Philosophy professor develops online course management and assessment system that is going commercial


"Over the years, Naser says, some of his colleagues "have wondered about me. Why am I doing database programming and building web systems?"

Fairfield University has just signed a contract with Connecticut-based Axiom Education to market an online course management and assessment system created by Professor Curtis Naser of the Philosophy Department, who serves as the Facilitator for Academic Assessment. The online system will be marketed to colleges, grammar and secondary schools, and other outlets that might need the useful tools.

Professor Naser joined the Fairfield University faculty in 1995 as a medical ethicist. It's not exactly the career path he anticipated, he admits, but with a nod to his philosophical roots, notes that "programming is all about inferential logic." Over the years, Naser says, some of his colleagues "have wondered about me. Why am I doing database programming and building web systems?" Still, he says, "I have always felt that this work was just doing philosophy otherwise."

He began dabbling in database to web programming in 1999, "initially building a little online quizzing system for my own classes." Soon others on campus were seeking out his tech help and now, after a decade of development and testing on campus, Eidos, the course management and assessment system he created, is going commercial. He and the Rev. Paul Fitzgerald, S.J., senior vice president of academic affairs, recently signed the contract, believed to be the first time there's been a commercial partnership of this kind at the University, which will benefit financially from any sales of the product.

Dr. Orin Grossman, former academic vice president who witnessed and supported the progression of Naser's work, says, "Over the years, seeing it morph into a really impressive line of products had a number of us starting to say, 'this is not just a homegrown solution to something we needed here. It's much more than that."

Eidos, which will be marketed under the name "MENTOR," is designed to leverage course management to facilitate assessment of student learning outcomes. The flexible system can be tailored to individual instructors' needs and has a full suite of electronic communication tools, including discussion board, internal messaging, chat, class and group e-mail, and an electronic grade book integrated with assignments. The unique innovations of the system lie in the integration of assessment of student learning tools directly into the course management system, including a "rubric" engine for creating and using rubrics in grading and assessment.

With his gentle and highly inquisitive nature, it wasn't surprising that Naser would help colleagues build online systems once they saw what he was doing. Dr. Michael Tucker, professor of finance in the Dolan School of Business where he chairs the Continuous Improvement and Assessment Committee, needed online tools to help manage their assessment program, a requirement for AACSB accreditation. The Dolan School of Business looked into various vendors but none could provide what they needed. Before long Naser was rewriting his own course management system to accommodate more than 200 courses and a thousand students in the Dolan School of Business, going live with the newly adapted system in 2005. They knew he had succeeded when The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) cited Eidos as a best practice during its most recent accreditation visit. The Eidos system was also featured in an Advisory Board report to their Council of Provosts as a best practice and an indicator of where assessment software is headed.

Naser really hasn't stopped developing his system and continues to work "on the development of new features." There are currently 380 active courses in the system at Fairfield with over 3,500 students using it this semester, from areas as varied as business, engineering, arts & sciences, education, nursing and continuing education.

Nor was AACSB the only visiting accreditation team to give Eidos high praise. Dr. Mary Frances Malone, associate academic vice president, said Eidos supported the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) accreditation in the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions and was a central part of the University's New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accreditation.

Axiom Education, which will market Eidos under the name MENTOR (http://axiomeducation.us), sees many potential clients who would be interested in the system, said company President Donald Bodner. In the coming months, the Axiom team, which includes Dr. Naser as executive vice president for product development, plans to contact the other 27 Jesuit universities, other colleges, secondary and elementary school systems, and the Diocesan school systems.

A portion of any proceeds will go to the University, and officials are considering various ways to earmark it, said Fr. Fitzgerald. "This is a big moment for Axiom, a big moment for Curt, and a big moment for Fairfield."

 

Image: Edios Mentor, a course management and assessment system designed by Fairfield University philosophy professor Curt Naser, Ph.D., right, is going commercial. He and Rev. Paul Fitzgerald, S.J., senior vice president of academic affairs, left, signed an agreement with Connecticut-based Axiom, represented by Donald E. Bodnar, president, second from left, and Chett Rubenstein, CTO. It is believed to be the first time there has been a commercial partnership of this kind at the University, which will benefit financially from any sales of the product.

 

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on November 10, 2009

Vol. 42, No. 113