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Blackboard Buys iPhone-Application Company

July 15, 2009

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. -- Continuing its expansion moves, Blackboard announced on Tuesday that it has purchased a student-run company that produces iPhone applications.

Blackboard bought TerriblyClever Design for $4 million. Officials announced the purchase here at the Blackboard annual conference.

TerriblyClever was founded in 2007 by two Stanford students, Kayvon Beykpour and Joe Bernstein. Their MobilEdu application lets users access a host of campus services on their iPhones or other mobile devices. Students can examine the course catalog, find out how the football team is faring, watch lectures on YouTube and navigate their way around campus using GPS.

Since debuting an early version of MobileEdu at Stanford last October, the undergraduates have adapted the product for Duke University, Texas A&M University and the University of California at San Diego, among other campuses. Stanford's application has been downloaded 45,000 times, not just by students, but also parents, prospective students, alumni and visitors, Beykpour said.

"What we wanted to do is create some sort of product to bring all these services together and put it in one place," said Beykpour, a rising senior who runs TerriblyClever on top of juggling his computer science classes.

In his keynote address, Michael Chasen, Blackboard's president and CEO, praised TerriblyClever for its innovation and expertise in mobile, Web-based education. Chasen first heard of the company when he sat on the judging panel for AT&T's 2008 Big Mobile on Campus Challenge, in which Beykpour and three friends won $10,000 for best mobile-phone application. Blackboard hopes to now expand MobilEdu to many colleges and schools.

Blackboard's acquisition of TerriblyClever isn't its first encounter with the iPhone: In March, it launched Blackboard Learn, an application that allows users to access their Blackboard pages. But the purchase does reflect the company's desire to remain the dominant player in the course management business, with some of its clients opting for smaller companies like Sakai and Moodle. Earlier this year, Blackboard released a newly designed interface featuring increased Web 2.0 and "social learning" tools.

In a controversial move, Blackboard shelled out $95 million in May 2008 to buy Angel Learning, an e-learning software developer, continuing a pattern -- evident Tuesday -- of growing in part by purchasing other companies. That move angered some higher education administrators who have criticized the quality of Blackboard's customer service. Former Angel leader Ray Henderson, who is now with Blackboard, spoke at length about Blackboard's commitment to customer service at Tuesday's conference.

Barry Singer, chief operating officer of Education Online Services, said in an interview that the TerriblyClever purchase narrows the online-education market even further. His clients include the learning management system eCollege, which competes with Blackboard. "I'm not sure what it's going to do to some of the creativity out there," he said. "[Blackboard] is certainly a solid platform that's been around for many years, but sometimes it takes a little more time to move that giant boat and turn it, so it won't be as nimble or agile as it may have been in the past."

He added, "There will be fewer opportunities in learning management systems with them acquiring all the companies they've been gobbling up lately, and not as many options for schools to choose from."

 

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