses,” said van Es. “I think it is a very good product because it does what faculty members want to do, which is be able to update and enhance their pages without knowing nitty-gritty details of how, technically, to do it.”
Gilfus and Cane point to two main sources of demand for their product: individual professors who want their courses online and universities who are mandating that a certain number of courses be made accessible through the Web. As a result, CourseInfo offers different options for its customers — a university can choose to subscribe or CourseInfo can handle individual courses.
Greg Hearn, an assistant professor of organizational behavior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, uses CourseInfo for ILR 170, “Micro Organizational Behavior.”
“My students find accessing the information very useful. It means they can concentrate in class and take more detailed notes. The ‘announcements’ facility means I can get to the class anytime. For example, some students who went home for the Jewish holidays missed the practice midterm — but they could access it from home. I am from Australia and my colleagues there can even check what I am doing — the external links sections means I can refer to international material.”
CourseInfo’s Website service is available free of charge for Cornell instructors through Cornell Academic Technology Service’s Instruct Web Server. For more information on registering, visit the Instruct Web Server page at . Are these the new fathers of online learning?
The CourseInfo Website is at www.courseinfo.com.