Unizin Reports

February 2021

by | Mar 6, 2021

This report is to be shared by design to communicate the full scope of Unizin impact, work products, and status at your institution.

A powerful concept

What struck me in my first weeks at Unizin, amidst the constant rush of information from the Unizin “spigot”) is the elegance of Unizin’s core concept:  managing course content, course applications, and LMS and learning tool data in one ecosystem at scale.  Value and the power of data (seemingly) effortlessly brought together; and, most importantly, the degree to which value beyond savings on platforms and content could erupt from tools driven by UDP data that tell us how to teach, engage, and improve the lives of students for whom all of this exists.  In this day, data-informed decision-making is essential.  In my view, with its focus on learning analytics that feed both tangible student success and research toward that aim, Unizin is beautifully positioned – in these times –  to lead a collective, digital transformation in higher education. 


The power of data then and now 

Before coming to Unizin, one of my charges was to represent, understand the needs of, and position for change, distributed IT services supporting schools, departments, and administrative units. To meet this charge meant to redesign and deliver a tool, the IT Pro database, for capturing data about the composition and governance of those distributed IT organizations. Information collected included IT units, their membership, roles, staff/faculty supported, skills, organizational hierarchy, buildings, rooms, departments, and determining access to role-based tools that allow technical professionals to manage their environment, unlock and change passphrases to accounts. In short, aside from the shared directory of information, distributed IT units were incentivized to keep their members current through the tool access the database provided.  Creating foundational data, incentivizing through added value, and transforming into information and knowledge spoke to me then as Unizin speaks to me now.  


Seeing its genius

The UDP, the Unizin Common Data Model, and the Big Query “engine” that transforms data into information, the targeted data marts, and dashboards that take once transactional data from a member institution and return it as student interventions, or insights into how to deliver student feedback – is genius.  I am in awe, daily, of the agility of this model and the data lake upon which it dances.  I am in awe of the communities that interpret this data and how it feeds real insights and action. I am in awe of my Unizin colleagues’ commitment and expertise to deliver multidimensional value. The prospect of Unizin’s growth and relevance appears to me unquestionable.


What excites me most is Unizin’s growing maturity and transformation as a service provider, particularly around our stewardship of member institutions and their evolving engagement with the UDP.  Much of this hinges on expediting the processes under which member institutions utilize data. To this end, Unizin is broadening its concept of training and building institutional expertise.  With the new configuration of the UDP, institutions can begin accessing their LMS data within weeks rather than months and without previously required SIS loading schema. Through our close work with Oregon State University, Unizin has built PoC dashboards that readily signal what is possible for institutional reporting.  These areas above, seen collectively, represent an exciting service trajectory for Unizin.  It’s an exciting privilege indeed to be part of this journey.

James Russell

James Russell

Senior Director of Research Support and Assurance, Unizin

Research & Innovation

Each month this section will report on selected research projects that Unizin supports

  1. Benjamin A. Motz, Joshua D. Quick, Julie A. Wernert, and Tonya A. Miles Indiana University (2021, March) published  A Pandemic of Busywork: Increased Online Coursework Following the Transition to Remote Instruction is Associated with Reduced Academic Achievement in the Online Learning Journal (25 (1), 70-85), drawing on UDP data. The study looks at when universities rapidly transitioned to online learning activities and instructors assigned rapidly-prepared online learning activities, thus disrupting the normal relationship between effort and outcomes.  In this study, the researchers examine this relationship using data observed from a large-scale survey of undergraduate students (n = 4,636).  As a result, researchers found a general increase in the number of assignments that students were expected to complete following the transition to remote instruction. Students who spent more time and reported more effort carrying out this coursework generally had lower course performance and reported feeling less successful. 


  1. Unizin sponsored research and support  – Unizin coordinates a multi-institutional effort to submit an NSF Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure (MRI1) grant proposal for December 2021.  This proposal will focus on an implementation project that leverages both UDP Big Data and the cross-institutional collective expertise represented in member institutions.  The focus of this proposal will be on large-scale research into advancements in STEM teaching and learning.  The MRI1 funding range is between $6 million and $20 million. Unizin will seed $10,000 to each of five faculty at five respective institutions toward initial STEM research to focus on research design and modeling.  More information on this proposal process will be forthcoming.


  1. Unizin and TopHat co-sponsor new research opportunities:  Unizin, in close collaboration with our partner Top Hat, is embarking on a novel cross-institutional initiative to study technology-driven impact pedagogy on learner outcomes. The objective is to leverage the Unizin Data Platform (UDP) power, combined with institutional systems of record, to determine how learning can be made more inclusive, engaging, and effective.    TopHat is funding $10,000 per study, and Unizin is matching. Two selected research proposals will be co-sponsored at $20,00 each.  More information will follow on how to apply for consideration for funding.


Unizin will be seeking the partnership of two (2) institutions to join us in this exciting endeavor. Together, with TopHat, we will define the research theme(s) to study, enlist faculty to participate who are currently using Top Hat in their courses, work with them to determine the research questions, obtain and analyze data required from Top Hat, and potentially other LMS/LTI tools via the UDP and other institutional systems, and surface the findings.  These studies will focus on success objectives in which Top Hat plays a role, such as facilitating engagement, Peer-led Team Learning (PLT) modalities, or feedback; or objectives where Top Hat plays a direct and focused part in a success objective, such as the impact of a custom-designed Top Hat textbook.

Research Support
  1. Unizin-led Hackathon was conducted from February 24th through the 26th, with 30 participants working in BigQuery, AutoML, and RStudio to both investigate on their own and have guided explorations querying UDP data.  Participants used an actual, de-identified instance of the UDP in Google Cloud; received a high-level overview of the UDP, and focused use and discussion of the Event Store and Data Marts; ending with a “Birds of a Feather Analytics” chat, which included discussions on “Tips and Tricks” for using UDP at member institutions; data governance practices; and connecting to and using the UDP Event Store.  Participants, who were primarily analysts, researchers, and application developers, attended from twelve institutions.  Many participants were engaged in modeling the last activity of students in courses compared to peer activity levels. Simultaneously, other participants focused on the time students spent in Canvas in relation to different performance metrics.  Additionally, a group worked on a predictive model to forecast if a student would submit assignments late or if a student would persist to term’s end based on their performance metrics.


  1. The Research Advisory Committee (RAC) is finalizing the Cross-institutional Research process after input from key stakeholders and the Security and Privacy Committee. James Russell will refine and test this process with the University of Nebraska.  James will present it formally at the Unizin Summit 2021 and to the Unizin Board in early May.


  1. Etienne Pelaprat and James Russell delivered a presentation on Unizin supported research to the University of Florida Distance Learning Research Consortium (FDLRC) for their February Webinar, series: Leveraging Campus Data to Improve Online Educational Outcome – https://floridadlresearch.org/webinars/In their discussion, Etienne and James discussed the kinds of data available to researchers through the UDP; projects that utilize UDP data currently or in support of past research; and research services offered by Unizin.  Ben Motz from Indiana University provided an overview of the UDP’s research potential in what he dubbed the “candy store”.
Unizin Data Platform

Unizin Data Platform

Changes: two institutions went into production in February: Minnesota and Nebraska-Omaha.




University of Michigan


The implementation of additional SIS data in SIT (pre-prod) is complete. UM is working on moving the changes into production.

University of Minnesota


UMN is now in production! They have also moved to test phase 2 of their SIS data integration in our pre-prod env.

University of Missouri System


Initial SIS data integration is now complete. Mizzou is testing its UDP-based Canvas data import. By completing the UDP to Canvas integration, Mizzou will enable the next phase of our implementation: validating the SIS and LMS matching.

University of Nebraska – Omaha


UNO is now in production!

Unizin Product Releases

Major UDP release – expanded Event store. All UDP instances now contain a new table in the UDP Event store, called “expanded,” that aggressively expands its representation of a Caliper event data in tabular form. The “expanded” event store table increases the convenience, performance, and cost-effectiveness of large-scale behavioral queries. Unizin also provides a brief migration guide to move from using the events table to the expanded table.

Major Order Tool release – order activity history.  Delivers an Order Activity feature where program administrators, course coordinators, and instructors can view an order’s history, including any changes and who made them. Also, enhancements were made to the existing entitlements, student choice, and catalog features.

Minor Order Tool release – bug fixes. A range of bug fixes, but primarily fixes an issue where the Final Declined Offers Feed was misreporting students associated with invalid entitlements and canceled orders.


Marketing Plan Execution: Unizin is actively developing original content in partnership with Inside/Out. Updates to the unizin.org website include:

  • updated messaging for existing content 
  • new “Press and Case Studies” section where our other marketing stories will be published.

With assistance from InsideOut, Unizin is now positioned to circulate pieces on social media. We expect the first such pieces to roll out in March.


Summit 2021  Unizin will be hosting its first-ever virtual Summit on April 21 and 22nd from noon until 4 pm CT.  Registration opened four days ago, and already there are 160 registrants.  The Unizin 2021 Summit features two keynotes, Tanya Joosten and Ken Koedinger.  The Summit offers four tracks, 30 sessions with 50 presenters.  The tracks include:

  1. Service, Support, and Success
  2. Strategy, Culture, and Policy
  3. Analytics, Data, and Research
  4. Teaching, Learning, and Inclusion

As the Summit is free and open to anyone interested in learning analytics and student success in higher education, we encourage you to share the invite widely.  We have a marvelous opportunity to communicate Unizin’s mission, value, and services to a broader audience. 

The efforts to obtain Summit sponsorship funds for the April 2021 Virtual Summit have prevailed, with signed commitments for $88,500.  An additional $12,000 is pending, so the Summit’s total sponsorship income will exceed that of the Unizin Summit 2019.  Sponsorships for 2021 were offered at ½ the 2019 rate as the Summit this year is virtual.


The financial state of Unizin at the end of the 2nd quarter FY21 reconciled at 43.41% of the total budget.  At the halfway point of the fiscal year, anything at or below 50% is solid.  The reconciliation is currently under budget in our payroll bucket, pending two open positions.  Additionally, our travel bucket’s finances are under budget based on the pandemic-driven travel freeze.


2nd quarter financial summary:

  • Currently, no unexpected expenses are pending.
  • There is no concern for cash flow.
Student Savings

The Ohio State University conducted a small pilot in autumn of 2017 to test the viability of an Inclusive Access program, then launched in the fall term of 2018.  The OSU program, dubbed CarmenBooks, has grown exceptionally fast since that first term, with this academic year 2020-21 on pace to hit 100,000 billable enrollments by the end of the spring 2021 semester!  In total, OSU students have saved nearly $5M* this year and just shy of $7M since the program’s inception.


Mike Shiflet, Program Admin. for CarmenBooks, attributes the program’s early growth to a somewhat surprising source: publisher representatives.  Representatives from six of Unizin’s seven largest publishers have been active and eager to promote CarmenBooks to their adopters.  Many of the most significant adoptions have come from leads created by publisher representatives.  Mike notes that most of the adoptions in CarmenBooks are courseware, which accounted for nearly 2/3rds of the billable enrollments for spring 2021!  


Mike stated that having active relationships with publisher representatives can be both a gift and a curse.  While the result is more courses participating in CarmenBooks, publishers have different motivations for driving adoptions to CarmenBooks, making collaboration with representatives important.  Success requires regular and consistent messaging.


 *Unizin calculates savings for eText as the difference between list price and Unizin price, divided by two in an attempt to account for the various ways students may go about acquiring content.  For courseware, Unizin calculates the difference between the list price and the Unizin price.