Ottawa University announced a major, groundbreaking partnership arrangement this week with the largest provider of educational technology and software in the world. The joint announcement by Ottawa University and Blackboard — unique in size, scope and term for both parties — is an example of what more and more institutions and organizations are developing in what is becoming an increasingly boundaryless world.
Blackboard, a $650 million company which built its reputation by providing the software and related services in support of the burgeoning online education industry, was looking for a proven innovator in higher education, an opportunity to grow its recurring revenue streams, a living laboratory in which it could develop and test new products and concepts, and a leadership team which had both the competencies and values necessary to successfully collaborate with its own team to help re-make the world of educational delivery on behalf of students around the globe.
Ottawa University, headed into the mid-point of its long range Vision 2020 strategic plan, was looking for investment and venture capital, expertise, technology, and a corporate resource with an appreciation for its traditions, mission and vision, and shared commitment to dramatically improving student outcomes at lower all-in costs.
The two organizations — one from the profit and one from the non-profit environment — are embarking on what is intended to be at least a 10-year journey toward their mutual objectives. Despite sizable resources and capabilities, neither organization felt it had everything necessary in house to achieve its respective vision and goals. Accordingly, after several months of careful planning and negotiations, the two entities came together with the full support of their governing boards to embark on what is really a series of initiatives designed to break down the often artificial barriers between online and on ground learning and to take bold new steps toward re-making the face of higher education as it is practiced today. The intended outcome should result in much greater growth and healthier financial returns for both parties, and — dare we suggest — whole new ways of serving and teaching students in a world that is aching for such change.
The degree to which this joint venture will be successful in achieving its aggressive goals remains to be seen. Among many success factors, surely one of the most salient will be the extent to which the two entities can forge new systems and processes for harvesting the best fruits from each in order to make something more powerful and effective than either could deliver independently. In a world where capital is scarce — especially the kind for research and development of new ideas and methods — such partnerships are destined to become far more common. Ensuring that the talent and resources of two separate organizations are brought together as if they were one will be a leadership test of the highest order. Communication, planning, goal congruence, governance, training and education, conflict resolution, creative design processes, budget allocations and investment decisions — all will be in play in this venture and others like it in the future.
Ottawa University is gratified that Blackboard has chosen our institution for this incredibly important and innovative venture. We are extremely excited about the implications for all of our students — current and future — as well as for our entire community. As part of this arrangement, Blackboard has made a $2.5 million pledge to funding the Blackboard Center for Academic Innovation to be located in our new Gangwish Gibson Library and Student Center on campus here in Ottawa.
That pledge gets us very close to meeting our $10 million fundraising goal for that key element of our Advancing the Vision Capital Campaign, and we expect construction to begin on this major new jewel in our community late this spring — to be built by our local Lloyd Builders and guided by Devore and Associates as architects. A stronger Ottawa University clearly contributes to a stronger Ottawa community, and this is just one example. How appropriate as we near 150 years of service to students, families and businesses in our hometown and in all of the markets we serve.
We hope our fellow Ottawans will join us in celebrating the potential of this venture and its import for all concerned.
Kevin Eichner is president of Ottawa University. He invites your feedback to this column. Email him at email@example.com