Collaborating for Innovation
By Kristin Powers
February 18, 2021
Collaborating for Innovation

Note: Earlier this month, our friends at Brighter Higher Ed shared an article we wrote about how CourseTune helps drive innovation and collaboration in higher education.  We are sharing it here too for you to see.  Thanks to Brighter Higher Ed for the opportunity to write this piece.  Be sure to check them out and join their community for more great content! 


“Decades of research shows that curriculum mapping and alignment improve student outcomes at the classroom and program levels. But it also means systemic improvements across the college and throughout a state’s educational system,” explains Diane Weaver, co-founder, and COO of Coursetune, Inc., “I joined the founding team because I had worked both with statewide longitudinal data systems and with curriculum alignment to national standards at scale — meaning the curriculum was used in every state across the US and in 15 countries around the world. The alignment requirements were complex, to say the least, but so critical and worth the hard work. Still, I wanted to make that process easier and make gathering the data and reports scalable at the school, system, state, and federal levels.”

What CourseTune brings in a way that has been impossible before is a visual, collaborative curriculum modeling platform that automates reporting, provides a real-time feedback loop where instructors can indicate what’s working for them and their students and what’s not working.“What CourseTune brings in a way that has been impossible before is a visual, collaborative curriculum modeling platform that automates reporting, provides a real-time feedback loop where instructors can indicate what’s working for them and their students and what’s not working. It provides instructors with clarity around what’s required in the curriculum for program and accreditation alignment and, if they wish, powerful tools to design their academic freedom contributions in a way that is focused on student outcomes.”

Looking for innovation? How two university systems adopted CourseTune to overcome institutional silos and scale student outcomes.

No one thinks of a University System as a simple place. If you look across the system, you might have many colleges and departments. Almost all of them might have their unique approaches to curriculum design. Some may even have different types of personnel designing their curriculum. If there is promising innovation happening within one or a few departments, they may stay there for no one else ever to know. These could be innovations that may help the entire university shift to a learner-centered curriculum.

A shift to a learner-centered curriculum stretches beyond a University System. Especially in places where students are moving from one learning stage to another. For example, from High School to Higher Ed, Community college to a 4-year institution, or college to the workforce.

Even though it may be challenging to get these institutions to collaborate, it’s the students who will benefit the most.

What if a software tool could help your university build a common platform around curriculum design? What if institutions could use a software platform for high schools to collaborate with colleges or community colleges to collaborate with universities? Something that would help bridge communication gaps in a captivating visual way. Or even democratize the learner’s experience by documenting the learner’s path through her or his education journey from “PreK to Gray.” CourseTune could be that tool.

CourseTune presents a beautiful visual curriculum map that reveals the strategy behind course design. Its flexibility allows universities to support shifts in standards. It can build a connection to anytime, anywhere learning and find where there might be skill-gaps or missing standards. CourseTune accomplishes all of this through a beautifully designed interface that can serve as a common platform to drive innovation and capitalize on curriculum design collaboration.

What’s more, an institution can configure CourseTune’s multi-institutional login feature to simplify and manage collaboration across multiple systems of colleges, universities, community, or statewide for clarity and understanding of outcome definition transferability of credit.

For the University of Missouri System, CourseTune is more than a tool.

The University of Missouri System is currently using CourseTune to drive that innovation and collaboration. In a recent talk, Danna Wren, Senior Director of Academic Technology, and Jonathan Cisco, Associate Director for the Teaching and Learning Center, spoke about some of the strategies they’ve been applying to drive CourseTune adoption throughout the UM system.

Their goal has been to drive better collaboration among campuses, colleges, departments, and programs. To put things into perspective, The University of Missouri system has about 70,000 students distributed across four campuses with 6,000 faculty and researchers and more than 17,000 staff. To drive CourseTune adoption, Danna and Jonathan have developed some specific strategies to reach the right people in the UM System.

It starts with asking questions. As Coursetune, Inc.’s Diane Weaver notes. “What this means for colleges is an unprecedented capacity to see and discuss hallmarks of quality learning experiences, find and repair gaps like skills gaps, and incorporate a process for continuous improvement. At the classroom level, there’s powerful clarity for instructors and students on the simple questions, “what are we learning, when are we learning it, how are we learning it, and why are we learning it?” When students understand their learning plan and purpose for the work required, they show up to learn with a different mindset, and this shift is likely the biggest indicator for student success and retention.”Collaboration starts to involve the community and industry needs more easily. And importantly, critical context to that statewide longitudinal data, which is largely assessment data. This big assessment data is, at best, like looking at Swiss cheese, full of holes and unknowns.

“When these same simple questions are answered at scale across the college, curriculum initiatives and reform that used to take years now takes months. When this clarity of student learning objectives and outcomes are available at the system and state level, we now see improvements in the transferability of credits and accuracy in the data reports. Collaboration starts to involve the community and industry needs more easily. And importantly, critical context to that statewide longitudinal data, which is largely assessment data. This big assessment data is, at best, like looking at Swiss cheese, full of holes and unknowns. And yet, it’s the big data that informs policymaking at the state and federal levels. CourseTune brings a critical curriculum context to the assessment data so that the conversation shifts from ‘what percentage of our student population is failing?’ To ‘which outcomes specifically are they failing at and are those outcomes appropriate and relevant to our post-technology society?’”

Danna describes how the UM System is using CourseTune to innovate. Her team is replacing the traditional student transcript, which often doesn’t display what a student learned, with a “Comprehensive Learner Record.” CourseTune generates this extended transcript. It is a more visual representation of a student’s educational journey in the UM System. Because the Comprehensive Learner Record’s tabs and maps are captivating and something students like, Danna points to it as another reason for a department to adopt CourseTune.

In the realm of collaboration, The University of Missouri at St. Louis is working on a curriculum alignment program to tie in more closely to strategic initiatives at other UM System campuses. This program has resulted in a speedy movement of Student Learning Objectives into CourseTune. It dovetails nicely with the Center for Teaching and Learning’s efforts. The curriculum alignment program has helped UMSL better decide the frequency and sequence of courses. Now students have more chances to take the required courses. In some cases, it’s decreased the time it takes a student to graduate.

In all, the UM System has positioned its CourseTune implementation to aid collaboration and innovation-sharing across the system naturally. The key is to see CourseTune as a tool to create change and not as a new system edict from on high. And they’re not stopping here. In the future, they are looking at mapping out their curriculum in co-enrollment programs between community colleges and the University of Missouri System.

Looking toward other possibilities.

Dr. Dan Kline, Ph.D., Director of General Education at the University of Alaska Anchorage, shared some other ideas on how this collaboration and innovation could happen. “By focusing on pathways or those transition points between one institutional type to another, that’s where the national transfer conversation is focusing these days. In essence, each time we put a student at a yes/no point to create a barrier, we’re going to lose a certain percentage of them.”

Dr. Kline discussed how a concrete approach to this would begin by looking at state-level outcomes in K-12, focusing on General Education Student Learning Objectives. These SLO’s are usually defined at the institutional level or university system level. He also pointed out that some states have onboarding requirements specified at the two and four-year institution level. An institution could align their baccalaureate degree outcomes with different professional or accreditation standards and even state workforce definitions.

Looking above the state-level, regional accreditors (e.g., the New England Commission of Higher Education) have standards to which Institutions and Systems must map their curriculum and offerings.

To avoid starting from scratch, institutions can look toward SLO’s at the state university system level. The idea here is that these systems have a broad reach. Therefore, they can supply a useful starting point or act as an alignment influencer as community colleges and high schools look toward where their students are likely to go in the future. Dr. Kline points to the Cal State system as an example.

Dr. Kline also suggests looking at national organizations such as the Association of American Colleges & Universities or Interstate Passport Network to see how these groups define General Education assessment trajectories and Student Learning Objectives.  Many institutions at different levels could then “map their courses and/or SLOs without hampering academic freedom or forcing institutions to change anything they’re already doing.”

Consortiums of institutions at the K-12, Institution, University System, Regional, or even national level can collaborate within CourseTune to create clearly defined pathways and Student Outcomes. As a result, the “sticky transitions,” as Dr. Kline terms them, would be seamless for learners.

Diane Weaver notes, “When the conversation shifts in that way where we can focus on student success based on student outcomes instead of “did they have four assignments or five?” Suddenly we can solve the transferability of credits for our most marginalized student populations who are often having to retake courses and delay graduation when they transfer. This is a vast, unnecessary barrier for them. Especially when you consider that today’s traditional student looks like yesterday’s non-traditional student. They are juggling employment, family obligations, life events, poverty, and illness while they attend college.”“We are at a crossroads in our nation’s history, where education reform around race and equity is essential. How can we do that without seeing where we are addressing those needs in the curriculum and where we aren’t? Impossible.

Weaver notes the urgent need for these changes, “We are at a crossroads in our nation’s history, where education reform around race and equity is essential. How can we do that without seeing where we are addressing those needs in the curriculum and where we aren’t? Impossible.”

“A big part of repairing our diversity and inclusion inequities is bridging the technology divide in learning access across PK-12, post-secondary, and even in the workforce. How can we do that without clear plans to tackle these complexities that exist across our communities?”

Learning is a lifelong journey.

Individual institutions have done an incredible amount of work to build learning pathways, create curricula, and pivot to digital learning and other initiatives. Most of that innovation is siloed at those institutions. Collaboration could unlock some of those silos and help propagate some of the great wisdom that institutions have built during this unprecedented time. Technology that can scale to incorporate the curricula at all educational community levels could help students navigate their lifelong learning journey. Transformation requires all these institutions to see the bigger picture of a learner-centered path. Because of its straightforward, visual, scalable platform, built-in collaboration tools, analytics and reporting, and multi-institution login, CourseTune is in a prime position to be that tool.

The power to transform learning is critical to embrace and put in place now if we want to be prepared for the challenges in the years ahead.

Coursetune, Inc’s Diane Weaver shares this closing thought, “The power to transform learning is critical to embrace and put in place now if we want to be prepared for the challenges in the years ahead. What I like to hear from the individuals quoted in this article are leadership reflections on implementing this vision. We can see it in the strategies in use at the University of Missouri System. We can also see a deep understanding of the potential and the real struggles to adopt this at the University of Alaska System. People working in higher ed will very likely relate to parts of both stories depending on their culture of alignment and requirements to reform to survive.”

Coursetune 2x

Stay in the loop with the freshest ideas in instructional design: bite sized course and curriculum tips

    CourseTune