No institution knows everything there is to know about the best ways to improve online higher education. Nor does any institution have every last bit of technology, staffing, and other resources to develop and implement every improvement needed to better meet students’ needs.
That’s not a criticism of our institutions and systems. On the contrary, it’s why organizations specialize in certain areas and develop deep expertise in particular approaches, models, and infrastructures. It enables us as an industry to then combine our knowledge, experience, and resources through strategic alliances and partnerships, and create a rich, powerful nucleus to fuel positive change.
This was the major concept that panelists talked about during one of our Online Learning Conference 2012 sessions, entitled Shaping Collaboration, Alliances and Partnerships in Online Higher Education. Our panelists engaged in a great dialogue about the ways we can use partnerships and alliances to improve and implement online and hybrid learning models that are driven by student needs.
Their ideas are worth looking over, and shed light on some of the challenges and opportunities of working together through partnerships and alliances. If you missed the session, here’s the video of the complete discussion.
You’ll hear from all of our panelists, which included:
- Frank Mulgrew, President of the Online Education Institute of Post University
- D.R. Widder, Executive Director of Innovation at Philadelphia University
- Brian Joyner, Vice President of Marketing from Cengage Learning
- Ronald Black, Academic Program Manager for Higher Education at Post University
Or, you can read on for the transcript of the session. Here’s a breakdown of the major topics covered, which we denoted with subheads to make it easier for you to read:
- The Roles Alliances, Partnerships, and Governance Are Playing in Higher Education
- Best Practices When Forming Strategic Alliances and Partnerships in Education
- How Partnerships Impact Educational Institutions’ Organizational Cultures
- How Alliances, Partnerships, and Governance Can Enhance Academics
- How Educational Partnerships Can Help Us Meet Technological Adoption Demands
Peter Chepya: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We’re here for the closing session of the Performance Arts Center sessions. This session is entitled Shaping Collaborations, Alliances and Partnerships in Online Higher Education.
Higher education is rapidly evolving as online and hybrid or blended learning models meld with traditional delivery models. Textbooks and technology are also merging in new ways to transform the way content is delivered to students.
This panel of experts will provide varied perspectives on new ways that collaborations, alliances, and partnerships can enhance innovative opportunities for online higher education, and discuss the challenges these alliances bring to today’s online teaching and learning climate.
Specific examples of different types of collaborative partnerships and their benefits will be provided during the session. Our panelists are Frank Mulgrew, President, Online Education Institute of Post University; Brian Joyner, VP of Marketing, Cengage Learning; D.R. Widder, Executive Director of Innovation, Philadelphia University; and Dr. Ronald Black, Academic Program Manager for Higher Education, Post University. With this I’ll turn it over to Dr. Black.
Ronald Black: Thank you, Peter. Welcome to the — I don’t like the word closing, I don’t like the word tenure, I don’t like the word terminal degree, but this is the last session and we’ve had a number of tremendous sessions all day long. A lot them focused on technology and how to technology use in the classroom. This session is going to be a little bit different but still with a little bit of technology.
I have over 30 years in higher education, and I’ve been in technology and a chief information officer for all 30 of those years until I transitioned into academics. So technology is in my blood. So we’re going to talk a little bit about technology.
But the focus today is about strategic alliances, partnerships, and collaborations, and how do we use those kind of tools to make our students more successful and to make our academic programs better than they are today. We have a tremendous panel and I’m going to let them introduce themselves. Once we have finished with the introductions, we’ll get started.
Frank Mulgrew: I guess I’ll start. Everyone can hear me? It’s funny, I haven’t been in a classroom for a long time, but I see most of the people here are educators and we always hate when people sit in the back of the room, but everybody sat in the back of the room. So you don’t have to, but I would invite people up closer because it will feel a lot more intimate and a lot easier for us to have a conversation, which I hope we do have a conversation with you.
I’m Frank Mulgrew, President of the Online Education Institute of Post University. I have both a business role and what I would call an artful role or creative role at the institution. My role is to grow online programs, #1 role. Grow enrollments, grow in credibility, grow on quality, improve the quality. And also a creative role in trying to spark the creativity of the staff, the faculty, everyone that works at Post that supports online innovation, online programs.
And as our panelists will know and the rest of our sponsors out in the crowd know, I tend to push things a bit on wanting to innovate quicker than many of us are ready to innovate. But I do see that innovation can only come really with collaboration, because at the end of the day you only know you’ve been innovative if you’ve actually done something and it’s worked. So with that, I’ll pass off to Brian, here.
Brian Joyner: Hello. My name is Brian Joyner. I’m Vice President of Marketing with Cengage Learning. I can confirm as a sponsor here that Frank did, in fact, shove me earlier today. So he takes what he says very seriously about working with his partners to push them in a forward direction.
As a member of Cengage Learning, we are an educational solutions provider from the K-12 and then primarily in the two- and four-year markets, both print, digital solutions, and a series of services. We’re very excited to be a part of this panel because we talk about partnerships with institutions, the publishing model is certainly changing from, I think, the perceived notion of textbooks and supplements to very much a digital, forward direction aligned with services, different types of business models, partnerships, etc., and so we’re excited to be here today and part of this dialogue.
D.R. Widder: Hi. I’m D.R. Widder. I’m the Extensive Director of Innovation at Philadelphia University. We are a non-profit university founded in 1884 — six years before Post — so it’s nice to see the new kids on the block doing so well. We’re about 3,200 students across a variety of programs.
We are on the spectrum of higher ed, I think very entrepreneurial thinking. It’s a self-reported metric, but we take an entrepreneurial approach. Our president is an entrepreneur. I have an entrepreneurial background. A lot of our executive team has an entrepreneur background.
And partnership for us is the way we see being able to grow and being able to expand in an environment of less-than-infinite resources. We look for partners to bring in core competencies that we cannot develop ourselves, especially in the context of online.
Also we are about three years into our strategic plan. We are traditionally a teaching college preparing people for industry. In fact, we were founded by industrialists, basically, to create a workforce for industry, and we still use industry as, really, our feedback. And so we are, in our strategic plan, reforming how we deliver education and trying to be the model for professional education for the 21st century.
A big part of our model, as we call “nexus learning” or “real-world engaged learning” is a very project-based approach that involves a lot of partnerships with industry, basically working in industry problems and opportunities. So that partnership is very much a part of what we’re doing.
So the keynote speaker this morning really is brilliant and inspiring and really resonated a lot of the themes that we’ve used, really, to model our university. One thing we say is we’re preparing our students for jobs that don’t exist yet, and that was echoed this morning. And I’m sitting here as Extensive Director of Innovation, a position that did not exist in higher ed two years go, so I believe it. So thank you for having us.
Ronald: Great. Great. Thank you. And I am Ron Black and I’m the Academic Program Chair for Higher Education here at Post University. And my background is over 30 years, I’d say almost 40 years, in higher education.
But as an administrator I’ve spent a good number of years as a senior administrator and working with the universities that I work for to collaborate and partner on academic programs, and at the same time working with technology vendors to bring technology to the workplace and to the classroom.
I’ve been fortunate to be involved with a number of strategic alliances and partnerships in that career going way back to the early 1980s, where I formed a partnership in a strategic alliance with Wang Laboratories, who at that time was really a vendor just starting off in the technology world, but was really up and coming.
And I was working at a brand-new — we just started a culinary division of our university, and starting off the culinary school, I said, well, we need to do something. We can’t just teach cooking. We need to bring technology into that and work with that.
And so I met with Dr. Ann Wang who then was the CEO of Wang Laboratories and even the founder of Wang Laboratories, and we sat down and we talked about, how can we bring your technology into our program? So we talked and we talked and we talked, and finally we came up with a plan.
And that plan didn’t involve us buying anything. It didn’t involve us doing anything except working together and using the resources of both institutions to bring that into the program. Today that culinary program is the largest culinary program in the world with over 18,000 students in that one program, still using the technology that we brought in.
So through the 80s and through the 90s, I got involved with what partnerships were all about. I got involved with partnerships and really involved. Without my doctorate I said, well, wait a minute, I’m going to do something. I’ve really got to go out and get my doctorate.
So I focused my doctorate around the concept of strategic alliances and partnerships in higher ed, and I wrote my doctorate centered around a partnership in an alliance with IBM, with three K-12 school districts, and an instructional technology vendor at the time.
And we worked out an alliance that was a seven-point alliance that basically brought us together — without a contract, without monies transferring between each other — to enhance academics. The seven-point alliance dealt with — #1 — creating a new academic program, an executive MBA program that focused around those resources from IBM and others. We did a student mobile community computing contract, once again, with IBM. And we re-engineered information infrastructure together without, once again, without spending a lot of money.
And we did research together and then we collaborated with the school districts to bring technology into the school districts. So that’s there. This is my dissertation. Published six times, it’s always out there. So we’re going to talk about that today.
And this is an open forum. You don’t have to — there’s no lecturing going to go on here. It’s a basically open forum and you can ask questions at any time as we go along. But the teacher in me says I’ve got to say something. All right? So here’s a quote that I picked up a long time ago and it’s just stuck with me and stuck with me and stuck with me. It’s talking about togetherness in partnerships.
“So togetherness for me means teamwork that makes us reflect how completely dependent we are upon one another in our social and commercial life. The more diversified our labors and interests have become in the modern world, and the more surely we need to integrate our efforts to justify ourselves in our civilization.” And that quote was from Walt Disney.
So that kind of sticks with me in everything I do in working together with people. The focus today is going to be on three topics: what alliances, partnerships, and governance really is, how do we govern working together and how do we do that? How do we enhance academics through our partnerships? And then what do we do about this technology thing and how can we come together and work together to bring technology in there? So we’ll quickly go through that.
And quickly some definitions written by Ron Black. Alliances are strategic, not tactical. They look to the future. They don’t care about today. Let’s look beyond today and go there. Focus on long-range educational benefit. Feature tight linkages among the partners or at the highest levels of each organization. An emphasis on communication, cooperation, and collaboration. That’s called the three Cs, and I wrote two or three articles on that topic there.
Definition of partnerships is the relationship between individuals or groups characterized by mutual cooperation or responsibility and to achieve a specific goal. Similar to alliances but really a little bit structured a little bit more.
And then, finally, collaboration is one or more individuals or groups working together for a joint intellectual effort to achieve a specific task. It could be faculty and students. It could be faculty administrators. It could be school-to-school and so forth.
The Roles Alliances, Partnerships, and Governance Are Playing in Higher Education
Ronald: So let’s begin our conversation with alliances and partnerships and governance. Higher education strategic alliances, partnerships, or collaboration involve two partners that remain legally independent after the alliance is formed, share benefits and managerial control over the performance of tasks, and make continuing contributions in one or more academic areas.
So my question for our experts — including myself — how do you see the governance of strategic alliance being formed between your organization and the university or between your university and our university? That’s the teacher in me. Ask the questions.
Frank: I’ll take it from the different approach of what — since we’re the university you’re talking about, if I could do a precursor to the question and hand off the question to you guys because you have more of the perspective from this angle that the question.
D.R. and I have had many conversations about what a partnership means, and it’s important to be aligned in what any type of partnership. A partnership fundamentally for our perspective is that the two entities, independent as they are, succeed or fail together. There’s a distribution of risk and rewards for both entities.
If it is a zero sum game for one, it’s no longer a partnership — it’s a vendor relationship and people mix up vendor relationships with partnerships. Strategic partnerships are that next level. What’s the difference in my view? Strategic partnerships are partnerships that are backed by the vision and mission of the institution itself.
You can potentially partner because it’s good for a particular entity, because it has tactical gains, but a real strategic partnership is about some future goal that benefits both parties or the multiple parties involved. So — and at the end of the day is as much judged not by the start of it, but by what happens while it’s happening and what the results are, critically important. So I’ll hand it off with that.
D.R.: Well, I certainly echo the sentiment. I see with partnerships I’ve been involved with the direct correlation with how aligned incentives are between the different parties. The closer they are aligned, the more people naturally will do things even in their self interests that’s in mutual interest.
The way we think about partnerships is we think about delivering the best student experience possible, the best educational outcomes possible, and if there’s sort of a value chain for delivering that, how do we partner to deliver that better than we could ourselves?
And we don’t have to own the entire value chain. In fact, it’s in our best interests not to. Really pick our core competencies and pick partners with complementary core competencies to deliver the best outcomes.
There’s this — in entrepreneurship there’s this notion of maximize and own. That one approach is own everything, control everything, invest everything, and such, and that in some ways is easier but doesn’t create the same value as partnering where you have control points and work together and basically have a smaller piece of a larger pie, so to speak.
In terms of governance, I do think about the control points from the university perspective, which is the perspective I’m coming from. We have a brand, we have educational outcomes, we answer to the higher power of the accreditors and the accreditation, and so we want to have governance to maintain control of those things that matter, but yet do not exert control over the operations and core competencies of the partner because that would actually be counter productive because they’re better at those aspects than we are. So that’s kind of how we think about governance.
Brian: And from the educational solutions provider side of this, I think the opportunity for us from a partnership standpoint is often a perception that it’s about, we’ve developed something or have some content, maybe developed and perceived in a vacuum over here by the side, and we’re looking for angles to get that utilized or have it incorporated in a classroom environment. I think it’s a dated model.
I think the partnership side as we think about it now, as really working with institutions, not necessarily to shout and play the trumpets from the mountaintop, so to speak, but to make sure that we’re developing content that meets the emerging needs that the institutions have and not just assuming that because we have institutional knowledge and work with every institution in the country and globally that just internally we know and have all the answers.
So we’ve increased our partnership level on a variety of fronts, both from just communicating on a more regular basis, even in an informal manner with our customer population, but also looking at ways now to be much more open-minded, to enter content development partnerships. What type of content does a specific institution need to have developed to meet their specific needs or outcomes? Do they just need to take what we have off the shelf?
I would argue many times, no, we need to work together to make sure this is the type of, not only content, but functional solutions, whether it’s a platform, whether it’s a game, whether it’s interactive content that is working in a manner than an institution needs. And if they can help educate us and we can partner on that together, that’s great.
And we’ll talk more about that from a services side, I think, and other elements as we move forward. But it’s really a field of opportunity, I think, from a content provider standpoint to work on an innovation side and to work with institutions in general to say, hey, let’s try something. Let’s try something together and see if this is something that might benefit both parties and if it does, great. If not, we learn from the experience. But it doesn’t have to be on the simplistic terms to have a book adopted three months later. And I think that’s how we’re evolving in that sense.
Frank: I can add one more thing to governance — a comment that our keynote speaker made about culture. It’s so easy, it is a blending of cultures. For those of you who may not know or may not know the details of, D.R. and I are working very closely on our two institutions coming together with a partnership.
It’s very easy and it can derail partnerships very quickly if either partner has a view towards one being the right way to do things and the other way being the wrong way to do things when they really are — it’s interesting, subtle difference between cultures and histories that have to somehow magically merge together and accept each other for each other’s strengths.
And, again, we don’t look at it as what we’re supplying something for your weaknesses, but taking their strengths and combining them with our strengths, we can do something really great. And, I might add, for Cengage or Pearson, Blackboard, McGraw-Hill, Tutor.com, and there’s a lot of other companies that I could say that we are now changing that relationship from the vendor to the partner relationship, is very, very different.
You think in terms of different kinds of structures and how each party wins. You talk about MOUs more than you talk about contracts, although contracts certainly have to be part of it. But when you’re talking about governance, memorandums of understanding, having stage gates, moving in a direction, understanding that nothing is so fixed that it couldn’t change because things could change between the two partners or to one partner or the other.
Brian: I also think about the maturity or how well developed something you’re trying to do together is, and the more developed it is, the more it’s been done before, the more you can have sort of a fixed vendor-type partnership and you can spell everything out in advance.
But in innovation and open innovation and those principles, you don’t know fully what you’re going to end up with and you definitely have to approach it as a more partnership model. You can’t define everything in advance because you’re trying to do something truly new and truly innovative.
And as things accelerate as the keynote was talking about today and technology change and all that, there’s probably going to be more and more kind of open innovation and the more the alliance — your word, a strategic relationship — where every detail is not worked out, I think that’s probably going to evolve with the acceleration of technology.
Ronald: Yeah, a terrific point. All of those key points of innovation and branding and working together is all part of bringing together that alliance for the good of all the institutions and all the partners involved.
And one of the things that it is suggested in all the literature is create a memorandum of understanding — not a contract — a memorandum of understanding of how all those things are going to take place and how we’re going to bring together all of our resources and all of our expertise and all of our intellectual capital to achieve that task.
And there’s a terrific article that was written way back in 1999 called “Collaborating with Your Competitors — and Win,” because you can collaborate and partner with your competitors for the common good — not to be better than them or not for them to better than you, but to bring together everything that you want to do as you go along. That article was written by Gary Hamel and published in Harvard Business Review.
So when we talk about innovation and we talk about branding and we talk about governance, governance in a partnership is really, really free, but you have to understand how you’re going to work together and how you bring it all together.
When I went and met with the CEO of IBM at the time, who was Lou Girstner, and we sat down and I said, well, how are we going to work together and how are we going to do these things without a contract and without exchanging money, and what are some of the ways that we can teach our programs and do research with IBM and at the same time have IBM teach with us and do research with us and bring it all together? And that memorandum of understanding just brings it all together as you go along.
So governance really is not a rule that this is the way it’s going to be, but it’s an understanding and as you go along. So if you’re thinking about an alliance or a partnership with a vendor or another university or others, think about how we’re going to work together and how we’re going to govern that.
In the case of the IBM alliance, we created a committee of people from both organizations and they basically did the things that was built into the alliance and working with both institutions at the same time. So any questions about governance? Yes, sir.
Best Practices When Forming Strategic Alliances and Partnerships in Education
[Question from audience]
Frank: Yes. I mean, it’s partly humorous, but the answer is all of it. I mean, you have discussions along the way, pieces. I’ll tell you in a very concrete manner, I mean, D. R. and I can comment both on this, but you get concerned, especially when you’re between universities you have government regulations associated with things and one party or the other party often are the bearer of that regulatory weight.
And so along the way you have to think in terms of, OK, who is going to own this policy throughout? But as far as going in there with a preconceived notion of how the governance is going to be set up, I can tell you on our part we generally try to stick away from that and let the partnership grow to where we’re all feeling good and our cultures are melding in a way that really the roles are clearer, but we’re not so worried about the specific, thorny points of governance.
D.R.: Yeah, I completely agree. Try to anticipate what you can, but things evolve and come up over time and so the governance model, also as you evolve in a partnership from initial discussions to kind of an MOU level to a contractual level, you obviously have to get more specifically defined how things are going to work and especially around those thorny issues that are like regulation and some of the financial issues that can be a great source of viability.
Brian: I agree it needs to be a conversation on the table at the outset. It doesn’t necessarily have to be black and white, but it’s a very formal hearty handshake at the outset and you evolve and have checkpoints as things move through, the concern being if you do too much at the outset and try to defer, you might never get out of the starting box, so to speak. So at some point you want to take it on faith.
Ronald: Yeah, I agree with that. It takes a life of its own to grow a partnership and it never goes away. But everybody involved knows what’s happening and that’s the key.
[Question from audience]
Brian: Yeah, well, that’s certainly a balancing act because you want to keep your whole organization informed every step of the way but, yet, if you can’t to make progress, it’s tough to talk about every detail from the get-go, you’d never get anywhere.
So you’re balancing internalizing the needs of your organization so that you can represent your organization to get to that initial step, and then gradually filtering out information and as things get more detailed, you bring in more and more stakeholders and it happens — I think of it completely as a balancing act because there’s certainly — either extreme would not work.
Frank: This is where I’ve learned quite a bit from D.R. In my own history, the execution of partnerships has been where I failed more than the partnerships themselves, initially starting them out. I would say experience and certainly learning from — has been a learning process for me is that if I would say what I’ve learned is that step-by-step we’re keeping it at such a level that we haven’t done all the thinking that is going to be necessary by the people that are going to have to actually do the work, that we’ve been really thinking structurally where things are housed and where we knew the details, great — we could put in the details.
But, for example, recently we got our groups together for the first time on Philly U’s campus — Philly U, I’m getting used to that — and by that time there had been a lot of work done up to that point. We had a general idea of what we were going to do as an overarching process, but now individuals within that group, D.R. and I, while we’re going to be very interested in paying attention to what they’re doing, we need to let them do their work on figuring out how they’re going to work together, how those linkages are actually going to happen.
So I think it’s bound to fail if you don’t at some point along the way. That’s what’s lovely about the MOU is the MOU let’s everybody know what the understanding is without having some sort of contractual SOA that the people that have to make it happen haven’t agreed to and don’t feel comfortable with.
D.R.: The other component that I’ve found in terms of propagating information is the partnership component, some of you just trying to do something and the fact that you’re doing it via partnership matters a lot in the partnership agreement.
But as you get down into execution, for example, if you’re trying to create a new program together, at a certain level in the organization, you’re just creating a new program, and the fact that it’s a partnership matters less and less. And so in that sense, that also is kind of a dynamic that happens in a partnership.
Brian: And one last point on that related to the comments you both made, I think you mentioned in your question you have people that make decisions, that are at the top so to speak, and you have people that are actioning on this partnership.
I think one key thing at that outset is communication is key within an organization that can be easily executed with the right people in place. It’s the funding of it, and I don’t necessarily mean the funding of it from a dollars and cents standpoint, but if you’re going into a partnership, are you going to fund it with people who already have a day job and this becomes one more thing to do, you’re going to dilute yourself right out of the gate and then you’re saying is your vision being executed on, it’s very possible that they understand it but may not be able to get to it and do the things that they need to be able to do.
So I think that’s clear and needs to be clearly defined at the outset and as part of that handshake agreement, what resources are you bringing to the table on this, what resources are you bringing to the table, is this going to be what their focus is? Is that the goal or is it something that will be done on the side? Is there a balance there to make sure that there’s a clear execution of what the plan is? And I think that’s something that often goes overlooked and results in problems down the road.
How Partnerships Impact Educational Institutions’ Organizational Cultures
[Question from audience]
D.R.: From my perspective the partnerships we’re involved with are emerging so we don’t have many years of some cultural shift to study, but certainly a design point would be you want both organizations to retain their culture because they both have unique strengths to bring to the table.
There’s a natural osmosis of bringing teams together and exchanging ideas and just working any two universities on any project, so I think there’s a natural evolution of culture, but I don’t think of it as a design point of trying to make the two cultures the same or having one entity adopt the others because then that truly is just combining into one larger entity as opposed to the strengths of two unique entities.
Ronald: Yeah, I don’t think the partnership is going to change the culture. It may enhance the cultures of both organizations, but I don’t think it’s going to change who we are or what we are, even during the partnership application going on.
I think culture is something that’s bred within us, certainly in my case and working with IBM, they were the giant at the time and it was really bringing them in was like, oh, wow. But certainly they came down to earth and worked with us and there was culture no change. We may have changed the way we do things and adapt a little bit towards the way they wanted it done versus the way we want it done, and they may have changed the same way. But I think culture is — partnerships is not going to change the culture. I think it’s going to enhance the culture.
Frank: I’m going to be controversial and say I think it’s going to affect the cultures. I have no idea how it’s going to affect the cultures, but the questions that Philly U asks us and the conversations have already had an impact. They may not see it, but the very activity of what we’ve been doing has affected, for example, my executive management team — and I know it’s affecting how they then are working and thinking about how they’re doing their work, so I don’t see how it can’t affect it.
To the degree, it is still up in the air and obviously as leaders you would hope that what we have is a positive effect on each other’s cultures and not a negative one. I’m less worried about there being an effect and more wanting us to be a positive for them, not a negative.
And then with the publishers — and I was going to use Blackboard as a great example over here — Blackboard was not a partner with us and Tim over there really got the idea of the difference between the partner and the vendor relationship.
And it has become more and more a partnership as certain people in our organization have had a chance to see in that we get to view into the future, we get — we succeed or fail together on things and it just — it changes things.
I like to think we’ve had an impact on Blackboard. Now, he’s our main point of contact and managed our accounts so he’s going to say, yes, we have. But I’m sure we get along with others that have been more strategic thinking, I think, have had an impact on them and vice versa, and what they’re doing has an impact on us. The same with the textbook publishers.
Ronald: And it’s great to have Blackboard here. I’ve been involved with Blackboard since 1994. In fact, we were the very first school in the little state of Rhode Island where I’m from to acquire Blackboard. But I’ve seen the changes in Blackboard over the years as it adapted to what higher education was doing and they didn’t overpower our education. They said, well, let’s work together. Let’s work together, let’s work together during these changes, so it’s great to have you here.
How Alliances, Partnerships, and Governance Can Enhance Academics
Ronald: All right, the next topic is going to be academics and we’ll talk a few minutes about that. In my little comments, as universities continue to examine ways in which they can enhance the campus and learning experience and improve productivity through flexible online learning and traditional learning environments, many universities view alliances, partnerships, and governance as a key asset to create intellectually vibrant and relevant academic programs drawing the best students and faculty.
So my little question to start us off will be how will alliances, partnerships, and governance with the organization enhance academics in today’s online? How will we enhance academics through these kinds of partnerships? We’ve already started talking about that, so we can continue talking about it.
Brian: So from the solutions provider standpoint, since we talked about it at an earlier session, it’s really the evolution of making sure we’re listening to the customer needs and we’re mindful of that shift. I think one good example of that is really that shift from the traditional classroom, brick-and-mortar environment to the online environment. That’s why we’re here today.
So as we know, the traditional content that a publisher provides may not be ideal in an online environment the way it would work in a brick-and-mortar environment. But if we, again, think we have the answers without partnering, listening to, testing different ideas, testing different models with institutions like Post, for example, then we’re not going to be successful.
So we’ve changed — and I’ll speak specifically for Cengage Learning — we have changed the manners in which we develop content based on how we’ve been partnering and working with institutions, the manner in which we service our customers, the manner in which we train.
We really look at ourselves now not as a publisher, not as a textbook publisher, but as a educational solutions and services provider. That’s print material, that’s digital material, those are services that come with the experience of partnering with a Cengage Learning that provide training, professional development, onboarding for digital solutions to help make instructors more comfortable in utilizing the content so that they can engage their students and be more successful, testing and measuring the solutions that we’re developing to make sure they are impactful, and that they’re helping improve student performance so that when an institution uses them, they are successful.
It’s not just a matter of handing them the content and the keys and saying good luck, we’ll check back in 15 weeks, here’s your bill. It is a question of, we’re partnering with you straight through. You’ve helped us develop these materials. These are the outcomes we expect you to see. We want your feedback straight through, and these are the ways that we’re going to be able to improve that based on those feedback.
If it’s a completely different model, oh, and by the way, here’s a suite of professional development services for your adjuncts. Here are the people who will be helping onboard and train you as you utilize this digital service right straight through. And then here’s how we’re going to get you ready for the next term. So it is a full complement of how we operate now moving forward, and that has definitely evolved based on feedback from customers and just how we are choosing to operate in the new environment.
D.R.: Yeah, and I think about it in terms of what do we want to be good at and how can we deliver the best educational outcomes. The technology is continually evolving and it’s the creative technology of development and as time goes on, what’s new becomes old and becomes a commodity.
So, for example, web hosting or something, there was a time being on the web was just being on the web was a competitive advantage. Now it’s commodity and such, so — and commodities are best done at scale and not at the scale of a single university.
So I think about partnering both in terms of those components that evolve to become commodities but also on the leading edge because to have those kinds of tools that you have requires incredible investment and you can spread that investment over many customers, whereas a single university we cannot.
And so sort of the two ends of the technology curve is where partnering makes the most sense for us and then within that middle part, really it’s our own strategy and our own internal decisions about giving our strengths and our strategic plan, what do we want to be good at and what do we want to partner with? But it’s all about delivering a better educational experience.
Frank: The reason for doing partnerships at all is for the benefit of students. Everything — every other reason you can come up with looks back to students. So at the center of the core of any collaboration is what ultimately you’re going to do for the student.
I’m going to take a little bit of a Post University world view on this, but, you know, those who work with me know the student/university/ourselves mentality, if we take care of the student, the university will be taken care of. If we take care of the university, each of us will thrive. And for a lot of universities that’s been all jumbled up in complexity.
One of the things that I’m impressed with Philly U is, I think they’re very aligned along the same sort of lines, and certainly we would want to partner with entities that have the right focus. Because at the end of the day, you want something that’s great for students and the collaboration is going to — is going to work.
You’re going to figure out a way to make it work and it’s like D.R. said. It’s because they have strengths that the other partner doesn’t have. The publishers have strengths. The publishers being in the room, I want to be careful, but universities — you go to conferences, and when the publishers aren’t around, people treat them like the enemy.
And if you can topple that on its head and say, instead of publishers being the enemy, can publishers be part of a long-term vision, a long-term solution?, you’ll find that they have a lot to offer, on a scale that none of us can offer. And I don’t want to pick which publisher — I’m just going to throw out a statistic.
So the library systems of all the Ivy League universities pale in comparison to the content available of just one of the public major publishers — of just one of the publishers. I’m not making any statement about which one. I mean, it’s striking. They have something that is of interest. They also have skill sets, again, distributed across many, many customers.
For us, I wanted to make a comment when I heard campus. I have a visceral reaction and Ron hasn’t known me long enough to know that I get a visceral reaction. So my reaction to that is you want to know why we’re partnering, because our campus used to be 57 acres and now it’s 6.5 billion acres. Our campus is the world.
It’s my belief that any university that doesn’t treat the world as its campus is going to lose and they’re going to lose not in five years — I mean, not in 10 years or 20 years, but much sooner. You’re going to start to see them fail.
So I think with something like Philly U, they recognize that they need to do this as a strategy for their future. And if we can help them achieve their bigger strategic goals and it aligns with our strategic goals, I mean, the win is phenomenal.
But at the core of it, at the end of the day, the biggest win has to be with the student, you know, they’re betting that we can provide a student experience for them, provide services to their students that are going to be at a level that would be hard for them to right out of the gate offer. And we need to do that. So the same with the publishers. We need them to step up to the plate and think differently about their models and how they integrate with each of us in different kinds of ways.
Ronald: Really good points. And one of the things that I think when I think of academics and partnering for academics as D.R. mentioned and Frank mentioned, is bringing the strengths together of each institution to work and develop programs that are going to show the strengths of each institution but brought together as one, and that’s key.
And like Frank, I think of a campus as the world, too. You know, the online campus is not restricted even though I spent years, and until 2006 I had a campus and I went to work on that campus all the time. But today’s world, when we think of campus, a campus — it’s there. It’s just what’s out there as we go along, so I still use the terminology there.
So certainly partnerships are going to enhance academics and they’re going to bring together students to add to their educational experience, and that’s what we do.
How Educational Partnerships Can Help Us Meet Technological Adoption Demands
Ronald: But the last topic is a little bit about technology and there’s a major need for colleges and universities to confront competition, to enhance academic programs to meet the challenges of online education today and to develop new teaching and learning strategies to meet the demands of the global marketplace because our campus is no longer Post University here in Waterbury. Our campus is the world.
So we need to think beyond. So how do we bring that together? A lot of colleges and universities over the years have found it really, really difficult to adapt to technology. Faculty have it difficult, as we talked about in some of the sessions today, to adapt to technology. Those baby boomers like me in my age with my gray hair, you know, how do we do it and how do we really adapt to technology?
So we need help, we need help and through partnerships we can do that. So my simple question is how can a partnership assist us to meet the technological demands today and into the future? Because technology is going to change as we go along, so we’ll start that up for our last session.
Brian: So, again, from the content and the solutions side, as I mentioned earlier, it’s much beyond, at least in this area, from the content standpoint. It’s partnering now with other organizations like a Blackboard to say, hey, we offer unique services, our customers are asking for those services to be delivered in a more cohesive manner. Why don’t we spend some time together and get that done and make the lives for our customers a little bit easier?
It’s the evolution of the manner in which we structure our organization in setting up programs, like what we have a Cengage Learning called CourseCare, which is designed specifically to train and onboard instructors with technology, because it’s not something you just pick up overnight or by watching one YouTube video on how to do X, Y, and Z. It just doesn’t work that way.
It takes time, and it’s very much an evolution, and we want to be a part of that. But we know to do that because we’ve listened, again, to our customer population and we’ve talked to them about the right ways to go about this.
So how does technology — how do we get that more incorporated? How do we make people feel more comfortable with it? How does that change? That’s providing more services, that’s listening and providing more of the resources that are needed to help make that a seamless transition for organizations.
I think one last note on that, it goes even further. I know Post, for example, has a host of instructional designers that help develop and create content. This is excellent. We also at Cengage Learning have instructional designers to work with institutions like Post or institutions that don’t have instructional designers to help develop the materials and solutions they need to incorporate technology in the right way.
It’s not just a matter of putting something on a shelf and having it in a book store and say, again, that relationship is over. It’s what are the different ways that we can work with institutions to help them bridge the gap that they can be the leaders, they can obtain those students all across the globe, you know, mutually beneficial across the board, so we’ve very much evolved in that capacity and continue to do so. I’m actually a hologram as I sit here in front of you today.
D.R.: I alluded to it before but, for us, we’re thinking about online not — I know some institutions kind of set it up as a separate business unit or a separate unit. We really think of it as a channel to deliver what we already have, that it’s tools and a channel to deliver the same knowledge that we generate, it’s a different way to share it.
So in that context, the specific technology, we want to be able to use it, we want to have partners to help us with it, but we — we’re not looking to be experts at developing the technology or the backbone, that kind of thing. So getting at this question and thinking about it, that’s really how we think about it and in that sense it drives us right to partnership, because what else would make sense to do?
Frank: It’s a multi-way street. It’s not even a two-way street. Technology is driving changes in higher education, whether higher education individual constituents want it to or not, it’s driving it. Our speaker this morning had good points about that. But also higher education educators are changing technology.
I’ll use the evolution of Blackboard as an example. I mean, Blackboard, from my viewpoint, started out as a few tools to get things up on the web. So if a faculty member wanted to get a Word document up on the Web — boom — they could get a Word document. If you knew HTML coding, you could also just put some text material up there and maybe some pictures and such.
To now, Blackboard’s strategy — if I’m not off on this — is reconceiving that it’s really about learning and it’s what’s the best vehicle for learning? Anyone who has worked with the technology has seen the evolution of Blackboard from 1997 all the way until today, and you look at the next generation of Blackboard 10, it’s pushing where education is going, but it’s also being pulled. Blackboard is being pulled into having rethinking about how we use technology.
I was just recently interviewed for University Business Magazine and the big transformation has been that we’ve had — I remember when a banner implementation when I was at Drexel University starting in 1998, and it changed how the university operated and not frequently for the better. Because it was the technology and you had to use it in this way.
And Blackboard did the same. I think the publishers at one time, it was, this was the model and you now have to adapt to it. So there was a reaction to technology that was understandable by educators. Nowadays when I hear the negative reaction to technology, I always think it’s more a reflection of the individual because companies have gotten it that they may not be 100 percent where they want to be.
Blackboard would say, the publishers would all say they’re not 100 percent where they want to be. I don’t think Philly U is where they want to be 100 percent, or we are, but it’s now focused on the student and it’s focused on the user and it’s less about the technology as much as what the technology can do in the learning process.
And so what can these partnerships do? As long as they have the right focus, which is student learning and student outcomes, then it’s really a matter of matching up what works, what is effective in assessing that. And I might also add technology is going to do what the accrediting bodies have been complaining about with all of us in higher education for a long time. It’s going to make us outcomes and assessment driven. It’s going to make us metrics driven because those institutions that aren’t, aren’t going to keep their accreditation anymore.
Ronald: Great. Terrific, terrific panel and terrific topics and I thank all of you for joining us. And certainly we walk away with the thought of, where does partnerships and alliances and collaborations fit in what you do, and how you can bring that to the classroom and to the things that you do? Thank you very much to our terrific panel and terrific session. Thank you for attending and we’ll see you at the wine.