With school back in session, Vookbag is out to connect classrooms
Vookbag's planner feature helps students keep track of assignments, exams and study group meetings.
Jeffrey Short, a recent University of Northern Iowa graduate and the founder of Vookbag, is hoping students add his software to their back-to-school checklists. About a dozen professors at UNI, Iowa State, Drake University and a couple of community colleges will begin using the web-based program with their classes this fall.
The program, which Short (left) described as "a learning management system on steroids," will allow teachers to create a virtual classroom for their students. Teachers can then create and grade assignments right in the program, post a schedule that will push to the students' devices, track attendance, host discussions and more. Each class will have a board, which Short compared to a Facebook wall, where students and instructors can interact. Students will also have the ability to create private or public online study groups.
"It's a way a classroom can be more interactive between the teacher and students," Short said.
UNI students have had access to the study group functionality since last spring, but the fall semester will bring Vookbag to professors and to more schools across the region.
He hopes to differentiate Vookbag by taking a student's approach to online class activities. He said professors describe the current options as "clunky," so he's trying to make Vookbag as intuitive and user-friendly as possible. Vookbag also hopes to entice students by providing features like hypothetical testing (i.e., "What grade do I need on this project to get an 'A' in the class?"), and save professors from a flood of finals-week emails in the process.
The other major difference? While universities pay $20 to $70 per student for access to Oracle and other learning management systems, Short said, he wants to keep Vookbag free.
So far, Short has been bootstrapping the company. He plans to earn some revenue as an Amazon.com affiliate — if a teacher posts the ISBN for a required text on Vookbag and a student purchases it via the app, Short gets a small cut. Indeed, the initial idea for Vookbag was more centered on digital textbook sales before it expanded into a learning management system.
In the future, Short wants to explore more ways to monetize his company. He's considering a model whereby the base product will remain free but students and teachers could pay to use additional features (for example, an in-app finance calculator for students or a live smartphone polling system for teachers).
But right now he said his main priority is to get Vookbag into users' hands and see how they respond.
See the promotional video below for an overview of Vookbag: