Indiana University has joined with three other leading U.S. research universities to form the Unizin consortium to provide a suite of services for courses, online learning and big data analytics aimed at significantly improving the way educational content is shared across institutions and ultimately delivered to students.
Unizin, a partnership among IU, Colorado State University, the University of Florida and the University of Michigan, will provide a common technological infrastructure that will allow member universities to work locally and together to strengthen their traditional missions of education and research using the most innovative digital technology available today.
“Leading universities are continuously working to enhance the great value of both a residential and a digital education,” said Brad Wheeler, vice president for information technology and chief information officer at Indiana University.
“By coming together to create Unizin, IU and our partners are ensuring a cost-efficient path for the best tools to serve students whether resident, online or through education to our many alumni.
“And just as universities created Internet2 nearly two decades ago to serve our research mission, the founding universities — with others to join soon — are creating Unizin to serve our educational mission by empowering our faculty with the best tools. The Unizin consortium is an extensible and scalable collaboration that is anchored in the deepest and best values of the academy to advance highly effective education.”
For instructors, Unizin will provide powerful content storing and sharing services that give faculty greater control and options over the use of their intellectual property. Their courses can span residential, online, badges or MOOC delivery models from a single software service.
Students will benefit by gaining access to course materials from some of the best minds in higher education in formats that best serve their individual needs — from massive open online courses (MOOCs) and flipped classrooms, where lectures are given online and class time is reserved for discussion and group work, to traditional in-person courses.
The tools and services eventually provided through Unizin also will allow partner institutions to collect and analyze large amounts of data on student performance within the policies of the member universities. These analytics will enable faculty researchers to gain valuable insight into the ways students best learn, thus shaping future approaches to teaching.
IU discussions around the concept of Unizin began more than a year ago following President Michael A. McRobbie’s announcement of the creation of IU Online in 2012. The consortium is being formed to enable individual campus learning strategies and approaches that are powered by the scale gained from the joint capabilities of leading universities for digital education.
“With Unizin, Indiana University is once again at the forefront of the digital revolution in higher education,” said Barbara Bichelmeyer, executive associate vice president for university academic and regional campus affairs and senior director of IU’s Office of Online Education. “Unizin combines the power of platform, content and analytics so we will be able to better share the great work of our faculty across all of our campuses and provide the high-quality courses people expect from IU at greater scale, while improving economies of scale.”
Each investing institution has signed the Unizin charter and committed $1 million over the next three years to develop and shape the shared services. These combined investments will provide a more efficient path to providing educational services than one-off investments by each institution.
Unizin has been created as an unincorporated association within Internet2, a leading not-for-profit global technology organization with more than 500 member institutions across the higher education, government and business communities. The Unizin platform will be delivered over the ultra-high-speed national research and education network operated by Internet2 on behalf of the U.S. research university members.
Unizin will operate under the direction of a soon-to-be-named chief executive officer, who will report to a board of directors comprising representatives from each of the investing member universities as well as Internet2. As a services-providing organization, Unizin will operate with a professional staff and contracts for evolving services.
“The intent of Unizin is to create a community, akin to Internet2, of like-minded institutions who are willing to invest time and resources into creating a service grounded in openness and collaboration that will allow all members to leverage the tremendous power of today’s digital technologies,” said James Hilton, dean of libraries and vice provost for digital education at the University of Michigan. “Unizin is a service organization in support of its members, and in that spirit, we look forward to welcoming additional members to the Unizin consortium.”
Canvas selected as Unizin learning management system platform
As part of its launch, Unizin has selected Canvas by Instructure to provide a common learning management system for use by member institutions. Canvas is a cloud-based technology platform that provides a wide range of functions associated with university classroom administration, including assignments, grading, student-teacher communication, collaborative learning tools and more.
Unizin members will receive access to Canvas as part of the Unizin service. The Unizin partners selected Canvas in large part because of its commitment to implementing IMS Global open standards and to providing most of its system as open-source software. These values and partnership align well with Unizin’s commitment to both speed in execution and open standards that can help further universities’ missions over time.
“We are excited to have witnessed the formation of Unizin,” said Joel Dehlin, chief technology officer at Instructure. “This team of CIOs and institutions are open, progressive, data-loving and passionate about user adoption — the very things that drive the engineering and product teams at Canvas.”
“Canvas is the first of many technology-related services that Unizin plans to provide to its members that will allow them to take greater control over how the content universities create is used and shared,” said Stacy Morrone, associate professor of educational psychology and associate vice president for learning technologies. “These tools, along with faculty-led research, can enable greater insight from learner analytics that will lead to improved student outcomes.”
Canvas was made available to all IU campuses in April, and Unizin services begin July 1. Teams among the founding and prospective institutions have been meeting to shape additional Unizin services for the next year.