Imagine for just a moment that you are seated at a black-tie awards gala. The crowd grows silent as the host announces:
"And this yearís Codie Award for Best Postsecondary Course or Content Management Solution goes to the company that traces its beginnings to an IUPUI research project completed by a professor and a student lab assistant.
"Receiving the award for ANGEL Learning, Inc. is IUPUI alumnus and ANGEL vice president and chief technology officer David T. Mills. Accompanying Mills to the stage is ANGEL co-founder and IUPUI engineering and technology Professor Ali Jafari.
The IUPUI computer technology graduate takes the stage, saying "Iíd like to thank my wife ... "
Itís no fairy tale. ANGEL Learning, Inc., headquartered in Indianapolis, took home one of 23 coveted Codie awards in the education category of this year's competition.
"Itís a compliment to have people that understand the work that you do (select it) as the best in that category," Mills says during an interview in his office, located in western Indianapolis near the 71st Street exit of I-465.
The companyís Internet course management program known as ANGEL — an acronym for "A New Global Environment for Learning" — is truly the brainchild of Mills and Jafari.
It is one of two software products to come out of collaborative research and development efforts that began when Mills was a student in the Purdue School of Engineering & Technology at IUPUI.
And Mills and Jafari really have Millsí wife to thank. It was the success of her graphic design career that allowed her husband to return to school and earn his computer degree.
"She took a gamble on me," Mills says. It all started when, at the request of a professor, Mills retooled an HTML program that he had written for fun into a program the professor could use for administering tests.
"I built a tool for creating online quizzes. You could create quizzes, then deliver them through the Internet, have them graded and have instructors get the results back," Mills explains.
Based on that work, IUPUI Professor Tom Ho introduced Mills to Jafari, who hired the student to work in his research and development lab.
Millsí first project with Jafari was the creation of an online course for chemistry 101. "It was pretty well received by the students and a great proof of the concept that, yes, you could use the Internet to teach distance education courses," Mills says. "That project was a huge success, great feedback from students and instructors. Based on that, we started architecturing Oncourse with the goal of having a place where researchers could easily manage a Web site for any and all of their courses, which was pretty novel at that time."
ANGEL would follow Oncourse.
While university-trained minds were behind the creation of Blackboard and other course management systems now available, ANGEL is the only one that is "100 percent the result of both the intellectual investment and financial investment of the campus," Jafari says. "From that perspective it is unique."
The IU Research and Technology Corporation (IURTC) — then known as ARTI — awarded Jafari and Mills $110,000 in seed money to start ANGEL Learning. It was money well invested.
"I started the company as the president and David was vice president, the professor says. "That is all the money we had. And now it is a multi-million dollar company."
The professor would run the company for six months, before returning to the campus as a professor. Mills has continued as the companyís research and development leader.
"He is pretty sharp, pretty smart, a genius (of a) guy," Jafari says of the IUPUI grad.
Jafariís latest project, Epsilen ePortfolio, is soon set to join ANGEL on the market.
The product allows users to create the equivalent of a "MySpace" Web site for their professional lives, offering "global" opportunities for job searching, social networking and learning, as well as course management. More than 1,000 active users from 167 registered university members use Epsilen 6, the latest version of an electronic portfolio system which is free to anyone with a university (.edu) e-mail account.
An earlier version of Epsilen was licensed to Bowling Green State University in Ohio in 2003. Currently more than 2,000 BGSU students have Epsilen accounts, and Bowling Green is now in the process of switching to the latest version (Epsilen 6), the professor says.
While a basic version of Epsilen ePortfolio will always be free to higher education users, faculty and students on campuses who license Epsilen ePortfolio will receive additional services such as more digital space and personalization features.