Aligning Your Courseware Selection with a Digital Transformation Strategy

Written by: Jaci Smith

U.S. colleges and universities of all types are facing what EDUCAUSE has previously called a set of “grand challenges”: student success, financial health, reputation and relevance, and external competition.

Betsy Reinitz, director of the CIOs and Senior Technology Leaders Program at EDUCAUSE, says these challenges serve as the lens through which institutions can frame their strategic planning work. Reinitz wants to help higher education leaders understand how digital transformation (Dx) can not only aid them in overcoming current challenges but also equip them with the resilience to withstand, and pivot from, future challenges.

For example, a decision on the purchase and implementation of digital courseware for a critical gateway course can impact an institution’s ability to deal with those grand challenges—helping or hurting its enrollment, financial position, reputation, and learning outcomes for specific student populations. A deliberate approach to digital transformation can ensure that the decision is well aligned with the institution’s strategy.

The COVID-19 pandemic created less than optimal circumstances in which many decisions about courseware and other digital learning tools were made urgently. However, says Reinitz, a Dx strategy can help educators reset, learn from the experience so far, and move forward with a clearer strategy.

Different Approaches

One obstacle to digital transformation, Reinitz says, is that it seems so big and all-encompassing that educators think they need to establish a grand goal that requires institutional leaders to rethink everything they do. That takes time, effort, and money—things already in short supply at most institutions. “Instead, at EDUCAUSE we talk about digital transformation as a series of iterative journeys,” she says.

Another obstacle is the tendency people naturally have to start by changing the technology—which seems implied in the term digital transformation. “If you lead with the technology, you’re setting yourself up to fail,” Reinitz says. “You have to think about the culture and the workforce and, one of the most important things, make sure the work you’re doing supports your institutional mission and goals.”

For example, when it comes to the use of adaptive courseware, many instructors are so focused on how the courseware fits into their instructional framework that they fail to consider implementation and the support that needs to go along with it—until it becomes a problem.

Learn, Plan, Do

EDUCAUSE illustrates its concept of Digital Transformation as a circle that starts with Learn, then moves on to Plan, and ends with Do, with topical subsets under each.

An infographic image presents a circle divided into three equal pieces, representing the phases of Learn, Plan, and Do.


Reinitz says institutions may need to leap backward on the path to work through stages again as conditions change. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic forced many institutions to shift to different teaching modalities and instructional frameworks. The emergency put educators in the position of Doing—selecting and purchasing courseware, for example—without going through the Learning and Planning stages first. For many institutions that have much more digital learning technology in place than they did three years ago, this is a time to work backward. Reinitz suggests: “Take it back to the Learn stage and incorporate your experience into how you plan for more and do more.”

Successful digital transformation involves a range of stakeholders, not all of them the institutional leaders. “We’re seeing a groundswell of people who are able to talk about the changes they made that had an impact, say on equity, or using adaptive courseware,” Reinitz says. “The pandemic has made many people better at change management. You’ve got people more willing to see opportunities as they emerge and act on them. That’s good for digital transformation on a broad scale.”

Digital Transformation at Work

One example Reinitz points to is Salt Lake Community College, which is working on how data analysis informs its decision-making. The college has made data literacy a priority, but people in different roles—contingent faculty, full-time faculty, facilities managers, deans, and technology support specialists, for example—need different kinds of data literacy. Reaching institutional goals means the college needs to create well-defined uses of data and identify the supports required by different professionals.

Another example is San Diego State University, where several Dx initiatives have been going on at the same time. The university has also established a goal of embedding equity and inclusion in all decision-making. “That includes everything from search committees to classroom interactions, to performance evaluations, to faculty retention,” Reinitz says. “Some of this has digital components and some doesn’t, but overall, it’s a transformational effort with the institutional goal being to get better at equity and inclusion.”

In other words, if and where digital learning technologies such as courseware are being considered, the work of strategically approaching digital transformation prioritizes equity as a part of that work.

Where to Start

Reinitz believes that long-lasting digital transformation begins with an institution looking inward, defining its mission and goals, and assessing its digital maturity.

EDUCAUSE has many Dx resources, including an institutional self-assessment instrument covering six competency areas: strategic innovation; data analytics; institutional alignment; flexibility and agility; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and transformation of work and skills. After institutions complete the assessment, EDUCAUSE suggests specific recommendations to improve in each area.

“It’s the best place to get started if you’re willing to jump in and do some work,” says Reinitz, “because it points to areas where you can make progress, and it helps you understand steps you can take so that the work is not so overwhelming.”

“Transformation can happen at a lot of different levels,” she says. “I think wherever you start, wherever you go into it, you’re learning and moving forward in your journey. And that’s great.”

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