Published June 11, 2014

The University of Florida and three other leading U.S. research universities have announced their intention to become the charter members of a consortium called Unizin that will build an ecosystem for digital education.

As a founding member of Unizin, UF is joining with the University of MichiganColorado State University, and Indiana University in the use of a common learning management system and in the development of a repository for learning objects and a robust analytics environment to create teaching/learning space that engages best practices and stimulates research as a springboard for better practices.

For faculty, Unizin will provide powerful content storing and sharing services that will enable more efficient and effective content delivery. Students will benefit by gaining access to course materials from the collective expertise of the consortium members in formats that serve their individual needs – from strictly online to flipped classrooms to traditional face-to-face courses.

“The idea is to provide a way to share our best online teaching tools — videos, interactive learning games, sample assignments – in a digital repository, a facility that we do not have today,” UF Provost Joseph Glover said. “Faculty can choose materials a la carte to supplement their instruction or even build a whole course. If we can build a large enough library, it can be a one-stop shop for tested content at low cost to faculty and students. And hopefully better tools will result in more effective teaching.”

The tools and services provided through Unizin also will allow faculty members and researchers to get new data about how students access information within the learning platform. It will allow instructors to identify trouble spots and researchers to observe patterns they can turn into knowledge that shapes future approaches to teaching.

“Unizin will feature a system to capture student leaning behaviors in a database that will be a treasure trove for researchers in learning analytics. This will be a valuable resource as UF invests in this research area as part of its push to become a top-10 public research university,” Glover said.

Discussions around the concept of Unizin began more than a year ago and resulted in a charter to enable content sharing, a common learning system and greater scale in analytics. The charter was signed by each of the founding partners, and Internet2 (a leading global technology organization with more than 500 member institutions) will host the Unizin consortium. Each founding university has committed $1 million to Unizin over the next three years to develop and shape the shared services, and several other institutions in the Association of American Universities have expressed a desire to join.

As a member of Unizin, UF will have access to the consortium agreement with Instructure, whose learning management system, CANVAS, is a cloud-based technology platform with attributes that have made it one of the leaders in the industry. The Unizin consortium agreement coincides with UF launching UF Online and an online learning research institute. The synergies between the application (UF Online), research (Online Learning Institute), and collaborative commitment (Unizin) bode well for UF students and faculty.

“This gives our faculty access to teaching tools that are no less essential to great teaching today than chalkboards and textbooks were in their day,” said Elias Eldayrie, vice president and chief information officer for the University of Florida. “Putting the most advanced tools in the hands of some of the nation’s best teachers is our formula for helping to shape the future of digital education.”

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