Web spinoff on track for major growth spurt

The time has come for WebCT Education Technologies Corp.

Since its creation in March 1997, the UBC spinoff company has grown to dominate the world market for on-line teaching. Now part of U.S.-based Internet leader, Universal Learning Technology (ULT), it has become even more powerful and is poised to help grow B.C.'s high tech sector.

"ULT will provide us with financial stability as well as management and marketing experience to fuel our continued rapid growth," says WebCT founder and president Murray Goldberg, a senior instructor of Computer Science at UBC.

WebCT's new partner is committed to supporting its products, aggressively funding development, and maintaining its pricing policies Goldberg says.

"Our current employees will remain in Vancouver and we will be hiring aggressively both here, and in Peabody, Mass., where ULT is based," he says.

A leading provider of Internet-based interactive teaching and learning software and tools, ULT is backed by CMGI Inc., a hugely successful company which specializes in Internet startups and has launched dozens of companies including Lycos and Geocities.

WebCT software delivers on-line courses to about two million students in more than 700 universities and colleges in 36 countries.

It makes the creation of sophisticated on-line educational environments by non-technical users easier. Because it is entirely Web-based, no software is required by students or instructors, other than a Web browser.

Besides organizing course material on the Web, it also provides a wide variety of tools and features that can be added, including conferencing and on-line chats, student progress tracking and self-evaluation, auto-marked quizzes, student homepages, course content searches, and much more.

Encouraged by Science Dean Maria Klawe to combine his computer expertise and teaching strengths, Goldberg began work on WebCT in 1995 when he obtained a grant from UBC's Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund.

After he demonstrated WebCT at a conference in Paris in mid-1996 he got hundreds of requests for the technology.

At first he gave it away, but later charged a licence fee to finance support services for a growing number of users. With no venture backers or marketers, WebCT's market share grew more than 50 per cent larger than its nearest competitor.

Further proof of the intense interest in WebCT is a first annual conference sponsored by the corporation and the Faculty of Science at UBC, June 17-18. It is sold out.

The software is still free to faculty who want to test it. There are no fees until students begin to use it. An institution using WebCT for 50,000 students pays only $2,750 (US) annually.

UBC retains ownership of the technology and will collect licensing fees.

"WebCT, which is expanding its premises at the research station on the university, is one example of a UBC spinoff company success story," says Angus Livingstone, associate director of UBC's University-Industry Liaison Office.

In the past 15 years, 81 spinoff companies have been created from UBC technology, employing more than 2,000 people, mostly in B.C.

For more information on WebCT view the Web site www.webct.com.