U. of Pennsylvania Students Build Course-Management Software

Joseph Cohen says he’s fed up with Blackboard. The leading course-management software is overloaded with features and dreadfully designed, making simple tasks difficult, says Mr. Cohen, a student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He’s not much kinder to other solutions: “It’s ridiculous,” he says, that some professors still post syllabi as clunky Microsoft Word documents.

Mr. Cohen and a classmate, Dan Getelman, have launched Coursekit, a stripped-down online learning-management system that offers a discussion board, a calendar, a syllabus, and related resources for courses at Penn. Mr. Cohen says he hopes Coursekit’s simple interface and Facebook-inspired tools will help make online discussions in a course as social as the course itself.

“It’s the classic example of a bloated and bad industry,” he says, “and we think it’s about time that it ends.”

A small army of entrepreneurs would like to take down Blackboard, of course—start-up Instructure is just one recent entrant—and Mr. Cohen acknowledges that selling Coursekit to colleges will be a big challenge. To pick one obstacle, Coursekit must convince college officials that a small start-up run by students can provide secure and reliable software over the long term.

Mr. Cohen says his initial strategy is to attract Penn students themselves and force professors to go where the students are. This semester, Coursekit is paying Penn students up to $200 per course to post course information and recruit their classmates. Roughly 600 people have signed up for a Coursekit account, although not all of them are Penn students, he says. Mr. Cohen says he has not yet sought out investors.

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