With Unizin going public yesterday, I’ve been looking over our three posts at e-Literate to see if there are any corrections or clarifications needed.
- Unizin: Indiana University’s Secret New “Learning Ecosystem” Coalition
- Why Unizin is a Threat to edX
- Unizin: What are the Primary Risks?
Based on yesterday’s press release, official web site release and media event, I have not found any corrections needed, but I do think there is a clarification needed on whether Unizin membership includes Canvas usage or not (it does not).
During the media call, the Unizin team (representatives from the four founding schools plus Internet2 and Instructure) pushed the common infrastructure angle. Rather than being viewed as a buying club where schools can buy from a common set of pre-negotiated services, Unizin can more accurately be viewed as planned integration and operation of a common service to allow white-label outsourcing of the learning infrastructure. The idea is that a school can use Unizin’s infrastructure for LMS, content repository and analytics engine rather than hosting or maintaining their own, but the service will not be branded as Unizin for the faculty and student end users. From the Unizin FAQ page:
There is another sense in which Unizin is different from MOOC efforts. Unizin is about providing common infrastructure to support the missions of its university members. It is not a public-facing brand. It will not offer content, courses, or degrees in its own name. Unizin’s membership model is built on the premise that universities need to strengthen their influence in the use of data and content for the long run. They will accomplish this goal by working together and taking greater control over content, while also opening content up for selective sharing.
In this morning’s IHE article, the Unizin founders described the need for a common infrastructure:
The digital learning consortium, announced Wednesday morning, aims to simplify how universities share learning analytics, content and software platforms. But in order to do so, Unizin needs its members to use the same infrastructure. A common learning management system is the first part of that package.
“You don’t really have common infrastructure if you’re saying everything is heterogeneous,” said Brad Wheeler, the Unizin co-founder who serves as vice president for IT and chief information officer at Indiana University. “A lot of these different learning tools — Sakai, Blackboard, Canvas — they all do a bunch of really good stuff. But five universities picking five different ones — what’s the end value in that if they want to do something together?”
Brad Wheeler went on to describe the results that will occur from sharing infrastructure:
“This is a hard decision,” Wheeler said about picking Canvas. “I think the key point is enabling Unizin to do what it’s meant to do…. The path for Unizin is creating a dependence on Unizin — a university-owned entity — but creating potential for greater interdependence among our institutions.”
Instead of differentiating themselves based on what software tools they individually pick, Wheeler said, Unizin’s member institutions will stand out based on what they do with the common platform — in other words, the degrees they offer, the research they produce and the students they serve.
Clarification on Canvas Licensing
It has not been clear at all on whether Unizin membership gives a school access to use Canvas or whether membership gives a school the ability to purchase a Canvas license using Unizin agreement. In other words, do Unizin member institutions pay $1 million for Unizin membership and pay Instructure for Canvas, or do they just pay Unizin membership? This question goes beyond Canvas – when a learning repository or analytics engine is in place, will schools have to pay additional for that solution or is it already included in membership?
From the Unizin FAQ:
Will Unizin be a Canvas reseller?
No. Members of Unizin will be able to obtain the Canvas LMS product for campus use via their membership. If members already have Canvas, they can maintain that existing relationship (either via a direct contract with Instructure or via Internet2 Net+ services) or take advantage of the Unizin agreement.
What does “will be able to obtain” mean? Brad Wheeler clarified the situation through an email exchange.
The investment capitalizes Unizin for the integration and operation of the service including a Content and Analytics capability. The Canvas costs are pass-through as they vary by institutional size.
So schools pay for Unizin membership and they pay for Canvas. Presumably there will be a similar arrangement for future learning repository and analytics engines, if these components end up being commercially-developed software.
As additional clarification and answer to our previous open questions, the usage of Canvas is on their current multi-tenant production site, just as it is for current customers. Unizin presumably will have outsized influence on product roadmap and open source code additions (through integrated apps or possibly to Canvas code itself).
We have also heard that there is a support fee for indirect support of the Canvas service of some percentage of the license fee. Treat this component as strong speculation rather than a confirmed detail.
In summary, this means that member institutions pay for the following for the current service:
- Just over $1 million paid over 3 years (~$350 k per year according to media event) for Unizin membership to create the organization that integrates and operates the service (LMS + Content + Analytics);
- Canvas license fee paid one of three ways: 1) pass-through using Unizin agreement, 2) Net+ agreement from Internet2, or 3) existing private license between school and Instructure; and
- Potential (not confirmed) support fee paid to Unizin consortium for their indirect support of Canvas as a service.
I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. To me this is simply the latest consortia, much like any other we have seen in higher ed. Unizin points to Internet2 as a model, but there are much better examples, and examples specific to shared commodity services supporting online education through a centralized, academic based provider: The Connecticut Distance Learning Consortia, The SUNY Learning Network (now OpenSUNY), UMassOnline, UT Telecampus (now UT Online Consortium), etc. etc. etc. Reading the Unizin homepage, leaves me thinking this could very well be a description of any of those I just mentioned.
The Unizin [CTDLC, OpenSUNY (formerly SUNY Learning Network) / UMassOnline / UTOL (UT Telecampus)] Consortium is universities coming together in a strategic way to exert greater control and influence over the digital learning landscape. It enables each institution, its faculty, and students to draw on an evolving set of tools to support digital learning… Unizin [CTDLC, OpenSUNY (formerly SUNY Learning Network) / UMassOnline / UTOL (UT Telecampus)] supports the differing missions and strategies of universities.
Unizin [CTDLC, OpenSUNY (formerly SUNY Learning Network) / UMassOnline / UTOL (UT Telecampus)] Services are cloud-based [SaaS / SOA / Virtualized / Shared Services / centralized / current buzzword] infrastructure based on open technology standards. It will evolve to support content systems that empower faculty with full control over their owned content — store it or share it — and an analytics service to enable research to improve learning. As a university-owned service for universities, all of this will evolve within the longstanding values of the Academy.
I won’t continue but you get the point. All of the organizations I listed offer technical infrastructure, instructional design, help desk, technology development, and many other shared services under the auspices of reduced costs, greater control, best practices, increased efficiencies, collaboration, etc.–all by the way I think are true.
So the only thing that appears to be novel is that Unizin is operating outside a system, whereas Connecticut, CalState, SUNY, UMass, UT, etc. were all internally focused initiatives (although UMassOnline and CTDLC do offer support for campuses outside their system, but still state operated–maybe this has changed). I suppose Instructure deserves a bit of a nod too as they appear to be willing to be more flexible in contracting beyond the traditional campus or even “system-wide” constraints in licensing/contracting.
It would be interesting if one of these other systems announced they were now going to extend beyond their systems/states and offer th same services.
Phil Hill says
Good points Patrick