Indiana U., Colorado State U., U. of Florida and U. of Michigan form Unizin

Stefanie Botelho's picture
Friday, June 13, 2014

Four leading U.S. research universities have partnered to form the Unizin consortium, a university-owned and directed consortium, which will provide a suite of services to any member institution for many forms of digital education including residential and online, services for sharing course content, and comprehensive learning analytics. Unizin aims to significantly improve the tools for faculty and universities to enhance effective education.

“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.”

The Unizin consortium, launched by Colorado State University, the University of Florida, Indiana University, and the University of Michigan, will provide a common technological platform delivered over higher education’s community-owned national research and education network operated by Internet2. This advanced environment will allow member universities to work locally and together to strengthen their traditional mission of education and research while using the most innovative digital technology available. The consortium has been launched to enable successful individual campus learning strategies to be easily expanded at scale and shared across all participating institutions.

“Leading universities are investing in emerging technologies that can dramatically enhance the great value of both a residential, and a digital education. 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," said Brad Wheeler, Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer at Indiana University and co-chair of the Unizin Consortium.

“And just as a small group of universities came together nearly two decades ago to create Internet2 to serve our research mission, the founding consortium universities — with others to join soon — are creating Unizin to serve our educational mission by empowering our faculty with the best tools. Unizin is an extensible and scalable university-owned 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 and digital materials. Their courses can span residential, online, badges, or massive open online course (MOOC) delivery models from a single software service. For example, when a faculty member is building a syllabus, he or she can search member institutions for content that may make their course more effective. Or a faculty member can publish a lesson plan to be used by other instructors that will note the creator as the originator.

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 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.

Unizin also will leverage Internet2’s Trust & Identity Services and its widely subscribed national research and education InCommon Federation to provide each campus trusted access, authentication, identity management, and security. Internet2’s services already protect and federate online identities of over seven million people. In addition, each individual campus will address data access and privacy, per their specific campus’ policies.

Discussions around the concept of Unizin began more than a year ago and resulted in a charter to enable content sharing, common software systems, and greater scale in analytics in a member-directed consortium. The charter was recently signed by each of the founding partners, and each investing institution has committed $1 million for the Unizin effort over the next three years to develop and shape the shared, cloud-scale services. These combined investments will provide a more efficient path for scaled services in digital education than one-off investments by each institution. In addition to the four founding partner institutions, Unizin currently is in discussions with other prominent universities and welcomes others to join the consortium.

Unizin will operate as an unincorporated association at Internet2, a leading not for profit global technology organization with more than 450 member institutions across the higher education, government and business communities. The Unizin platform will be delivered over the Internet2 Network, the nation’s fastest research and education network. A senior executive will lead a small professional staff, located at a city to be named later. This executive leader, who will be named soon, will be employed by Internet2 and report to the consortium board comprising representatives from the founding and select participating member universities and Internet2.

“The intent of Unizin is to create a national community, akin to the original founding of Internet2 that grew from a few founders to over 250 institutional members today. It is 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 and co-chair of the Unizin board. “Unizin is a university-owned service organization in support of its members, and in that spirit, we look forward to welcoming additional members to the Unizin consortium.”

Unizin selects first commercial provider: Canvas 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, a service that is also available via the Internet2 NET+ initiative, 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 extended Unizin platform that will span from content to analytics services. The Unizin partners selected Canvas based on their collective experience using various learning management systems and due to the Canvas teams commitment to implementing IMS global open standards and to providing most of the 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.”

Unizin services will begin July 1 for founding campuses. Teams among investing and prospective institutions have been meeting to shape additional Unizin services for the coming academic year. Details will be released at a later date.

For more on Unizin, visit http://unizin.org/2014/06/why-unizin/