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Instructure Co-Founder Goes After Digital Courseware With His Next Edtech Startup

For Devlin Daley’s next act, he’s employed a strategy that worked for his previous education business: visit college campuses to see what technologies made students’ and instructors’ lives harder.That strategy paid off over 10 years ago when, as a graduate student at Brigham Young University, he found that his peers were disgruntled with the learning management system used on campus at the time. That inspired him to start Instructure in 2008, best known for its Canvas LMS. (He left in 2013, a couple years before the company went public.)

This time around, he’s targeted another behemoth in the education industry: publishers and their homework software. This week, he announced the launch of Derivita, a Salt Lake City-based startup self-funded by Daley that offers math homework and assessment software. He’s going after the big fish, including Pearson’s MyLab Math and Cengage’s WebAssign.“I reflected on the issues I heard while with Instructure,” Daley said. “I learned that if you improve math completion rates, you can improve graduation rates.”

With Derivita’s math homework and assessment software, Daley hopes that students will no longer have to pay for textbook-and-software bundles typically offered by the big educational publishers. The idea is that students will opt to buy Derivita to replace the software that doesn’t come with a used textbook or rental, which are cheaper than the bundles.Pearson spokesman Scott Overland pushed back against the idea that publisher software is outdated. He said in an email that thousands of institutions and millions of students use MyLab Math and that user feedback has helped add content to the platform and update it.

"Math classrooms are continuously evolving to help today’s students succeed,” Overland said. “It's more challenging than ever to support students with a wide range of backgrounds, learner styles, and math anxieties. The flexibility to build a course that fits instructors' individual course formats—with a variety of content options and multimedia resources all in one place—has made MyLab Math the market-leading solution for teaching and learning mathematics since its inception.”

Cengage spokeswoman Kristina Massari agreed on the need for her company's homework application platform, WebAssign. She said the product supports over 1 million students across the STEM curriculum and in the fall will add more content, including an updated graphing feature. WebAssign pricing starts at $22.95. On Derivita, students work through math lessons and test questions that instructors can pull from a bank or create from scratch. (They can also upload open educational resources.) The company claims it is integrated with many of the most popular learning management systems, and the materials complement the content in most major math textbooks—new or old.

The product was informed by Daley’s visits to around 400 colleges and universities. He says he learned that instructors found publishers’ tools outdated, using old technologies like Flash and with clunky interfaces.And the prices could also pose a burden for students. Laura Watkins, who piloted the product last semester in the online calculus class she teaches at Glendale Community College in Arizona, said she’s seen some bundles cost as much as $200. Derivita currently charges $40 a student, with volume discounts for department-wide adoption. “There’s a big push in higher education centered around the cost of textbooks,” Watkins said. “I hope this will remain low cost.”

Watkins piloted the product for free with about 24 students. The class found tech support responsive, and she liked the time she saved as Derivita’s homework system automatically posted grades into the school’s Canvas LMS. Among her wishes is that the company continues to grow its content library, and add a graphing feature to support more types of math exercises.Daley, 39, says he has 12 paying pilot colleges, with 20 more coming on board this fall.

The company now has 25 full-time employees, including engineers and content writers. Daley wants to expand into K-12 eventually. The company is self-funded and not yet profitable, but he wants to build the user base before seeking financial backers to scale the business.