Startup Licenses UA Library E-learning Platform

March 25, 2019

Tucson, Ariz. – Inventors at the University of Arizona Libraries have developed an e-learning platform that allows users to create easy-to-build tutorials, teaching users how to use website-based tools. The system, originally created to teach students how to use complex library databases, has now been licensed to startup Sidecar Learning(link is external).

The startup team, consisting of company co-founders Jason Dewland and Yvonne Mery, worked with Tech Launch Arizona – the office of the UA that commercializes inventions stemming from the work of University faculty and staff – to mature, strategize and license the technology into the company.

“With this platform,” says Dewland, “anyone can create a tutorial and turn the world wide web into an interactive classroom.”

The company name, deriving from the concept of a motorcycle sidecar, was chosen because it is reflective of how the software functions. When users enter a URL into the Sidecar web software in a browser, it opens a sidebar that takes up about ten percent of the window. Within that window, educators can build experiences to guide learners through web pages, ask interactive questions, provide real-time feedback and assess understanding.

According to Dewland, along with being pedagogically sound the system is easy to use, allowing educators to build lessons quickly and efficiently.

Dewland and Mery worked with TLA and the McGuire Program for Entrepreneurship at the Eller College of Management to take advantage of the myriad services available to develop the strategy for Sidecar Learning.

As they worked with TLA team members on licensing the intellectual property, they entered into TLA’s NSF I-Corps Program, which focuses on getting inventors “out of their buildings” to interview potential customers to learn about their needs. Along with coaching, the program provided a small grant to help fund travel for such interviews.

With their I-Corps funding, Dewland and Mery traveled to the 2017 DevLearn conference in Las Vegas where they were able to talk with corporate instructional designers from all over the world.

“Through those interviews, we learned that libraries are not focused on creating good user experiences, and that the market for teaching people to use the web for everything from doing research to taking surveys to voting, all would benefit from an instructional system like Sidecar,” said Dewland. “We saw that we have a clear market opportunity, and we’ve got the product to do it.”

Along with the NSF I-Corps program, Sidecar took advantage of TLA’s Asset Development Program to help fund the software build. Working on a proposal with TLA, they created a workplan that included timelines and deliverables, and were awarded $54,000 to write the code for the platform.

“We received great support from the whole TLA team throughout every step of the commercialization process,” said Dewland of the support team that included Mentor-in-Residence Kevin McLaughlin; Senior Director of Venture Development Joann MacMaster, and Assistant Director of Licensing John Geikler.

TLA Assistant Vice President Doug Hockstad, who started his career in the software industry, is likewise excited about the company’s potential for impact and the opportunity it represents for other future UA technology startups.

“With all the software development going on across the UA,” he said, “we know there are huge opportunities out there to move these solutions being created by amazing UA developers out into the marketplace where they can really make a difference.

“All we need,” he said, “is for them to come to us and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this idea.’”

Sidecar already has its first customer: The University of Nebraska – Lincoln.

“As a teaching librarian, I’m thrilled with the new platform,” said Erica DeFrain, UNL assistant professor and social sciences librarian. “I’m very impressed by Sidecar’s thoughtfulness in design, simplicity of use, and support for authentic learning experiences. It allows me to focus on the pedagogy of my online instruction instead of the tool itself, which is critical as the library seeks to engage with more learners.”

University of Arizona software developers who want to learn more about the opportunities for bringing the products of their work to the marketplace should contact Kevin McKee, TLA Licensing Manager for Software and Copyright, at sends e-mail).