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Noodle, the “anti-OPM” founded by John Katzman, has launched a new strategic consulting arm of their business. Among Noodle’s first clients for this consulting business is Teachers College, Columbia University. I connected with Katie Embree, vice president for planning and strategy at Teachers College, to learn more about her work with Noodle.

Q: What were the main challenges of this project in which Noodle was uniquely able to help?

Katie Embree, a blond woman with light skin and glasses wearing a berry-colored lipstick

A: During the pandemic, by necessity, the world adapted to online teaching and, perhaps more importantly, receptivity to teaching and learning through online methods increased as well. At Teachers College, our leaders recognized this new horizon provided more opportunities. We wanted to explore this new world: one that is both fully online and hybrid models, within the context of for-credit matriculated degrees and noncredit offerings. Our first step was to better understand the market, and we sought out a partner who could help with that analysis.

Of course, online education was not a completely new notion for us. Teachers College has several times in the past explored the noncredit environment, and we've considered the question within a “go–no go” frame. The answer was consistently “go.” So our challenge now was not to revisit the past but to help us to get past “go” and address “how.”  Noodle also helped us to answer these questions, and having the research and practical execution capabilities under one roof was important to us. We appreciated the firm’s experience bringing fully developed programs to market, their instructional design teams and intellectual landscape thinking.

Q: What actions were you able to take based on the work with Noodle, and how is it currently being brought to life?

A: Like many colleges and universities of higher education, we have experienced massive change just over the last 18 months. From the time we started this work until the time we read the final report, Teachers College developed an online strategy consistent with our mission and values and decided to launch several new programs. This project spurred much discussion of what those should be and how we get geared up to produce them. This has led to the creation of a new position at the college, a director of online learning, which is a substantial step for us. The person will oversee the development of online degrees, working directly with faculty. They’ll also oversee the production of noncredit offerings, which was Noodle’s mandate for exploration. Because of the Noodle work, there is a really excellent road map to bring our vision to life.

Q: What did you learn from this project that is a lesson other universities and colleges could find value in knowing?

A: As with any consulting engagement, I think the chemistry and relationship between the main person on both ends is really critical. In an RFP situation, there could be 10 people on that call presenting the material. But it will boil down to the project owner at the university and the main liaison at the consulting firm. I need to know who that liaison will be, because we’re going to be connected at the hip for some months. For me, Noodle was an excellent partner. The transparency up front and understanding about who I was actually working with in the day-to-day of the project was important.

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