University sells Prometheus, expands campus usage

The popularity of GW’s online educational resource, Prometheus, has grown on campus and led to its purchase by universities in the United States and Canada.

On an average day during the first week of classes, more than 2,000 people logged on to the online academic tool that allows teachers to post syllabi, host discussions and test students over the internet. Program Coordinators said they expect usage to reach 4,000 hits a day within the next few weeks.

In addition to its fast-growing popularity on GW’s campus, Prometheus has become widely used on other campuses in the United States and Canada.

Last week, GW licensed the program to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

Fourteen colleges and universities have purchased GW’s Prometheus software.

GW’s Prometheus staff is also expected to experience major growth, from the 11 members who currently work at developing and marketing the software, to an projected staff of 30 employees by February 2001, officials said.

(Prometheus) has caught on faster than any other specific instructional program, including e-mail, said Bill Longwell, Vanderbilt University’s director of the microcomputer laboratories. Vanderbilt was one of the first universities to use the program after GW developed it about three years ago.

The expansion of Prometheus occurred so fast that even those responsible for the system are astonished.

In a two-year period we’ve gone from start-up to almost full implementation, said David Swartz, chief information officer for GW’s Information Systems and Services. I’ve never seen anything take off like that.

The brainchild of a team that includes former GW students Bo Davis and Brad Beecher, Prometheus is the final incarnation of a project that began three and a half years ago in GW’s Intelligence Technology Lab.

Davis dubbed the name for the online classroom from the ancient Greek god Prometheus, who brought fire and enlightenment to mankind.

GW faculty and students were first able to utilize the program in the fall of 1998.

Since its inception, Prometheus has grown to accommodate more than 1,000 courses at GW. During its growth, Prometheus remains a department of the University and GW continues to fund the Prometheus group and share in its decision-making process.

GW faculty members also provided input during the development of Prometheus in order to help shape the application to meet the needs of educators.

Davis continues to be the primary mover in the increased usage of Prometheus among GW’s faculty and students and its spread to other college campuses.

From his office on the third floor of 1922 F St., the 26-year-old Davis heads the Prometheus staff in the development and marketing of the application. The marketing team has discovered considerable success.

New York University, the Rochester Institute of Technology, the Wharton School, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Toronto have adopted Prometheus as their official online classroom since May 1999.

Prometheus service at Vanderbilt began in May 1999 when the university became a guinea pig for testing the program on other campuses, Longwell said.

This fall, Vanderbilt’s Prometheus system will carry 450 courses.

Longwell said Vanderbilt was first attracted to Prometheus because of its very informal, collegial process.

Prometheus offers licensing for the program to other campuses for a minimum fee of $15,000. Universities receive a technical expert to install the system, a trainer to teach the faculty how to use the application and the technology to run 250 courses concurrently.

Universities pay an additional $10,000 for every 100 classes added after the initial 250 courses.

The Prometheus staff markets its technology in a variety of ways, using print, sales calls and offering what are called faculty travel grants, a program that pays a faculty member’s travel expenses to a conference if the faculty member agrees to demonstrate the usefulness of the product, Davis said.

As Prometheus’s popularity grows around the country, Davis said his team will remain loyal to its academic base.

Our main competitors are owned largely by venture capital, but we plan to stay with academia, Davis said.

Another aspect of Prometheus Longwell said he found appealing was it’s open source code, which allows universities to customize the application to meet their own specific needs.

The constant interplay among faculty in the development and customization of Prometheus has resulted in what both Longwell and Davis call a very academic environment.

The application was customized to fit into an already existing system at Vanderbilt, creating what Longwell called a one-stop place of inquiry.

GW is working on a similar integrated system known as a portal that will provide what Swartz called a stop and shop enterprise solution, combining the services of banner registration, Prometheus, Webmail and the ALADIN system into one interface.

The portal should be ready for GW users by October, Swartz said.

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