CORVALLIS, Ore. - Oregon State University has joined several leading research universities to create an education technology consortium called Unizin that will provide new ways to create and share digital educational content.
Unizin is a university-owned and operated national collaboration to provide a common infrastructure for educational content and empower faculty with a new suite of tools to create and share digital learning materials.
"As a founding member of the new Unizin consortium, Oregon State steps up to a leadership role nationwide to help guide the next generation digital learning," said Lois Brooks, vice provost for Information Services and chief information officer at OSU.
Oregon State has been involved in the development of the new Unizin consortium for the past year. Colorado State University, University of Florida, Indiana University and the University of Michigan signed on earlier this year. Now Oregon State, University of Wisconsin and University of Minnesota join them as founding members of Unizin, to provide leadership in higher education for the new wave of digital learning technologies and strategies sweeping college campuses.
By the end of this year, Unizin founding membership is likely to grow with several additional leading research universities working toward full membership.
"That three more world-class institutions joined Unizin further validates our strategy and gives us the momentum to have greater impact on teaching and learning," said Amin Qazi, chief executive officer of Unizin. "The participation of these institutions will greatly extend our reach and strengthen the services Unizin provides to its members."
Under Unizin, OSU faculty will be able to create and share digital content with faculty at other Unizin institutions as well as universities around the world who subscribe to standards for open educational resources, giving students access to more and better digital course materials.
"Over the past few decades, higher education has been evolving from a traditional lecture format to more digital-based interactive learning," said Dave King, OSU's associate provost for Extended Campus. "The next step in that evolution is to provide richer digital material across a full spectrum of learning opportunities - credit courses, professional programs, open educational resources and especially important to OSU, Extension programs.
"Unizin helps us open the door to many people who otherwise would not have access to higher education."
One faculty proponent for the move is Kevin Ahern, a professor of biochemistry and biophysics who already offers free online courses and books.
"What I like about Unizin is that it is a way for many more people across OSU to participate in sharing as I have done," Ahern said. "Open Educational Resources is going to rapidly become the biggest movement in higher education and I am delighted to see OSU participate in this process. Unizin is a credible, meaningful effort that will benefit students across the country - and OSU is showing important leadership by joining the conversation."
The lexicon of 21st-century education can be intimidating - MOOCs, badges, flipped classrooms, digital platforms, and professional short-courses. What they have in common is expanding the reach of higher education to meet the needs of students, industry, and other professionals.
This fall, for example, Oregon State is offering its first MOOC - massive open online course. Karen Thompson, an OSU education faculty member, is teaming with the Oregon Department of Education and Stanford University on a course to help K-12 teachers work better with English language learners in their classrooms to meet new standards. It is potentially open to thousands of educators throughout the country.
"The potential for these types of courses is enormous," King said. "You could offer a course on climate change, or earthquake hazards, or watershed enhancement. It could be offered free, or it could be underwritten by an agency or organization, with universities maintaining both intellectual property and quality control."
Through Unizin, faculty will also be able to analyze ways in which students best learn and tailor their courses accordingly. Access to these kinds of analytics is becoming a required management tool for universities which are focusing on improved learner and student success like Oregon State is under its newly revised strategic plan.
The technology revolution goes well beyond traditional distance learning, OSU officials say. Many OSU resident students take online courses as well, and creative faculty members are incorporating new technologies into their classroom lectures.
"Twenty years ago many of us were involved in the development of Internet2 to provide universities the network Internet access that has changed the trajectory toward success of higher education," said Brooks. "Our collaborative approach to Unizin offers the same path toward success for digital and online learning. The potential to use technology to enhance the learning environment for all learners is enormous."