Dubbed the Collaboration Network for Academia, the world's first 'iversity', which has been set up by a team of young entrepreneurs in the small town of Neuenhagen outside Berlin, had its official launch today. Organisers say academics and students now have access to a novel workspace unavailable in other online formats.
With US$1.6 million in venture capital from the European Union, the federal state of Brandenburg and BMP media investors, the platform attracted more than 11,000 users during the start-up phase.
"The funding provides us with a sizeable launch pad. It has enabled us to present a world-class product," said iversity founder Jonas Liepmann.
He said that using the site, lecturers could easily organise courses, research projects and conferences, "all for free". Academics could set up a course website, upload teaching materials and engage with students, share links, references and observations in research groups, and announce events or call for papers.
"Moreover, iversity also provides students with tools for interaction and collaboration that standard e-learning systems do not provide," Liepmann said. "iversity offers what I always felt was lacking during my own studies - possibilities for real student collaboration outside the classroom."
Students could interact with course materials on the website, work together on assignments, and build an archive of learning materials and discussions, among other things.
Co-founder Hannes Klöpper said iversity had appeared at the right moment. Not only was the number of incoming students rising each year in Germany, but changes in the high school system in some federal states meant that two full-year groups would enter universities this semester.
"Rather than just sitting alongside each other in anonymous lectures, iversity will enable students to learn from and with each other online."
The iversity site says 20 young international graduates from a variety of academic backgrounds make up the team. Their home universities include Cambridge in the UK, Columbia, Duke and Princeton in the US, Humboldt Universität and Freie Universität Berlin in Germany, Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris and the National University of Singapore.
In a statement on its website, the team says: "The university has changed little since the days of Gutenberg but students, however, have!
"The internet has become an integral part of our lives. Today, we share ideas online. We socialise online. We learn online. Every day, everywhere - except in the classroom where the laws of Gutenberg [print] continue to prevail. Our universities are still working with blackboards. It is time for a digital revolution on campus. Let us bring the campus experience online!"
The group says their aspiration is to become "the course management platform of choice for instructors and students around the globe". With this in mind, iversity has a cloud-based service that it says will foster "limitless collaboration among academics worldwide".
"Faculty are no longer forced to work with the outdated software in use at their institution. Instead, they can sign up on an individual basis. Our aim is not to replace the university or the academics who work there. Our aim is to empower them."
'...using the site, lecturers could easily organise courses, research projects and conferences, "all for free". Academics could set up a course website, upload teaching materials and engage with students, share links, references and observations in research groups, and announce events or call for papers'.
And this cost $1.6 million? Seriously? I'm continually amazed by how much money people spend on problems that are already solved. In this case, all of the activities they list are already possible to do online through existing free software. All they had to do was hire someone to put it together with a unifying portal.
Putting together three to five freeware programs (most likely writen in different languages anyhow..) would cost more than US$1,6 million. I understand the amazment about the fact that technology that has been out there for two to four years is not yet being properly implemented in univesities.
I remember reading that in the statment from the founders when they explained why they started the project. The extent of software programming, marketing (explaining to university profesors why they should join), and support should not be underestimated.
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