Using Digital Courseware to Address Affordability, Access, and Effectiveness

Concurrent Session 5

Brief Abstract

This session shares insights and learning data analysis from a multi-year implementation of digital courseware designed using open educational resources (OER). It explores how courseware can impact student success by strengthening essential factors in learning such as metacognition, learner feedback, and faculty-student connections, in addition to affordability and access.


Dr. Ayers is Dean, Information Technology, and Online Campus Lead for Open and Competency-Based Education at Broward College based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He is also currently serving as Broward’s Project Lead for an Achieving the Dream (ATD) OER Degree Initiative grant. Previously, Dr. Ayers was Vice President of Education at Anthem Education, where he provided strategic leadership, planning and implementation around academic affairs initiatives. Prior to that position, Dr. Ayers served in a variety of administrative and academic roles at Barry University, including Executive Associate Dean, Assistant Dean for Information Technology and Assistant Professor of Organizational Leadership. Throughout his career, Dr. Ayers has taught at the college level, with an academic focus on management and information systems. He holds a Ph.D. from Barry University and master's degrees from Harvard University, Barry University and Florida International University, as well as a bachelor of science degree from Saint Peter's University.

Additional Authors

Kim Thanos is the CEO of Lumen Learning. Lumen provides well-designed, low-cost digital course materials that help colleges and universities offer the best education to all students, regardless of socioeconomic status. Core to its approach, Lumen guides institutions to use open educational resources (OER) to their full benefit. Kim has spent the past ten years focused on the challenge of how to move OER from a concept that is philosophically interesting, to a practical tool that is changing success rates for at-risk students. Through that journey she has worked with hundreds of institutions to explore content creation and adaptation models, student and faculty engagement approaches, economic impacts, institutional strategy and policy, faculty collaboration, and the possibilities that open education provides to create to a more personalized learning experience.

Extended Abstract

Tom Ayers, Associate Dean for Information Technology, Business Administration, and Competency-based education at Broward College, starts off the session with a discussion of key challenges encountered by Broward College as the institution works to improve student success and retention, particularly in online courses. He will offer perspectives on institutional strategy and priorities at Broward, and the roles played by open educational resources (OER) together with digital courseware tools to improve learning effectiveness for students and teaching effectiveness for faculty members. He also discusses how participation in programs such as the Gate’s Next Generation Courseware Challenge and the Achieving the Dream (ATD) OER Degree Initiative has helped generate organizational momentum around innovation in teaching and learning.

Dr. Ayers highlights key elements that make a meaningful difference to students and learning: solving problems around access to learning content; improving the frequency and type of teacher-student communication to support a higher-touch learning experience; opportunities for students to practice and get feedback on their performance; and the imperative for flexibility using OER content to continuously improve learning materials over time.

Kim Thanos, CEO of Lumen Learning, introduces summary learning data analysis about the impact of digital courseware on students at Broward College. Kim shares insights about the impact of this courseware initiative on various student success metrics, and the circumstances where using courseware appears to have the strongest positive impact on student grades. She offers insights from behavioral data about how students and faculty use the courseware, comparing actual behaviors to optimal behaviors aimed at improving learning and the student-teacher relationship. She also shares an innovative framework for evaluating courseware effectiveness for each learning outcome, yielding a data-driven process for making surgical improvements to course content, learning activities and assessments.

The session moves on to frame how to approach opportunities to implement digital courseware, putting the humans involved in learning at the center of this consideration. What are the desired goals for improving the learning experience for students and faculty? What role can courseware play in achieving these goals? How will using digital courseware alter the learning experience, and what does this mean for students, teachers, and how they interact with each other? In what ways does digital courseware offer greater versus lesser freedom and autonomy for instructors to shape the learning experience?

Session attendees are invited to join this dialogue with questions, comments and their own experiences exploring the value and impact of digital courseware. This thought-provoking dialogue is useful at a time when faculty members and institutional leaders have the obligation to explore not only what digital courseware can offer, but also how implementation factors affect the essential human interactions around teaching and learning.