Lately there has been a lot of talk about education technology in these parts. For example, MIT and Harvard are about to put more classes online with their new, $60 million edX partnership. But are universities really taking advantage of the latest tech trends? Though they were early adopters of the Web, they seem to be behind in areas like mobile apps, services, and social technologies.
For the latest thinking on that, I checked in with Modo Labs, a Cambridge, MA-based startup working on mobile software for colleges, companies, and hospitals. It’s been one year since Modo Labs released Kurogo, its open source platform for designing mobile websites and apps. In that time, nearly 200 organizations—including universities like Harvard, Boston College, Georgetown, Villanova, and University of British Columbia— have adopted the platform to make their websites and information available on smartphones and tablets.
“Universities are seen as laggards in adoption of technologies, but they’re in a really good position,” says Andrew Yu, Modo Labs’ CEO (see photo above). A reasonable goal for colleges, he says, is to give students, faculty, and others “the ability to access information and do transactions” from any device. The broader trend, he adds, is “allowing access to the information, whether [students] are at the campus or halfway around the world.”
To that end, Yu thinks “mobile will play some role” in online education projects like edX, but that’s just one piece of the tech puzzle. Making textbooks and other course materials available on tablets is another piece, he says. And the idea of incorporating in-class response systems and “clickers” for students to give real-time feedback to professors and lecturers via smartphones is intriguing. As would be structured ways for students to interact with each other while studying, doing homework, and learning key concepts.
“The social piece could emerge as one of the key areas,” Yu says.
Some other emerging mobile applications he’s seen involve classroom logistics, room reservations, indoor campus maps, and a “free-food finder” at MIT (that one would be popular indeed). The relevance to Modo Labs, of course, is that “Kurogo makes it much easier and faster to play with ideas,” Yu says.
But the Kurogo platform could also go beyond mobile, as the term “mobile software” starts to become redundant and other systems (like desktop browsers) use design concepts from mobile apps and services, says Marshall Vale, Modo’s chief technology officer. Indeed, Yu sees his company’s strategy as “leading with mobile and expanding it out to other devices.” Web applications, for example, “can really be an extension of mobile from our perspective,” he says.
Modo Labs previously raised $4 million in Series A funding from Storm Ventures and New Magellan Ventures. The company, which has 30-plus employees, will be looking to raise a B round as part of its “land-grabbing strategy” to go after more universities, hospitals, and big companies, says Yu.
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