Four Criteria to Consider When Comparing Courseware

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The number of courseware options available to higher education increases each year. While more options can be a good thing, it makes it difficult for instructors to find the best courseware for their needs. 

Assessing courseware can be a lengthy endeavor. Most instructors begin their search by identifying courseware options available for courses they teach. Then they confirm which options work with their school’s learning management system. Only then are they able to evaluate the quality of the courseware’s content and user experience. Ideally, instructors will also want to factor in the courseware’s cost to the student. 

This search and assessment method still leaves many considerations unaddressed. That’s potentially problematic. Courseware plays a critical role in attracting, retaining, and supporting students.

Fortunately, there is a new way to find and compare courseware options.

A Better Way To Assess Courseware Options

CourseGateway has developed a courseware comparison rubric that provides a methodical assessment of critical attributes. It’s fast, it’s easy, and the courseware options are comprehensive. They use the rubric as the foundation of their courseware search tool. Using the rubric helps post-secondary instructors make more informed decisions about courseware options. The rubric consists of four categories with 21 unique points of consideration. Instructors can prioritize these categories when creating their search criteria. Let’s explore this rubric and see how it helps instructors quickly and more comprehensively compare courseware options. Then, we’ll show you how CogBooks courseware performed within each category and overall.

1. Equity

Building and improving educational equity has moved to the forefront of many higher education institutions’ agendas. While societal issues are certainly driving the attention on equity, courseware is how many schools are working to achieve it. 

Unlike printed textbooks, courseware can be edited, shaped, and modified to better support different student groups. It can be adapted, if needed, to address issues regarding race, gender, or socioeconomic status.

But how can you evaluate a courseware’s ability to support equity? The rubric uses six considerations. 

  • Equity-Minded Language — Does the courseware use equity-minded language in directions, prompts, visuals, examples, and stories?
  • Equity-Minded Student Representation — Are students consistently included and positively reflected? 
  • Equity-Minded Student Supports — Does the courseware include social, emotional, and academic supports that are culturally relevant and responsive, providing an affirming sense of belonging?
  • Equity-Minded Learning Activities — Can learning activities be customized to embed culturally responsive and affirming functionalities?
  • Equity-Minded Design — Is the research used to inform the design of the digital learning product transparent and considers student populations by race and income?
  • Equity-Minded Outcomes — Did the research include student outcomes evidence by race and income?

Using these criteria, CourseGateway ranks CogBooks courseware among its top choices for equity. In fact, CogBooks courseware ranked highest in equity among others in its price category. It reported, “CogBooks feature content with representation of people from a variety of backgrounds. There are examples of content that highlight specific race-based situations and issues of poverty, etc., in some titles, though not in others.”

2. Efficacy

How well courseware delivers positive impact can be subjective. What one instructor loves, another may dislike.. That’s to be expected. When evaluating courseware, it’s important to go beyond opinions. Instructors should consider well-researched, third-party perspectives to establish efficacy credibly. 

In regards to efficacy, the rubric considered four aspects.

  • Third-Party Participation in Efficacy Research—Has research been conducted by a trusted party, such as a national research organization or a qualified researcher who is peer-reviewed?
  • Evidence Across Institution Types—Was the research conducted across a diversity of institutional settings, and outcome data disaggregated across those types of settings?
  • Rigorous Methodologies—Is there research that supports courseware efficacy and leverages reliable and valid empirical methods?
  • Case Studies—Are there case studies and qualitative studies across a variety of use cases and contexts? 
  • Research Design Support—Is there supplier research design and support for institutions interested in pursuing research based on product-generated data?

CogBooks courseware rated very highly for efficacy, with top scores for rigorous methodologies, evidence across institution types, and third-party participation in efficacy research. 

CourseGateway reported, “CogBooks have a rich base of efficacy evidence, including dissertation work completed at an HBCU. A variety of other institutions are included as well, and CogBooks provided excellent evidence of rigorous research design. The overall maturity of this product and CogBooks’ work to prove its efficacy is easily available and evident.”

3. Functionality

Among the most important categories to consider with any courseware is how well it works. What is the user experience like for students and instructors? Does it improve learning or impede it with limitations and complicated technology? Because it directly impacts every interaction with the courseware, functionality is perhaps the most apparent and considered method of assessing options.

The rubric evaluates functionality using seven different points of consideration. 

  • Measurement and Structure—Is there an ability to assess learning in relation to learning objectives/competencies?
  • Usability—Does the courseware include features of the software and user-centered design that support sustained engagement and high-user satisfaction?
  • Customization—Can an instructor or course designer alter learning or assessment content? 
  • Learner Guidance—Does it support learners to achieve and grow beyond their current level of proficiency?
  • Collaboration—Can students engage with peers, mentors, or instructors as appropriate within the courseware’s interface?
  • Enables Evidence-Based Teaching Practices—Will the courseware support evidence-based teaching pedagogies such as active learning? 
  • Adaptivity—Will the courseware adjust presentations of content in relation to the knowledge of learners? 

How did CogBooks courseware do in regards to functionality? This is where we receive our best marks and achieve a nearly perfect score in all areas. CourseGateway stated, “CogBooks is a very mature product with easy-to-use interfaces and is highly customizable. It’s easy to tie content and assessment to learning objectives, making the connection clear for students as well. Students are encouraged to indicate a level of self-efficacy, which helps develop CogBooks’ adaptive platform approach. CogBooks could offer more peer-to-peer collaboration opportunities, but overall, this is an excellent product in terms of functionality and usability.”

4. Systems

Instructors and course designers will be interested in learning how robust the courseware’s technology is to work with. The systems category helps to inform decision-makers from an administrative standpoint.

  • Data Access—Will the data generated and stored by the supplier be easily accessible to relevant faculty and administrators upon request? 
  • Content Management—Is there easy-to-use and robust functionality to create, store, and share course-related content in various formats?
  • Course Administration—Does it encompass scheduling, progress support, and assignments?

CogBooks achieved very strong marks in the systems category. CourseGateway reported, “Access to data is easy through customizable reports. We are encouraged by CogBooks’ promise to further customize data feeds based on the needs of individual institutions.” But with systems, they did find opportunities for enhancement, “CogBooks could further develop the system with group assignment capabilities and calendar integration. A module library would be useful.” Thankfully, these recommended enhancements (and more) were released shortly after the analysis was published. 

How Did CogBooks Score?

The rubric provides a thoughtful method for comparing courseware options. Ultimately, the purpose of a rubric is to help users arrive at an informed decision. A scoring system was built into the rubric to assist in the decision-making process.

Each aspect of the four rubric categories was scored on a four-point system. With 21 aspects considered, there is a possible perfect score of 84 points. With an earned score of 74, CogBooks courseware was among the highest-scoring courseware options assessed with the rubric. 

We recommend reading the complete CogBooks courseware review

Courseware Evaluation With the Importance It Deserves

Instructors finally have a solution that is systematic, independent, comprehensive, and reliable for comparing courseware. The CourseGateway tool will save time, but more importantly, it will help them select the best possible courseware for their needs. It’s a massive step forward that ensures courseware will meet instructors, students, and schools’ goals. Even if you don’t choose to use the CourseGateway tool, we recommend careful consideration of equity, efficacy, functionality, and systems when making your courseware selection. These four pillars undoubtedly form the foundation of a compelling courseware offering.

Give Students Greater Agency and Instructors More Control

CogBooks weaves student agency, instructor empowerment, and curriculum affordability ($39.95 per course) into a comprehensive, adaptive learning platform. This simple to adopt and manage tool can be used  as a direct-replacement for textbooks. Higher education institutions or instructors can choose CogBooks for a single course or create an entire degree program such as the Biospine Initiative at Arizona State University. The CogBooks adaptive learning platform has been used by more than 200,000 students worldwide. It is proven to reduce dropouts by 90% while improving student performance by 24%.* Connect with us if you’re interested in learning more, creating a custom course, or developing an entire degree program.