Interview | Goodbye Gutenberg Galaxy, Hello iversity

Very little change has occurred in the university over the past several centuries and, in too many classrooms across the world, the laws of Gutenberg’s Galaxy still prevail. “Faculty and students at universities around the globe suffer from inadequate digital infrastructures,” says Hannes Klopper (pictured, right), managing director of iversity, a course management platform for instructors and students. “We want to bring the kinds of applications that students are familiar with in their private lives into the academy.” Jonas Liepmann (pictured, left), another managing director and also a co-founder of iversity, joins Hannes to talk more about iversity offerings and what sets them apart from the likes of Blackboard, Moodle and other competitors. From a humble student project on scholarship from the German Federal Ministry of Science and Technology to a global venture with million-euro backing from BFB and bmp media investors—the free, cloud-based platform allows people to sign up on an individual basis for limitless collaboration.

Victor: What does the name mean?

Hannes: There is no specific meaning, but there is obviously a clear relation to other words such as university and diversity that indicate where we are coming from.

Victor: What is it? Who created it?

Jonas: I founded iversity as a student project and raised an initial grant for it. Hannes joined me in 2011 so as to raise funding for the project and turn it into a company.

Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?

Hannes: We provide what is essentially a blend of an online social network and a workspace for groups of people collaborating around documents. This can happen in a variety of settings in academia such as courses, research projects and conferences.

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?

Hannes: There are a number of companies that are active in this space—Blackboard and Moodle being the most widely known. Technologically, the major difference between us and them is that we are a cloud-native solution. From a users’ perspective, the major difference certainly is usability and design. Most solutions out there are eyesores.

Jonas: There are a few startups that also have decided to tackle this market with a SaaS solution. However, none of them conceives of it as a network. iversity is essentially a global directory of classes that enables students and instructors to also collaborate across institutional boundaries.

Victor: When was it developed? What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?

Hannes: Founded as a student project in early 2009, we raised over a million dollars last summer. The current incarnation of iversity launched on September 26, 2011, and we have been growing rapidly since then.

Victor: Where did it originate? Where can you get it now?

Jonas: iversity was founded in Berlin. But as a cloud solution, the platform is available anywhere in the world. Any instructor or student can just go and sign up for free. Our print-on-demand feature is currently available in four markets: Australia, Germany, the UK and the US.

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Hannes: iversity is free for individual users.

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

Jonas: You can get a good idea of what using iversity is like from our tutorial videos. Social reading is a particularly exciting idea that can really change the way a seminar works.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?

Hannes: iversity is tailored to faculty and students who are looking for a course management tool that offers a great user experience and some features that encourage peer-to-peer learning. As to whom it is not for? Unicorns, maybe?

Victor: Haha! Alright, what are your thoughts on education these days?

Hannes: I have a lot to say about this, since I am about to publish a book on the university in the 21st century. It will appear in English later this year. In a nutshell: given how our lives are changing outside of universities, we have to fundamentally rethink who is doing what, how and why in education.

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating iversity?

Hannes: I experienced the lack of any sort of interactive and collaborative tools at the institutions I attended as extremely frustrating, since the potential benefits these could have are so apparent. This is what motivates me to work on building a new and better tool for future generations of students.

Victor: Got any interesting anecdotes from your experiences with iversity? 

Hannes: I recently spoke to a university administrator who told me that they were already using an open source tool (one that I know is ridiculously outdated). Yet he affirmed verbatim: “…we have no need for improvement.” I think it is this attitude that we have to overcome. As someone who is keenly aware of the transformative potential of technology, I find it very difficult to deal with this attitude that essentially states that we have already arrived at the end of history.

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of iversity? 

Hannes: iversity takes a bottom-up approach. We are working on this because we were frustrated that something like iversity didn’t exist when we were students. So if they are at all interested in why students aren’t happy with the existing solutions they should compare what’s being used at their institution to what we have built. There is a reason that more than 6,000 and 2,000 people respectively ‘like’ the ‘I hate Mooodle’ and ‘I hate Blackboard’ pages on Facebook!

Victor: Okay, well – thank you both very much, Hannes and Jonas!

Hannes: You’re welcome!

Jonas: Thank you!

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