Dave Berque knew his first college teaching assignment couldn't get any worse when a fire in the overhead lights barely got a reaction from his students.
"I was in a room with more than 100 people and only seven noticed it," said the chairman of DePauw University's Computer Science Department. "They were spending all of their energy copying notes and couldn't think about what was going on."
The experience as a graduate student in the mid-1980s at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York led Berque, 42, to develop a software designed to generate interaction among students and teachers.
With it, instructor's notes are instantly transmitted onto the screens of students' laptops or tablet PCs. Students can take additional notes using their keyboards or electronic pens and save them for reviewing later.
The software eliminates the need for relentless note-taking and lets students focus more on the subject matter. Interaction improves greatly, Berque said, because students can participate in the lessons by solving problems and having their work shown at the front of the class for everyone to discuss.
"That gives them the incentive to pay attention," he said. "When the students are driving the discussion, then I know that I am being successful."
In 2001, Berque reached an agreement to license the technology to David Becker, a fellow DePauw alum and a serial entrepreneur whose ventures include OneBridge Inc. and First Internet Bank of Indiana.
Becker founded Indianapolis-based DyKnow, an educational software firm that is furthering the development of Berque's technology and expanding its reach. Becker serves as chairman and CEO while Berque is a consultant and member of the company's advisory board.
A newer feature of the software enables teachers to monitor the use of computers, to ensure pupils are keeping pace with lessons and not playing games or surfing the Web. That may be necessary at times, Berque said, because users of the software run from third-graders to college students.
At DePauw in Greencastle, where laptops are mandatory, the technology is in use in about 30 classrooms. Other users in Indiana include Taylor University, Purdue University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, as well as North Central High School and Park Tudor School in Indianapolis. But clients are spread throughout the United States and in parts of Canada.
Revenue, which grew more than 100 percent in 2005, could grow more than 200 percent this year, company President Laura Small said.
DyKnow sells software licenses on a monthly basis similar to a rental agreement, which works out to about $100 per student every year. Rights also can be bought up front in one payment.
Berque received his bachelor's degree in computer science in 1985 from Haverford College near Philadelphia. He later earned master's and doctorate degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He joined the faculty at DePauw in 1992 and teaches computer science.
In 1997, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching named him Baccalaureate Colleges Professor of the Year. He's received grants of more than $750,000 from the National Science Foundation.
"He's an inspiration," Small said. "He has a sincerity and a passion for helping individuals learn."
For Berque, who normally does the teaching, the process of developing a concept has been a real learning experience.
"I'm sort of good at prototyping things," he said, "but there's a lot involved moving from a basic idea to a production-quality software system."