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CourseNetworking combines academics and social networking to improve teaching and learning

April 8, 2014

CyberLab, a key part of IUPUI’s research past, is finding new ways for its students and research teams to make their mark in the world of educational software through a new commercial product called CourseNetworking, also known as CN or theCN.com.


CyberLab director Ali Jafari, left, works with student Stephen Gurthet to solve an issue with CyberLab's latest educational software product, CourseNetworking. | PHOTO COURTESY OF CYBERLAB

CyberLab, directed by Ali Jafari of the School of Engineering and Technology, is a research and development center created in the 1990s in the school. But it also has roots in IU’s information technology initiatives.

CyberLab also has a new physical home in IUPUI’s new Science Engineering Laboratory Building, where students have an opportunity to hone their technology innovation and development skills.

The lab allows colleges and universities to incorporate cutting-edge educational software into teaching and learning efforts (through multimedia and electronic instructional tools) that improve the quality of education that students receive in a wide range of disciplines.

The power of CyberLab, Jafari believes, is its connections to applied research.

“Students find themselves working on real-life projects,” said Alica Zhao, associate director of CyberLab. “This is a valuable experience for them. It’s different from working all night to finish a paper. In our lab, students are proud of their work.”

Undergraduate students play a key role in CyberLab, Jafari said. And they have made a difference for more than a decade, as Jafari and his teams developed such high-profile products as Oncourse, Angel Learning, Epsilen and CourseNetworking. Angel Learning remains one of the shining stars of technology transfer in IU’s long history.

“CyberLab has a rich tradition of building on the efforts of both students and researchers,” Jafari said. “Students are key members of the teams that design and refine our software projects.”

But while demonstrating an ability to work as part of a team -- a valuable asset to future employers -- CyberLab students also have individual responsibilities, Jafari added. And they often find themselves working on web-based projects and digital apps, for instance.

“What the students take away depends on what they do on a given project,” Jafari said. “But it definitely becomes the number-one bullet point in their resume. They prove they can perform in real-world situations. It’s quite a coup for them to mention their experiences here.”

Students’ ties to Jafari, known as a key player in learning management systems, also help on their career path. His past successes (such as Oncourse and Angel) dovetail well with his latest invention, CourseNetworking, an academic social networking site.

The education software has already launched in several countries, including areas of Asia. It has Jafari excited about the product’s future.

“CourseNetworking is a totally new type of learning management system,” he said. “It’s like putting Oncourse and Facebook into a box, then shaking it up so that students have a system that looks a lot like Facebook.”

That look and feel is valuable, Jafari said, because it fits what today’s students want: something they recognize and feel comfortable with, that can excite and inspire them.

“It’s a completely different paradigm, one that is truly changing the way the world learns,” he added.

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