Prometheus Unbound: University Competes with Courseware Giants

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON

While officials at George Washington University (GWU) have long relied upon home-grown software tools to handle computing needs at the Washington-based school they didn't anticipate that other schools might also want to put GWU software to use for their own benefit. After learning about Prometheus, GWU's courseware that allows faculty to place course material on the Internet, Vanderbilt University officials in 1999 approached GWU officials about giving the customizable software a try.

More than a year after it was licensed to Vanderbilt, Promotheus is in use by 30 college and university clients around the United States, according to GWU officials. Although school officials decline to release any figures on GWU's investment in and revenues from Prometheus, the university regards the market interest and deals as promising for a future for-profit spin-off company.

"(The Prometheus venture) is being incubated by the university," says Bo Davis, the chief developer and managing director of Prometheus. Originating from Greek mythology, Prometheus is the name of the god who gave fire to humankind.

The enterprise is currently staffed by 25 people with expectations that Prometheus will employ a total of 40 by the summer, according to officials.

Davis says GWU is interested in attracting strategic partners to the venture not unlike the online distance-education consortiums that have sprung up in recent times, such as Columbia University's Fathom project The market environment for course management systems (CMS) developers, is stacked with competitors, including Blackboard and WebCT, the two best-known Web-based courseware developers.

"We built (Prometheus) to meet the needs of this university instead of the marketplace (of colleges and universities)," Davis says.

Prometheus allows students in classroom-based courses to have online discussions, view posted lecture notes and conduct online presentations. A number of the client schools and GWU also use Prometheus as the software platform for their online distance-education courses.

Prometheus clients include Columbia Business School, Columbia Teachers College, Wharton School of Business, the New School, New York University and Vanderbilt University.

OPEN ARCHITECTURE

Without the benefit of heavy marketing and promotion, Prometheus has attracts a following largely through word-of-mouth during the first year of licensing, Davis explains, College and university information technology officials say they like the software primarily because it's more customizable than its commercial counterparts. The ability to customize Prometheus, allowing IT professionals to integrate it with other parts of a school's academic and administrative computing environments is an attractive feature of the software package, according to its users. …