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Unizin Turns Attention to Caliper Analytics Standard

Unizin, a consortium of 11 public universities developing a shared set of services that further teaching and learning in the digital ecosystem, is partnering with IMS Global Learning Consortium in an effort to drive the adoption of the Caliper Analytics standard.

The nonprofit IMS Global has developed Caliper as an open standard to make it easier for universities to collect student learning data from multiple software platforms in a standard way for analysis and reporting.

Unizin and IMS Global will collaborate on developing a Simple Content Use Metric Profile to define the way data is shared using Caliper. This profile will provide a standardized template for each type of learning event, down to the most basic user interactions with course materials.

The two organizations described the synergy this way: Unizin can help speed up adoption of the Caliper Analytics standard by Unizin member institutions. IMS Global can then benefit from feedback from the faculty and staff at Unizin member schools, who can provide real-world Caliper applications and validated metric profiles. In turn, Unizin will be able to offer flexibility and autonomy to members and provide a community forum for assessing and using the Caliper standard in the Unizin ecosystem.

Unizin's Engage e-text reader and digital content platform will be one of the first applications to use Caliper once it is IMS-certified. This addition will make it easier for schools to track the lifecycle of content used in teaching and learning. Faculty can gain insights into the course as it is happening; instructional designers can see interactions with the content as they are designing; students can get feedback on content use; and administrators can view broad content utilization analysis to control costs.

Unizin Progress Report

Speaking at the recent Educause annual conference in Indianapolis, Bruce Maas, vice provost for information technology and CIO at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (one of the founding members of Unizin), said he gets lot of questions from people about what Unizin is, perhaps because in its early stages much of the organization's work was conceptual. He described it as a consortium of like-minded institutions facilitating a transition toward collaborative digital education. "The key there is that we share the same values," he said. "Unizin is a consortium by invitation, because it is critically important that we share a common interest, a common approach and common values."

Unizin is also a set of infrastructure services that the consortium is creating in partnership with the private sector but controlled by higher education, Maas added. "Our mission of teaching and learning is too important to allow to chance. We have the example of Internet2, where the universities took control over our research networking in the country, and we have the opposite one of scholarly publishing, where we sat on the side and allowed the private sector to solve that issue. We have chosen to engage in an effort to protect the mission of the university and to move it forward."

Unizin has reached a minimum critical mass, Maas said, referring to the number of institutions it estimated it needed to have in order to have a viable budget and strategy. Most members come from CIC (Committee on Institutional Cooperation) institutions, made up of Big 10 schools and the University of Chicago. Also on board are Colorado State University, the University of Florida, and Oregon State. Several other universities have expressed interest, he said. "We have not made decision to cap off membership. We are still interested in talking with institutions that might be like-minded and have interest in collaborating with us."

Maas described Unizin as having three main components. At the center is the Canvas learning management system. "We have chosen Canvas because it was born with open standards," he said. "It was engineered to be open, and Canvas was readily available and interested in working with us."

As important, or more important, are content and analytics, he explained. "We think it is critically important to help faculty to find, identify and curate content and to assist faculty with analytics going all the way back through the LMS into the content layer." (The analytics focus is where the work with IMS Global on the Caliper standard comes in.)

Unizin has been "set up for us to be able to work with the private sector and to develop technologies where they are missing in the private-sector ecosystem, but to focus on what we are calling the content relay, the platform in the center and the analytics relay," Maas said.

The University of Wisconsin had a sense of urgency about Unizin because its current learning management system contract ends in the summer of 2016. To help envision what's next, the University of Wisconsin system has created a process called LENA (Learning Environment Needs Analysis). "We have worked with some visionary leaders in our field, including Educause's Malcolm Brown, to develop the next-generation learning environment," Maas said. "And we have worked to educate our community that this is not about finding the learning management system of the past; it is about framing the next-generation digital learning environment of the future."

About the Author

David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Innovation and Government Technology.

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