Published June 11, 2014

Colorado State University and three other leading U.S. research universities have formed a technology consortium to significantly improve the way educational content is shared across universities and ultimately delivered to students.

Unizin, a partnership among CSU, Indiana University, the University of Michigan and the University of Florida, is a common digital infrastructure that allows the universities to strengthen their traditional missions of education and research using the most innovative technology available today.

“Colorado State is proud to be part of this entrepreneurial team that is transforming the way education is delivered to students both online and in traditional classrooms,” said CSU President Tony Frank. “We’ve found that working together – pooling the expertise and resources of some of the best research universities in the country – we can come up with a system that will truly move higher education technology to an exceptional new level, for the benefit of our students and faculty.”

Unizin’s powerful content storing and sharing services allow instructors to share materials while retaining control over the use of their intellectual property.  For example, when faculty members are building a syllabus they 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 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.

Renaissance in learning

“This advances a renaissance in learning, and not just for distance degrees,” said Lou Swanson, Vice President for Engagement at CSU. “Through Unizin we can also transform the online experience into a true classroom for resident instruction, for students seeking degrees and for those seeking opportunities for lifelong learning. It will also give on-campus faculty the tools to enrich their teaching and expand beyond the traditional, fixed-classroom environment.”

The full range of tools and services eventually provided through Unizin also will allow partner institutions to collect and analyze large amounts of data that provide clearer assessments of student learning. These analytics will provide insight into the ways students learn best, thus shaping future approaches to teaching. Analytics will allow faculty to review how their students are accessing information within the learning platform and can identify trouble spots.

Discussions around the concept of Unizin began more than a year ago and resulted in a charter signed by each of the founding partners to enable content sharing, common software systems, and greater scale in analytics. Each investing institution has committed $1 million to Unizin over the next three years to develop and shape the shared services.

Unizin will operate as an unincorporated association within Internet2, a leading global technology organization with more than 500 member institutions across higher education, government and business.

“What’s especially exciting is that now we can move from simply being buyers of a standard product to influencing directions in our progressive learning environments,” said Pat Burns, CSU Dean of Libraries and Vice President for Information Technology.

The intent of Unizin is to create a national community of like-minded institutions who are willing to invest time and resources into creating a service that will allow all members to leverage the tremendous power of today’s digital technologies. “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,” said James Hilton, dean of libraries and vice provost for digital education at the University of Michigan.

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. 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.

The Unizin partners selected Canvas in large part because of its commitment to providing open-source technology enhancements in the future, which aligns well with the organization’s goal of providing services across a common technological platform. Unizin members will be able to obtain a license to use Canvas at a special rate reflecting the shared purchasing power of the organization.

“The principal benefit of joining Unizin is an improved, next generation digital learning ecosystem that will result in even better education in a truly integrated learning experience for students,” said Burns.

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