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Bob Martin: Joining us today for this edition of Imagine America Radio is Bruce Snyder. Bruce is vice president for business engineering at Ambassador Education Solutions. Our conversation with Bruce will focus on Ambassador’s new groundbreaking technology designed to ease the entire courseware of materials lifecycle for the student, for schools, and for publishers. First of all, before we start, may we call you Bruce?
Bruce Snyder: Yes.
Bob: Oh, great. Nice to have you here, Bruce. So, Bruce, why don’t we start out by giving our audience a little history on Ambassador Education Solutions and Ambassador’s new unique approach to course materials management.
Bruce: Sure. Thanks, Bob. We’ve been helping schools manage course materials for nearly five decades now, powering print and digital course materials programs alike. But as most educators can attest, course materials have grown increasingly complex. While on one hand it’s great that students have more print and digital options and more delivery channels, this also means it can be harder for schools and publishers to manage everything, including access, licenses, fees, opt-outs, integrations, and much more. At Ambassador, we simplify all of it. We make it easy for students to purchase and access their materials, and we make it easy for schools and publishers to manage all of the moving parts.
Lee Doubleday: Bruce, this is Lee. I’m talking to Bruce Snyder, vice president of business engineering at Ambassador Education Solutions. So, we’ve been following Ambassador’s story for a long time and we definitely took note when you all upped your game this summer, launching your new course materials platform, RODA. That’s R-O-D-A. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you got here?
Bruce: Sure. More than a year ago, we asked ourselves, “What’s next in course materials?” We envisioned a single platform that would combat the fragmented approach to content we were seeing in the market. We also wanted to make it easy for students, schools, and publishers to work together. Little did we know life would drastically change over the coming months, though. Fast forward to today, RODA is already helping students, schools, and publishers—not only ease workflows, but address new learning models, especially in this increasingly digital world. RODA is one platform for everyone.
Lee: Okay. Now, Bruce, why don’t you walk us through the ways that RODA helps each one of its stakeholders—the stakeholders being students, schools, and publishers. But let’s start with the students.
Bruce: Students today are being forced to figure out how to navigate multiple content platforms. It’s time-intensive and very confusing. Students are also very price-conscious, and many have turned to online marketplaces to try to find the best deal on course materials. What they often don’t consider is that these marketplaces aren’t built around enrollment numbers. So prices can change and availability/quantities can vary. Plus, the cost can actually end up being higher because students can’t always find all of their materials through the same seller. So they end up paying multiple shipping fees. RODA simplifies access to affordable course materials. We aggregate all content and applications and deliver them through one easy-to-use course materials platform. Prices are held steady for an entire term and everything comes from one channel so shipping can be less. Additionally, our system controls ensure students are not overcharged, even when using the same materials across multiple terms and courses.
Lee: Well, I’m sure that students appreciate that. I mean, I remember when I went to school how expensive books were. So I’m sure that they appreciate that. Now it seems like this takes a lot of the stress away from the students. But what do you do if a student needs help?
Bruce: Well, RODA is wrapped in our same support services that schools have come to know and appreciate. We provide a single point of contact for students to inquire about purchases, log-ins, and much more.
Lee: Okay, that’s good to know. Now let’s talk about RODA from the school’s perspective. Now, it seems though a lot of schools are trying to do more with less. And the last thing they want to do is pile on their IT teams to manage course materials. So how does RODA help with that?
Bruce: Yeah, you’re right. Content management adds significant pressure to a school’s IT infrastructure and to compound things, dynamics between schools and publishers are always changing. RODA streamlines these operations and relationships. With RODA, schools don’t have to worry about the growing number of content and system integrations—and there are a lot. RODA manages and maintains multiple publisher and platform integrations all through one centralized platform. It takes away the burden on the school’s internal resources. And beyond the integrations, RODA fills data and service gaps between schools and publishers. RODA provides 360-degree transparency so that schools know exactly what materials students are using, so they don’t overpay for content. We also handle all publisher-related issues, including getting book lists, reporting on current editions, and so forth. We manage duplicate access, expiration dates, returns, credits, and opt-outs—including publish direct content via LMS link. The school maintains control, but, in all honesty, there’s very little they have to do. RODA does all of the heavy lifting.
Lee: Wow, this is Lee. This is Lee. I’m talking to Bruce Snyder, the VP of business engineering at Ambassador Education Solutions. This sounds like an all-around more efficient way to go. Sounds like there’s one central place where students and schools can log in to access course materials. Now you talk a lot about how RODA eases the school–publisher relationship from the school side. But let’s talk about why it’s beneficial for the publishers as well.
Bruce: Sure. So, as I mentioned, with a wide variety of print and digital materials and integrations, the process has become more cumbersome to manage. And publishers feel the strain too. It’s practically impossible for the publishers to integrate with each and every school’s student information system individually, and lacking that important information, they haven’t had a solid way to validate usage to make sure they’re getting paid what they’re owed. RODA changes all of this because RODA integrates with each school directly. Publishers have peace of mind that students can easily access the materials. And the publishers have verifiable data, so they know exactly what is owed and by which schools. Another challenge RODA tackles is the management of publisher direct content. Typically, this content may remain accessible even when students opt out of it through an inclusive access program. When publishers integrate with RODA, they can actually lock down the content and block access for students who opt out. Without RODA, that functionality is very difficult to achieve. For schools and publishers alike, RODA handles the entire digital content process, configuring access for non-expiring, semester-based, or census-based digital content. We have the controls in place to make sure schools are charged only for students assigned to those courses and provide the reporting, which eases the reconciliation process tremendously.
Lee: And now you mentioned opt-outs; I assume this is part of inclusive access. Let’s talk about inclusive access for a minute and why schools are embracing that model.
Bruce: You’re right. We’ve been empowering inclusive access programs for about two decades, and they certainly are growing in popularity. For anyone listening who isn’t familiar, inclusive access means students automatically receive their materials before day one of class by simply being enrolled. Fees typically are bundled with tuition or included as a separate resource fee. Under the Department of Education rules, students must have the option to opt out and decline course materials in an inclusive access program.
Lee: That’s interesting. I wasn’t aware of that. Now can you elaborate a little bit more about the opt-out process? What does that look like?
Bruce: Unfortunately, a lot of schools don’t have a clear and simple way for students to opt out. And while the opt-out process for digital resources such as e-books, access codes, and courseware might be more straightforward, it gets complicated when students are using publisher direct content embedded within the LMS. This content tends to be openly available to enrolled students whether they opt out or not. So you can imagine the publishers want to lock down this content when students opt out. It’s only fair to the other students. There are numerous controls that need to be implemented on the backend to address opt-outs, helping with compliance, transparency, student choice, usage, and costs. We’ve developed our easy opt-out functionality to ease the process for students, schools, and publishers. Students can easily opt out, schools can improve compliance with federal regulations, and publishers can block access to students who opt out. Plus, it empowers schools and publishers to more accurately track opt-outs to verify fees and any applicable student credits.
Lee: Wow, okay. So it sounds like you guys are tracking opt-outs, you’re tracking student usage and their access. And I know a couple of things about Ambassador—I know you’re into data. So can you talk a little bit about how the analytics work for RODA? What does that look like?
Bruce: Sure. At Ambassador, we believe the adage, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Data is important and the usage analytics available through RODA can be applied in several ways. We’ve already talked about tracking usage data to make sure students don’t overpay and publishers are paid what they’re owed, but it goes deeper than that. Usage analytics are a great tool to measure engagement and retention, as well as predict success. The metrics that accompany digital content—including e-books, access codes, cordless access, courseware, and publisher direct content—can tell us a lot. Studies tell us there’s often a correlation between minimal course materials usage and lower grades. Knowing this and having access to this usage data can spur faculty outreach and early intervention. These metrics also can tell us which students are actively engaged with the course materials and, therefore, more likely to fully engage with their studies and be retained as students. That said, it would be a tremendous task for schools to manage the magnitude of data available from multiple publishers and do this all themselves. RODA can collect integrated usage data and turn it into easy-to-understand trends, metrics, and conclusions for the school, which helps them be more proactive in managing student success.
Lee: Yeah, I can see where that would be really helpful for the schools. Now let me ask you this. Let’s say I’m a school, and I’m interested in getting up and running with RODA. How easy is it for a school to get started?
Bruce: The short answer is very easy. Transitioning only takes a matter of weeks. Once we confirm the school’s requirements, and that really is part of my job to confirm the school’s requirements and configure our systems in a way that meet those needs. I’ll tell you the schools that have already transitioned to RODA can’t believe how life-changing it is and how much simpler it all is.
Lee: Great. Now one last question for you before I turn it over to
Bob: What should schools do to learn more about the starting process?
Bruce: Schools can get in touch with us at RODA@AmbassadorEd.com or call us at (800) 431-8913.
Bob: This is Bob Martin with Imagine America Radio. Our guest today has been Bruce Snyder, vice president of business engineering at Ambassador Education Solutions. Bruce, before we close today’s episode, why don’t you restate for us again why RODA is such—it’s so different than all the other products out there in the market and probably, more importantly, why is RODA such a game-changer?
Bruce: Well, RODA aggregates everything together in a way that no other course materials technology or platform can. It’s like your entertainment hub at home: Picture all of your apps and shows available through Xfinity or Apple TV, regardless of the original source. But instead, it’s your course materials for school. Everything is in one place. When we say everything, we mean seamless access to print and digital materials, publisher and platform integration support services, analytics, financial controls, and compliance. All through one flexible and easy-to-use platform. The key is our single centralized approach.
Bob: Our guest today has been Bruce Snyder, vice president for business engineering Ambassador Education Solutions, and we’ve had an outstanding conversation on Ambassador’s new RODA system. I want to thank Bruce for taking time out of his very, very busy schedule to join us today to talk to our audience. And would also like to thank my colleague, Lee Doubleday with Imagine America Radio. Finally, I’d like to thank our audience for taking time out of their schedules to join us. For now, this is Bob Martin with Imagine America Radio, wishing you all a safe and prosperous day. Goodbye.