A few weeks ago, I posted about our case study on the governance of the Courseware in Context (CWiC) Framework. CWiC is a laudable effort to take the traditional product evaluation matrix and get beyond “magic quadrant-ism” by adding some educational context to the selection process. Which product is “best” depends a lot on your goals, capabilities, and other contextual factors. The CWiC advisory committee members explain how hard it is to integrate these factors into a product evaluation matrix. A lot of the hoped-for value of CWiC is still aspirational. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s good to have big goals and to recognize how close to (or far from) achieving them you really are.
Sometimes just seeing your path to achieving those big aspirations is hard in and of itself. As this next case study shows, even if CWiC realizes its potential, it’s never going to be the right place to start if your goal is to meaningfully impact student outcomes and close achievement gaps. Our original goal with the National Louis University (NLU) and Acrobatiq interviews was to look at what it takes to implement courseware effectively with a vendor partner once the selection is made. In other words, what happens after you go through the process that the CWiC framework is meant to support. But we got so much more than that because NLU has been incredibly thoughtful about the program and students—the context—that impacts the use and value of the courseware. In other words, they also modeled what universities need to do before they select courseware, from designing a business/sustainability model that enables them to provide appropriate cost of an education to thinking about educational goals to figuring out where courseware does and doesn’t fit into that overall model. All of that prework has a profound impact on the working relationship with the vendor partner, the kinds of support identified as necessary to make the courseware work, and the future vision for how to continue to broaden and deepen the impact.
In the end, I think this case study shows both that a tremendous amount of work is needed to integrate courseware if you truly want to drive improvement in student outcomes and that the significant amount of planning and implementation work involved is only a small percentage of the total necessary program planning and work required. NLU has effectively redesigned the entire undergraduate experience. Their partnership with Acrobatiq works in large part because Acrobatiq understands their role in NLU’s larger goals, and because NLU maintains their focus on those goals rather than getting caught up in the notion that buying some magic product will solve all their problems.
I’m proud to have this be the final case study in this series of grant-funded stories. It neatly reflects a lot of what we believe about the ways in which universities and vendors need to work together if we want to improve higher education.