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In December 2014 the University of Iowa became one of ten founding member universities of Unizin, a “consortium of like-minded institutions facilitating the transition toward collaborative digital education” whose mission is to “improve the learning experience by providing an environment built on collaboration, data, standards, and scale.” During the past year Unizin has grown to 22 member schools representing more than 730,000 students, with plans to add additional institutions in the coming months.

Since joining Unizin, Iowa has helped build relationships with other member schools, influenced the consortium’s direction through participation on the Board and in working groups, and piloted potential platforms and tools:

  • University of Iowa CIO Steve Fleagle and ITS Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology Senior Director Maggie Jesse serve on the Unizin board.
  • A local University of Iowa Unizin Sounding Board has been developed.
  • Four UI staff members serve on the Unizin Teaching & Learning Group, which advocates for faculty and students by guiding Unizin teaching and learning efforts.
  • The Unizin Library Summit was attended by UI Libraries staff members, Paul Soderdahl, Senior Associate University Librarian, and Cathy Cranston, Undergraduate Engagement Librarian.
  • Russell Larsen, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry, presented the outcomes of Elements of Success, an analytics tool that he has jointly developed with ITS, at the first annual meeting of the Unizin Innovations Summit.
  • UI staff members serve on ad hoc Unizin task forces, such as Video Management, Real-time Canvas Data Set, IP Policy Development and Anti-plagiarism Tool Requirements.

What does all of this mean for faculty and students at Iowa and the other member schools? While the grand vision of Unizin promises an online environment of meaningful learning analytics, flexible content sharing, and seamlessly interoperable online instructional tools, the immediate efforts at most member schools are focused on transitioning to a common learning management system (LMS)—specifically, Canvas.

The Canvas LMS is a competitor to Desire2Learn (D2L), the LMS that currently supports the base functions of ICON (Iowa Courses Online). During the summer semester 2015, the ITS Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology (OTLT) began leading a series of Canvas pilots. This spring we are piloting Canvas in 30 courses of various sizes across nine colleges. The pilots are intended to gauge the ability of Canvas to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of ICON.

So far, the pilot outcomes have been very successful, and OTLT staff members have spent the month of February visiting with faculty and student groups around campus to discuss the potential for full migration to Canvas and away from D2L. A final decision will be announced in early March.

Please watch for more information about our Unizin activities in the coming months and feel free to contact us at Annette-Beck@uiowa.edu if you would like more information regarding the Canvas pilots or any of the UI Unizin activities.