A Quality Framework for Digital Learning


June 15, 2017

Clarity and Collaboration are Bedrock for Finding the Best Courseware

Improving student success is a critical part of the mission of many institutions in higher education today. There are promising solutions like adaptive learning, but choosing a platform is difficult in a marketplace that is crowded and poorly defined. Tyton Partners talked to Megan M. Tesene, Adaptive Learning Program Manager in the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Georgia State University (GSU) to find out how the institution used the Courseware in Context framework as part of its adaptive courseware procurement process to work with stakeholders across the institution to make sure the solutions they found fit their needs.

Tyton Partners: You recently led GSU’s request for information (RFI) for adaptive courseware solutions. What type of products were you looking for and why?

Megan Tesene: At GSU we have been invested in exploring innovative technologies and strategies to promote student success and improve learning in a variety of ways. One way we’re doing that is by accelerating the adoption of adaptive courseware in general education courses, an effort that is being supported by the Association of Public Land Grant Universities and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The appeal of adaptive learning is in its potential. Adaptive learning technologies promise an ability to accommodate all the different ways students learn by meeting students where they are and engaging them in ways that are better than traditional methods. They promise an ability to shift away from the old lecture-style to more dynamic, interactive, engaging classrooms—offering students and faculty the opportunity to engage in higher-level discussions and activities. Georgia State is taking a data-driven and collaborative approach to determine whether or not those promises of adaptive learning hold up. If they do, we hope to integrate adaptive learning technologies into the existing structure at GSU, which is already focused on addressing disparities in student outcomes and graduation rates.

In the process that began in fall 2016, the objective was to find adaptive courseware for five classes: Global Issues, American Government, Micro and Macroeconomics, and Introduction to General Psychology. Given the variety of the types of classes and the inherent difference in need among faculty members, we needed to explore and identify different coursewares that could fit each person’s requirements. The RFI and subsequent on-campus courseware fair allowed us to compare 15 different solutions and identify the ones that would fit the needs for those specific courses and the faculty members teaching them.

We are in the process of finalizing our courseware selections this semester. The next step is course design and pilot research design for the remainder of Spring 2017. This fall and in Spring 2018 we will pilot the solutions with about 2,200 students total. If the pilots go well, meaning they effectively improve student outcomes, and students and faculty are satisfied with how the courseware is used in those classes, then we will move forward and scale out in Fall 2018 – Spring 2019 to include about 15,000 enrollments.  This would bring GSU’s total adaptive enrollments to approximately 25 percent.

TP: You used the Courseware in Context (CWiC) framework in your RFI. What are some the best practices or lessons learned that you could share with other institutions that are considering using the CWiC Framework to help with their courseware evaluation?

MT: The CWiC Framework is both effective and useful. Had we used it as is in our RFI, the return of information would have been plentiful and high quality. But the real strength of the framework is in how an institution can customize it to suit its needs, which is what we did. Modifying and building on the framework is a core part of its power, so I’d recommend that other institutions using it not feel like they have to stick to every single thing that’s outlined in it. Instead, make it work for you.

To do that, institutions need to connect with and collaborate with all the necessary players that are involved. It’s the only way to ensure that you have a comprehensive or holistic evaluation process. Get faculty, support staff, administrators, experts in the field who know about learning technologies, and instructional designers involved. We included a lot of different players in the process. Everyone from the faculty who are going to be teaching the courses to the support staff and the technical staff here at the Center of Excellence in Teaching and Learning. The variety of people involved helped us look at everything from LMS integration to picturing student engagement with the material.

Another key factor for us was offering educational and developmental opportunities at the beginning and throughout the process to make sure that everyone was speaking the same – or at least a similar language – and making sure everybody had a voice in that process. With adaptive learning and courseware more broadly, there is not a lot of consensus about definitions and there are a lot of buzzwords used in the space. We did a variety of things to address the lack of clarity in definition, including offering an interactive workshop about the CWiC Framework. Those developmental opportunities built not only a community among the people who are involved, but also a general knowledge base so people felt more comfortable and confident about choosing and implementing a product.

TP: What are some of the outcomes of using the CWiC Framework for your courseware evaluation?

MT: It definitely helped us establish a common baseline for product knowledge. It also helped us put together our courseware RFI more quickly and comprehensively than what would have been the case had we started from scratch.  We used the CWiC Framework to help establish a common language with our institutional stakeholders, helping them to understand what they want from a courseware solution and allowing us to communicate that with vendors through the RFI.

Additionally, the Framework helped us see all the possibilities clearly and conduct a side-by-side comparison of vendors on a variety of measures that were important to us. We understood the nuances of each product, which helped us see its potential, or lack thereof. Plus, it helped us avoid the trap of only considering products we already knew, which is something that often happens in higher education. We were able to consider equally the smaller tech companies as well as the larger publishers because the process and data collected allowed for an apples-to-apples type comparison. The end result is that we feel confident that we’ve selected the coursewares that will best suit our needs.

Is your institution looking for courseware to improve student success? Check out the new Interactive CWiC Framework.