Querium Tackles the Mobile Problem in Digital Education
This year's BookExpo America Startup Challenge winner was a bit of a dark horse, at least according to its co-founder, president and CEO Kent A. Fuka. "I was concerned about our chances because we're primarily in the education sector and BookExpo isn't really an education-focused conference." There was no need to worry, as Querium -- an adaptive learning software that takes users step by step through math and science problems -- took home the top prize of $10,000 and a free exhibit space at BEA 2016 in Chicago.
Fuka credits the win to the fact that Querium is solving a problem many education publishers continue to struggle with: developing education products for mobile devices. "Over the last 20 years, publishers have generally built education products that run on web browsers for desktop-sized screens. They utilize technology that exists on desktop but don't tend to exist on tablets and smartphones," Fuka explains. But today students are using mobile devices for every facet of their lives, including education. Querium's mission is to bridge this gap by reaching students where they are and provide them with an adaptive learning experience. Currently Querium can be licensed by publishers serving K-12, higher education, and professional markets.
Cengage has conducted extensive research on students' mobile habits and its findings echo Querium's mission. SVP of product and user experience Dan Forman told Book Business that students want to use their mobile devices to test themselves on course material. Querium's technology integrates into existing math and science products and guides students step by step through equations discussed in the text. "By using our engine, a publisher can take a fairly static EPUB and make it smarter and more interactive."
Querium does this through what Fuka calls its "stepwise technology." This technology requires a student to show their work for a problem by handwriting each step on a mobile screen or typing in their steps on a desktop keyboard. Querium analyzes the work submitted and pinpoints where the student has gone wrong. Then Querium can, in Fuka's words, "nudge the student toward the right path." The software will direct the student to the most helpful section in a textbook or an instructional online video.
The software benefits teachers and publishers too, says Fuka. Teachers receive information about student performance and know where each of their students is struggling and can adapt their lessons accordingly. Likewise, publishers are sent information about all students using Querium and can extrapolate what part of their texts students have the most difficulty with and revise that section for the next edition. "We really help at all levels of the user community with this one technology."
Querium provides a unique experience, he adds, one that Fuka and his co-founder Patti Smith could not find when they worked in education publishing. Smith was the former VP portfolio manager for K-12 math and specialty markets at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Fuka was chairman of an online math and science publisher called Thinkwell. "We spent years looking for a solution like this to incorporate into our products," says Fuka. "We never found one. So we thought, 'If we can't find this in the market, let's go out and build it.'"
Some publishers have already taken an interest in Querium's solutions. Last year Macmillan New Ventures purchased a license with Querium and incorporated it into a new line of high school math products that will be released later this year. Fuka hopes with the added publicity of the Startup Challenge win, and a venture capital round expected to raise $3 million by 2016, that new publishers, testing companies, and courseware providers will take notice of the startup and purchase its technology.
And there is more product development to come. "We want to add higher levels of math into the product and add support for chemistry and physics," said Fuka. "We have our work cut out for us."
Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.