2019 Winner: Outstanding Achievement in Information and Communications Technology sponsored by TELUS
Flipping the publishing industry with open texts and better educational software
Online assessment platforms for education generally determine if a student has learned the material through a summative assessment, such as a multiple choice test, but lack the guidance of real formative assessment provided by an instructor. Lyryx overcomes these limitations by implementing algorithms and harnessing content experts to deliver online personalized feedback. We spoke with CEO Dr. Claude Laflamme.
What problem or opportunity did you identify and seek to address?
The problem arose in how to support our increasing number of students. Most of the technology that was available at the time was to test whether the students had learned the material, but there was little software to help the students actually learn the material. That’s where we wanted to focus.
Everybody knows multiple choice questions, which if you get it wrong, there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s over.
The traditional way of working with an instructor or a coach is you do some work and then your coach looks at your performance and picks the good and the not-so- good and tries to guide you in the right direction. With papers, an experienced instructor will congratulate you on the good points and try to help you on the weaker points. At Lyryx, we try to harness the expertise of instructors to develop good software that provides similar formative guiding feedback.
What has been the impact?
As opposed to multiple-choice tests, which students don’t particularly like, students love our platform because they feel the software is there to help them. Therefore, we have students on our side and this is very encouraging.
Lyryx started purely as a software company and we collaborated with a big publisher for the content. Soon we were selling more software licenses than the publisher was selling textbooks because this was the interest of the students. This became an interesting turning point in our relationship with the publishers and coincidentally at the same time open content became more visible. We realized we could provide some of the content ourselves. We started to become a bit of a publisher, creating some content ourselves, and giving it to the students through our open license.
Again, the students loved us, and we’re on their side. We are also very committed to supporting our users, so instructors also love us. That was another big step for the company.
How has being in Alberta helped you find success?
This is the best place in the world as far as I’m concerned. The company started as a research project funded by the Alberta government, which was extremely beneficial for us to get going.
Since then, we’ve continued at the University of Calgary, which has also been extremely supportive of our efforts. My colleagues have always been fantastic in helping us. We’re still in Alberta and it’s been wonderful.
Who have been your major supporters?
Certainly the University of Calgary and the students have been very supportive. We’ve also worked very closely with Athabasca University. As a distance university, they have special needs and we have worked with them to find solutions for their educational material. Lyryx was very well positioned to try to help them and it has been a wonderful relationship for many years.
What are the plans for the future?
Lyryx is committed to open texts and open content, and chances are this is the future of the publishing industry. There has been big turmoil in the publishing industry in recent years because their model has fallen out of fashion; it was making access to the material difficult for the students.
We should not make it difficult for students to learn. There’s a turning point and I think open content is a refreshing model. The big question is how to develop open content and make it sustainable. How do you find a solution to this puzzle? That’s what excites me.
At Lyryx, our open texts are available on our website for the world to obtain. I believe the open licenses to the content benefit the students and the instructors. On one hand, the instructors can adapt the material and it becomes much more suitable for their course and for their students. For the students, the content is readily available without any barriers. It sounds right, it feels right and I see it as the future of the publishing industry, not only in higher education, but at all educational levels.
How does it feel to be an ASTech Finalist?
It’s quite exciting and very unexpected. I don’t feel we are a high profile company, like others you see around these days with social media and the like. We are trying to do the right thing and it’s nice to be recognized. I feel Lyryx’s is not only a tech company; it’s also a socially responsible company.