Inventors at the University of Arizona Libraries have developed an e-learning platform that allows users to create easy-to-build tutorials, teaching users how to use website-based tools. The system, originally created to teach students how to use complex library databases, has now been licensed to startup Sidecar Learning.
The startup team, consisting of company co-founders Jason Dewland and Yvonne Mery, worked with Tech Launch Arizona, or TLA – the office of the UA that commercializes inventions stemming from the work of University faculty and staff – to mature, strategize and license the technology into the company.
“With this platform,” Dewland says, “anyone can create a tutorial and turn the World Wide Web into an interactive classroom.”
The company name, derived from the concept of a motorcycle sidecar, was chosen because it is reflective of how the software functions. When users enter a URL into the Sidecar web software in a browser, it opens a sidebar that takes up about 10 percent of the window. Within that window, educators can build experiences to guide learners through web pages, ask interactive questions, provide real-time feedback and assess understanding.
Along with being pedagogically sound, the system is easy to use, Dewland says, allowing educators to build lessons quickly and efficiently.
Dewland and Mery worked with TLA and the McGuire Program for Entrepreneurship in the UA Eller College of Management to take advantage of the myriad services available to develop the strategy for Sidecar Learning.
As they worked with TLA team members on licensing the intellectual property, they entered into TLA’s NSF I-Corps Program, which focuses on getting inventors “out of their buildings” to interview potential customers to learn about their needs. With their I-Corps funding, Dewland and Mery traveled to the 2017 DevLearn conference in Las Vegas, where they were able to talk with corporate instructional designers from all over the world.
“Through those interviews, we learned that libraries are not focused on creating good user experiences and that the market for teaching people to use the web for everything from doing research to taking surveys to voting would benefit from an instructional system like Sidecar,” Dewland said. “We saw that we have a clear market opportunity, and we’ve got the product to do it.”
Sidecar also took advantage of TLA’s Asset Development Program to help fund the software build.
TLA Assistant Vice President Doug Hockstad, who started his career in the software industry, is excited about the company’s potential for impact and the opportunity it represents for other future UA technology startups.
“With all the software development going on across the UA,” he said, “we know there are huge opportunities out there to move these solutions being created by amazing UA developers out into the marketplace where they can really make a difference. All we need is for them to come to us and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this idea.’”
Sidecar already has its first customer: the University of Nebraska – Lincoln.
“As a teaching librarian, I’m thrilled with the new platform,” said Erica DeFrain, assistant professor and social sciences librarian at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. “I’m very impressed by Sidecar’s thoughtfulness in design, simplicity of use and support for authentic learning experiences. It allows me to focus on the pedagogy of my online instruction instead of the tool itself, which is critical as the library seeks to engage with more learners.”