How One Company Is Pitching Colleges on Pre-emptive Tech Support


How One Company Is Pitching Colleges on Pre-emptive Tech Support

By Tina Nazerian     Dec 1, 2017

How One Company Is Pitching Colleges on Pre-emptive Tech Support

Wayland Baptist University professor Don Ashley received a call this week from a student saying she couldn't log in to her learning management system (LMS), preventing her from attending a live online lesson.

It turned out that Blackboard Collaborate, the web conferencing tool that WBU’s Anchorage satellite campus uses, is not compatible with Safari, the internet browser the student was using. Ashley told the student to try Google Chrome, and the student was able to resolve the issue and hop into the session. Still, he says it would be better to avoid issues like that in first place., a startup based in Southern California, aims to do that. Founded by a father-son duo, the company launched this year with the goal to create “tier zero” for students and tech support before the school year starts, co-founder Ben Sample (the son in the duo), tells EdSurge.

Using, students are able to test classroom technology before they set foot on campus. The other cofounder, Jay Sample, says a student visiting the company’s website can click a “scan” button to run tests that are each related generally to the requirements stipulated by the LMS or the school. The student can then see information such as application download and upload speeds, network/ISP information, and other information that could impact their learning experience.

For example, if an LMS did not cooperate with Safari, then after running a scan, would tell a user to either upgrade (if the version is out of date) or download a browser that’s supported.

Jay Sample, says that as technology and education evolve, more courses are relying on learning systems to deliver content or facilitate discussions. He says there are many requirements, such as having adequate bandwidth and Java, that every computer has to meet before a student can have a “solid experience” with a learning system.

“No user-owned technology is LMS-friendly by default,” the elder Sample says, adding that for their self-service option, most schools post their technical requirements and a list of frequently asked questions on their website.

But Jay Sample says his website is after something better: an interactive platform that runs tests on a user’s device, browser, network/ISP and security settings to see if they meet an institution’s requirements. He stresses that if any result is out of specification, offers a solution.

Ashley, who knows Jay Sample (the elder Sample’s LinkedIn says he used to be an administrator at WBU’s campus in Plainview, TX) says his university gives students a list of information on what applications they need to run so all the features of Blackboard are ready to work in time for class. He says if something isn’t working and the student calls him or the help desk, they have to work through what might be wrong—which is time-consuming. Ashley uses and tells his students to run it and send him a screenshot.

“[] makes it a lot faster to diagnose something,” Ashley says, adding that the website is quicker and more accurate to find technical glitches than having to guess what problem a student is having.

Ashley uses a free, public version of, but now wants his university to subscribe to the website’s paid university verison. “It would make teaching not only online classes but in-person classes easier, because even our in-person classes use Blackboard [too],” he says.

The paid school version starts at $1500 per year and is negotiated by institution, depending on full-time equivalency. It offers the same scanning technology as the free website, but is also branded to match a university’s existing LMS, pulling in elements such as school colors and logos. The premium site also provides a link to the school’s own help desk, and lets schools access scan data. Under the premium version, schools would also be able to define their own test parameters.

Jay Sample says has users from for-profit institutions, 4-year non-profit institutions, community colleges, K-12 schools and even help desk service providers who work outside of the education industry.

Community colleges have been the most responsive because they are very tightly funded, Jay Sample says. is a way for them to extend their reach and ability to support a large user population.

Sample, who says he’s been involved in higher education for a long time and has started and led online programs, points out that tech support is expensive to provide because a help desk has to be staffed usually 24/7. He thinks that tech support is well on its way to change in higher education, going more towards a “self-service” kind of model that supports.

In the future, he believes students and faculty will need “tools that will allow the user to sort of run a CAT scan on their computer, so to speak.”

An earlier version of this article referred to Blackboard Collaborate as an LMS. Blackboard Collaborate is the web conferencing tool, not the LMS. It can be used with Blackboard Learn, which is the LMS. The article has been updated to reflect that.


Get our email newsletterSign me up
Keep up to date with our email newsletterSign me up