Maestro Learning lets teacher define content for educational games

Maestro Learning lets teacher define content for educational games

Maestro Learning Inc. (Newton, MA, is seeking to replace traditional sales of instructional software to schools with build-it yourself learning games over the web. The service provides 30 templates which teachers customize with content relevant to their classroom or particular students. Templates also allow for choices of backgrounds and themes; the same game, for example, can be portrayed as bugs splatting against a bus window or fireballs flinging from a catapult. After a teacher creates their learning software, she can either store it on the web or burn a CD-ROM of the game.

The ability to burn CDs, says ceo and co-founder Steve Garfinkle, is expected to overcome some of a school’s hesitation to commit to an online subscription, a model which leaves schools with nothing at the end of the subscription period. Access over the web, however, also has benefits, such as allowing the software to be used by students in the home.

Garfinkle founded the company in November of 1999 along with Peter Dublin, who had run Intentional Educations for 23 years. For the four years before the formation of Maestro, Dublin’s business focused on creating learning software for textbook publishers, and he maintained ownership of the code for all those learning games. All of the assets of Intentional Educations moved to Maestro.

Garfinkle is positioning Maestro as a more relevant alternative to off-the-shelf products, and he told BusinessWeek Online that he hopes for abut 5% of the $500 million in national spending for instruction software. A subscription will give unlimited access and the ability to burn any number of CDs. An annual cost per school is likely to be $3,500, and that will be discounted on a district basis. Maestro will also offer a perpetual access site license. For that an individual school would pay an initial fee of about $7,500 followed by an annual maintenance fee of about $1,200. The district-wide initial cost would be discounted to about $6,000 per school. Subscriptions will be available to schools outside of initial demonstrations in the Fall of 2001.

The company is first focusing on grades K-8. Garfinkle doesn’t expect every teacher to author, and several levels of authoring make the system useful to a wide range of teachers. Some teachers are likely to use pre-made software, others to make minor adjustments such as switching vocabulary words, and a handful of teachers in each school or district are expected to author games for others to use. The subscription includes on-site training- a ten-hour train-the-trainer session. Garfinkle says the system is very easy to use, and he is exploring doing all the technical training remotely. Maestro is also likely to sell additional training on technology integration.

Licensing Tools to Web Sites Creates Immediate Revenue

Garfinkle will seek additional distribution through partnering with textbook publishers in a model much like the initial business. He anticipates building learning games specific to a textbook and selling that content as a distinct, premium subscription. Publishers could allow teachers to customize that content if they wish. Garfinkle also anticipates licensing subsets of their authoring tools to educational web sites, particularly those of educational publishers.

Maestro currently has content partnerships with Sundance and Worldbook.

Garfinkle is targeting large, high-tech school district as founding districts, and Maestro is currently up and running in a demonstration phase in five states: Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts and New York. Funding to date has been from the two co-founders and some angel investors. A complete roll out to the school market, says Garfinkle, will require strategic funding or venture capital financing. He is actively pursuing both. In the mean time, the company will sustain itself through commercial relationships with publishers using the tools and their initial school clients.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Nelson B. Heller & Associates

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group