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Enriching Scholarship 2015 – Keynote May 18, 2015

Posted by aquillam in teaching.
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The University of Michigan’s annual conference on teaching, learning, and technology, Enriching Scholarship, took place, May 4 – 8, 2015. The conference always starts with a poster session and keynote. The keynote was recorded and is available on youtube, if you want to see it for yourself.

This year’s keynote was a panel to discuss Unizin and Canvas. Here are a few highlights and (my impression of) the key takeaways.

First, a VERY quick overview of what the things are that the panel is talking about: Unizin is a consortium of schools focused on influencing the digital learning landscape and providing services to the member institutions. The first service available is Canvas, a Learning Management System (LMS). We have a pilot version with a class anyone at Michigan can join. There is a short video about Unizin and the University of Michigan on YouTube.

The panelists (very briefly) were: Sean DeMonner (UM ITS teaching and learning), Tim McKay (UM Physics), Stacy Morrone (Learning Technologies, Indiana University), and Amin Qazi (Unizin CEO). Vice Provost James Hilton moderated. In general, the ideas below were expressed by one panelist first, then generally agreed with by the others, so I haven’t noted the specific source unless there was a compelling reason (also, I’m not always good about getting actual quotes, or making note of who said what…)

LMSs and Educational Software have become sufficiently important that software companies are doing things in those areas for profit. Unizin provides us the clout needed to ensure that the direction taken by those for-profit companions serves our needs, not that we must adapt to what they are willing to provide.

By outsourcing the software development and maintenance to Unizin, we are free to focus on what we actually need or want to do. The innovation can happen in the teaching techniques, not in the tool development. (As an aside, I’m not convinced this will really change things for development. Now, if an instructor has an idea, s/he has to find the funding to develop it. With Unizin, s/he has to convince others it’s a good idea. I don’t actually see a big difference between influencing others to give you money, and influencing others to give you human resources. At least there’s less hunting to do.)

Unizin provides a standardized platform for other companies to tie into. (another aside – anyone who has used publisher provided homework systems has seen the advantages of this – they’ll all tie into something like Blackboard, but forget tying into CTools!)

Commons is another service provided by Unizin. It is basically a repository of creative commons teaching objects. Whether you’re looking for an image, a homework question, or a final report rubric, you can search in the commons and automatically know you have the rights to use it. Sharing can be done on the individual level (person to person), all the way up to the entire Unizin community. While the materials are available through their own portal, Canvas makes it convenient to share or search for objects in the Commons. They are also working on tools to streamline building a course in Canvas using materials from Commons. Ideally, it will be possible for an instructor to integrate a youtube video, one chapter from a textbook, and several “learning outcomes” into a module so the relationship between all the parts is clear, and assignments are automatically aded to the schedule, syllabus, and grades.

Another service in development in Analytics. Again, this ties in to Canvas. Because Canvas integrates so many pieces in the same way across classes and across schools, we will be able to learn from what other instructors are doing. Now, it’s difficult to compare methods used by someone in the college of engineering to someone in LSA. With Unizin’s Analytics, we should not only be able to compare LSA and Engin, we should be able to compare UM and Indiana. Instructors may be able to have homework assignments that automatically adjust to the student, or notify the academic advisor when a student is in trouble.

Longer term, one of the things they are thinking about is what follows the student when s/he leaver the university. Now the only thing they really take with them is the transcript. With the expanded and more uniform Analytics, can we add things like digital badges and certificates? Could a physics student graduate with a portfolio the same way an art student does?

In short, membership in Unizin hopefully provides resources and opportunities that we haven’t had before.

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