March 5, 2002

GW’s Prometheus Merges with Software Developer Blackboard Inc.

Best-of-Breed Product to be Developed

By Greg Licamele

After humble beginnings inside GW’s Instructional Technology Lab four years ago, the University’s course-based software company Prometheus was recently acquired by Blackboard Inc., the leading course-management system used by 2,200 higher education clients. Bo Davis, Prometheus developer, says merging with a larger company was on the agenda since the software’s inception.

“Ever since GW began marketing Prometheus, the plan was for the software to leave GW at a stage that was safe,” Davis says. “GW was very interested in protecting the faculty and students using the software and knew that the longterm home of Prometheus made more sense in a software company.”

More than 1,400 GW classes use Prometheus, with roughly 80 percent of the student body logging on to check class syllabi, download documents, and engage in group discussions. Students and faculty at GW should expect no immediate changes in the system. However, during the next three years, Davis says the two companies will merge their content into a “best of breed” product.

“Prometheus users, GW included, will have the choice of running Prometheus or Blackboard,” says Davis, now Blackboard’s managing partner of Prometheus software. “As both products upgrade they will be brought together.”

Davis and his staff vacated their offices in the Old Main Building, moving down the road to 19th and L streets. Davis is now responsible for integrating Prometheus employees into the Blackboard organization, while working with clients to make sure their needs are met. Among the 65 Prometheus clients are Vanderbilt University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Stanford Graduate School of Business, London Business School, and the University of Wisconsin.

“From our perspective, the acquisition of Prometheus by Blackboard represents an advantageous situation for us and for higher education institutions,” says Hal Schlais, director of learning technology development at University of Wisconsin system. “Both companies have deep roots in academe, a strong commitment to ease-of-use, and experience in building open and flexible enterprise technologies. We expect to benefit from the joint efforts of the two entities and look forward to the continued success of both platforms at the University of Wisconsin system.”

In addition to joining forces, Blackboard will assume all contractual obligations on behalf of Prometheus and all of Prometheus’s assets.

“We are very pleased to have found Prometheus a home within Blackboard, a Washington, DC, neighbor and market leader that shares Prometheus’s roots in higher education and open systems,” says David Swartz, GW’s chief information officer. “We have always committed to our partner institutions and internal users that the University would ensure the proper support of Prometheus as the operation grew. We are confident that with 2,200 clients in more than 140 countries, Blackboard has the ideal infrastructure, experience, and vision necessary to fulfill that promise.”

Davis says the key to Prometheus’s success rests with the “community” infrastructure.

“With a community source code, other paying universities can go in and see all of the code, modify it, change the name of the product, the functionality of it, and they can build on it,” Davis says. “Prometheus at The Wharton Business School (University of Pennsylvania) is called ‘Web Cafe.’ ”
With Blackboard’s commitment to maintain Prometheus as a community source system, Davis predicts success in merging the two companies.

“The classroom is the university’s core business,” Davis says, “and the online classroom is an important component for traditional courses, as well as for distance courses. It is crucial that the university maintain control of the look and feel of the software that creates these online classrooms. Blackboard, WebCT, eCollege, and the rest of the industry has learned from this and are all moving toward more open and configurable systems.”


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