Introducing Campuswire Courses (and some thoughts on monetization):

Brian Aubrey Smith
Nov 11 · 7 min read

We’ve spent the past few years building software to help make teaching large courses easy, both online and in-person.

Today, tens of thousands of professors and TAs use Campuswire to teach hundreds of thousands of students each year.

The last several months have been marked by seismic changes in the way college classes are delivered. We’ve spent them listening to professor and TA feedback to build new features and ship frequent updates that we think make Campuswire the most powerful teaching and learning tool in the world for both remote and traditional college classes.

But the landscape of higher education is changing.

Most of those changes (large courses moving online, more asynchronous lectures, students dispersed across various time zones) have made it nearly impossible for great teaching faculty to deliver large, intro lecture courses at their previous levels, making the need for a great online learning tool even more glaring…

Today, we launch Campuswire Courses: a platform for amazing teaching faculty to offer the same courses they teach at their current institutions, only to students anywhere.

Some of our professors have described it as “Coursera or EdX, but if all the courses were live, and you actually got to interact with the professors”.

That’s the key to Campuswire Courses — all courses on Campuswire Courses are synchronous and feature as much professor-to-student and student-to-student interaction as in-person classes.

Beginning today, our monetization model is built on Campuswire Courses rather than Campuswire Pro. As part of that transition, Campuswire Pro is now free beginning in January 2021.

Here’s how Campuswire Courses works: first, it’s all powered by Campuswire. Instructors will be able to offer the complete, full-term courses they normally teach, now on Campuswire Courses, which will be run on all of the great teaching and learning tools we’ve already built into Campuswire.

All courses on Campuswire Courses are live and will have regular meeting times for lectures and seminars and office hours — just like on-campus classes.

Students anywhere in the country and world will be able to sign up for courses on Campuswire Courses. They’ll receive a world-class learning experience from an awesome teaching professor.

Professors will be able to offer the courses they already teach at their existing institutions to a larger audience of students who they previously couldn’t reach.

The core of what we’re trying to achieve with Courses is to:

  1. Increase access to domain experts; today the only way to take a course from the world’s domain experts, from cybersecurity to political science, is to enroll at a top university. This arbitrarily limits access to most of the world’s experts.
  2. Increase professors’ ability to monetize their expertise; we don’t pay our teachers enough. Everyone who’s paying attention knows this. So we’re creating a new platform that will help the best teachers — those rockstar faculty who actually love teaching — to derive more value from their expertise.

Here’s the tl:dr on the most important questions about why we’re making this shift and what it means for our users:

  1. What sparked this change?

Simply put, three things: 1) getting to know amazing faculty, 2) the progressively difficult task of monetizing ed-tech and 3) our desire to keep the Campuswire platform free.

Over the years, as we’ve gotten to know professors more, we’ve become more aware of several other problems beyond the teaching challenges they face — most importantly, we’ve learned a lot about the low faculty wage problem.

Many large, intro-level courses (some of the most important classes that students can take as they build a foundation in their chosen major) are taught by adjuncts. Not only are these adjuncts underpaid by any measure, often making less than $3,500/course, they’re stuck teaching and managing the courses that require the most time and administration.

On one of our regular campus visits ahead of the Fall 2019 term, we met up with a professor for a demo and realized he was living out of his office.

He couldn’t afford to live within an hour of the campus of the top-50 university he was teaching at, so he slept in his office when he was scheduled to teach the next day.

Other instructors pay out of pocket for course materials or simply don’t have the budget or resources to teach their course in the way they’d like.

Since our meeting in that professor’s office, we’ve been thinking about how we can help faculty derive more value from their expertise (and about how finding ways for faculty to be better paid for that expertise might attract more of the best and brightest to teaching).

We’ve also been able to meet hundred of gifted and driven professors who are teaching courses their students love. That started us thinking about how we can provide more students access to these instructors and learning experiences.

This year has also made the medium-term prospects for monetization in ed-tech meaningfully more difficult.

The market for teaching tools, especially pedagogical tools that include video chat, is now a red ocean. Our previous monetization model was built on Campuswire Pro in a pre-pandemic world of higher education that has changed radically in the past six months. The market is filling with giants like Zoom (some of whom can offer their tools for free or nearly free) and better-funded competitors (think Microsoft, Blackboard) who are incentivized to shut us out of the market by signing long-term deals with campus decision makers who are overwhelmed and understandably scrambling to provide uniform, established tools to their faculty.

The shift to remote instruction and the resulting drops in enrollments, revenues, and endowments has also been driving a tightening of the purse strings and an overall consolidation of teaching software by universities, leaving us in a fight with our competitors for a small share (20% at best) of a shrinking market. We were up for the fight and funded to take on the challenge, but now we’re more excited to enter a larger (and growing) market where we can make a bigger impact.

2. How does this affect our business model?

If we’d continued along the path laid out for us in our previous approach, we’d be forced to adopt one of the traditional ed-tech business models, all of which we find soulless or nefarious or uninspiring.

Think of Blackboard’s approach of selling software to administrators who in most cases don’t use the tool and don’t understand the needs of faculty and students. Think of Piazza’s model of selling student data (whether students know it or not) to recruiters and corporations. Think of iClicker and others like Packback who offer simple apps and push faculty to push the cost onto students.

We don’t want to spend the next ten years of our lives building around one of those models — we’re motivated to build an incredible tool for education, not in assembling the most expensive sales team or the best algorithm for advertising to students.

This new approach provides a monetization model that a) allows us to continue building the best teaching and learning tool in the world by listening to the people doing the actual teaching and learning, b) only works when we provide tons of educational value to students and professors, not when we sell tons of ads or data and c) actually motivates and inspires us to keep working on this challenge.

3. You’re an instructor or TA who already uses Campuswire in their class — what does this new model mean for you?

Only good things :) As we’ve promised from Day 1, Campuswire Basic has always been and always will be free.

Beginning in the January 2021 term, Campuswire Pro is now also completely free as well.

For our existing users, nothing else changes. We’ve ensured that in this new model, our incentives are still aligned with the instructors who use Campuswire every day to deliver their classes.

Campuswire Courses will be run entirely on Campuswire. For Campuswire Courses to work, Campuswire has to be the best teaching and learning platform available.

This means we’ll be able to/will have to ship updates and build new features for Basic and Pro more quickly. Every improvement made to Campuswire Courses directly benefits users of Campuswire, and vice versa (and because we’ll be growing more quickly, we’ll have more engineering resources to devote to improving Campuswire at an even more rapid pace).

Why Campuswire Courses is Important

Campuswire Courses helps us bring great instruction to more students. This helps remedy the “low faculty wage problem” and gives more students (despite any existing geographical and financial barriers) access to the best teaching faculty at elite universities.

As it stands, there’s asymmetrical student access to the best instructors. Students accepted to (and able to afford) R1 institutions can take in-person classes from some of the best researchers and best teaching faculty in the world. Others, like those who choose community colleges, more affordable four-year institutions, or just a campus close to home, may not have as much access to the most elite teaching faculty.

We want to remedy that asymmetry by providing more widespread access to courses taught by the best faculty and the launch of Campuswire Courses is only the first step.

— —

That covers the basics of our thinking behind building Campuswire Courses and centering our monetization strategy around it. We ask a lot of our users by asking them to entrust their classes to us and in terms of sharing the feedback that helps us improve, so we think it’s important to be radically transparent and share as much as we can about the decisions we make at Campuswire.

We’ve got much more in the works which we’ll be discussing in the weeks and months to come — stay tuned.

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out at tade@campuswire.com or brian@campuswire.com

Image for post
Image for post

Campuswire

We're on a mission to optimize the world’s teaching and…

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store