Unizin Consortium Launches to provide Greater Control over Digital Learning

Editor’s Note: This post has first been published on edcetera – straight talk on edtech.

In my last post I briefly mentioned Unizin, the new consortium of higher education institutions that was rumored to become a strong competitor of edX. With its soft-launch last night—which was first reported by Inside Higher Ed—we can add some more pieces to the puzzle and get a better picture of its mission.

The founding consortium members are Colorado State University, Indiana University, the University of Florida, and the University of Michigan. The non-profit will be governed by a board of directors, representing membership universities that make a significant investment in Unizin.

Not another MOOC

First of all, Unizin won’t be another MOOC platform, as its core mission lies in giving its members “greater control and influence over the digital learning landscape.” Through Unizin Services, institutions will get access to a growing cloud-based infrastructure built upon open technology standards.

While there is a core toolset and underlying infrastructure, Unizin won’t be an LMS or MOOC platform, but will focus on digital content development and data analytics to improve teaching and learning using the underlying technology. According to Unizin, “These are essential and strategic capabilities that enable universities’ core mission of education.”

Lessons and Inspiration from Internet2

According to the launch blog post and the FAQ on the website, Unizin takes its lessons from the successful Internet2 project which was launched 20 years ago. Similar to Internet2, Unizin wants to leverage the scale of its consortium members to create a shared infrastructure maintained by contractors while keeping the decision rights to set policies, business models, terms, and manage costs.

Internet2 will also serve as “financial home” to Unizin, providing the infrastructure required for the projects launch and growth. Nevertheless, membership in Internet2 does not automatically result in a membership of Unizin. According to the Internet2 press release on the launch of Unizin,

“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.”

Unizin plans to have a professional services staff of around 20+ to integrate and operate the Unizin service.

Content, Delivery and Ownership

Educational content—and its creation, delivery and analysis—plays a key role in Unizin’s mission. Through Unizin universities will be able to manage content created by faculty and students, share this content with other universities with significant cost savings and analyze related data.

“We want to support faculty and universities by ensuring that universities and their faculty stay in control of the content, data, relationships, and reputations that we create,”

say Brad Wheeler, Ph.D. and James L. Hilton, Ph.D., founding co-chairs of the Unizin Consortium in a blog post.

Unizin will also be compatible with a variety of teaching scenarios, from in-person courses to flipped classrooms, entirely online or MOOCs.

A Cloud-based Infrastructure for Higher Ed

Like e-Literate reported, the consortium chose Instructure Canvas as provider of the initial infrastructure. When launched later this summer, Unizin won’t be visible as a brand like Coursera or edX, but will stay in the background. There won’t be Unizin-branded courses or portals; this is entirely up to the consortium members.

Like edX, Unizin is a non-profit. Its members have to pay a fee to enter which is used to maintain and extend the common infrastructure through contracts with different providers. The consortium will extend over time therefore the fee members have to pay will change accordingly to cover all costs but “they need not cost more and are not beholden to anyone other than Unizin’s growing roster of members over time”.

The official launch of Unizin will take place on July 1st for founding campuses. Members will receive their Canvas licenses by that time if they haven’t a contract with Instructure already.

Kirsten Winkler is the founder and editor of EDUKWEST. She also writes about Social Media, Digital Society and Startups at KirstenWinkler.com.