5 Questions About Unizin for Instructure

Trying to better understand this new consortium and what it means for Canvas colleges.

October 15, 2014

Many of us are very curious about the new Unizin Consortium, and what the emergence of Unizin means to schools that use the Canvas LMS but that are not members of the group.  

Jared Stein, Instructure’s VP of Research and Education, graciously agreed to tackle my questions.

Question 1: Can you provide our community with a better understanding of how the Unizin deal with Instructure works? How is this different from the existing Internet 2 arrangement?
Canvas is one of several foundational technologies that will be offered to Unizin member institutions. Whereas Internet2 focuses on vetting world-class technology providers and negotiating favorable market pricing, Unizin is focused on teaching and learning solutions. Through its strategic initiatives, institutions of higher ed will design and “own” their entire digital learning landscape. This means university-owned and operated content, applications, and data will become part of the Unizin ecosystem.
If a college is an existing Canvas client what are the advantages to joining Unizin?
Unizin will provide existing Canvas customers an opportunity to enhance the educational experience they offer by extending content, applications, and data capabilities, that will be openly distributed, shared, and created through the consortium.
Question 2:  One concern that I could see for schools that are Canvas customers but not members of the Unizin consortium is that Unizin schools will be able to have more impact on the strategic roadmap for Instructure.  Sort of there being an “in club” - Unizin members - with elevated access and everyone else. How would you address this concern?
The Canvas product team is pleased to invite feedback from Unizin member institutions, but we’re aware they don’t represent our entire customer base. Instructure will continue — just as we’ve always done — to actively collect input from all of our customers. Part of the way Canvas accepts feedback directly from clients is through the Canvas Product Advisory Board. Any institution can apply to join the Canvas PAB, but we are careful to ensure balance of ideas and representation of shared interest so as to provide a broad array of opinions and ideas.
Question 3:  An LMS is certainly one part of the building blocks needed for blended or online instruction. The Unizin materials make clear, however, that curricular media management, sharing and publishing as well as robust analytics tools that can capture behavior across multiple platforms is equally as important.  Wouldn’t it make sense for Instructure to aggressively move into the curricular media management space with an acquisition or significant strategic partnership?
Today we’re focused on creating a modern learning management system that is open to integrating with the best technology on the web. That doesn’t mean we won’t consider building additional functionality or that we're not constantly evaluating the changing needs of higher ed in this connected world (just the opposite, in fact). But Canvas, as a learning platform, is central to our mission to help institutions transform teaching and learning.
I know that you will not answer that question directly, but can you provide us with any details about how Instructure is approaching this pressing need for a unified infrastructure for teaching, learning, and analytics?
I think we can be pretty direct because we’ve telegraphed a number of innovations already. For example, consortia like Mississippi have leveraged Canvas’ native cloud computing capabilities to connect students from different institutions. And that’s just the beginning.
Question 4:  It seems that Unizin wants to provide a common platform for traditional blended and online courses as well as open online courses.  So rather than having Canvas and edX or Coursera, a school could design and release both private and open courses on the same platform.  Can you share with us how the Canvas Network, the open online learning initiative from Instructure, is doing? How many partner institutions? How many courses?  How many students? The reason I ask is that one reason why schools join edX or Coursera is that they aggregate demand, and my understanding is that their open online learning initiatives are better known than Canvas.net.
Through Canvas Network, Instructure provides a research space where institutions can experiment with different models of open online learning. We’ve run more than 220 courses since the inception of Canvas Network in January 2012 and have worked with more than 125 organizations to deliver MOOCs. Hundred of thousands of students have enrolled in a variety of higher education and K-12 courses, and we have some very exciting courses launching this fall, including two Minecraft MOOCs.
A key difference between Canvas Network and edX is the cloud. Canvas Network sits on the same cloud platform as the Canvas LMS, so it has the potential to provide analytics and insights about the way students learn in residential courses and in MOOCs. EdX has a centralized cloud solution, but it’s for MOOCs only. It’s not able to provide analytics across both residential and open, online courses.
Fundamentally, we don’t think it’s about being “better known.” It’s about the institution and the offerings that make the impact. We think Canvas is a great platform to help them do just that.
Question 5:  From the Instructure perspective, what is the big deal about Unizin?  What should be our takeaway?
We’re very excited about the promise Unizin offers education. They aim to model ways for institutions to collaborate and innovate. We’ve worked with higher ed consortia before, but Unizin is the first to focus on integrating the entire learning ecosystem—content, technology, data, and professional services. That’s different, and we’re thrilled to support it. The fundamental takeaway is that institutions are changing their approach to education in the 21st century. Students, teachers, and institutions have been using outdated techniques to deliver education and measure performance. New technologies allow for a revitalization of education that goes beyond the historically landlocked, location based, financially limiting education system. Unizin has the potential to open previously closed institutions to an eagerly awaiting global community.

What do you want to know about Unizin?  

What would you want to ask Jared about the relationship between Instructure and Unizin?


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