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UT Austin Teams With Unizin to Gain Insight Into Digital Learning Environment

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The University of Texas at Austin’s Academic Affairs division has joined Unizin — a non-profit, membership-based consortium of leading academic and research institutions committed to optimizing digital transformation in higher education. Joining the consortium will provide the University with access to tools and platforms to delve deeper into data and analytics from the campus learning management system, Canvas, and advance its efforts to improve learning experiences for students, provide vital early-alert tools for academic advisors and offer new opportunities for faculty research.

“We want to create a simpler and more student-centered learning experience that provides every student their best chance at academic success,” said Art Markman, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. “This will provide UT, and faculty, a better understanding of who our students are and how they interact with their classes. Making data accessible and usable will help us teach more effectively and help our students to be better informed about their learning.”

Canvas hosts information, such as syllabi, grades and instructional materials, for in-person and online courses at UT Austin. The University’s membership in Unizin will provide ongoing access to the consortium’s state-of-the-art Unizin Data Platform and create new opportunities for collaboration with other peer institutions committed to leveraging data to support student success initiatives.

The Unizin Data Platform normalizes and integrates data from disparate learning tools and learning management systems deployed across an institution, including Canvas. The average Unizin Data Platform is over 21 terabytes, with millions of new data points added daily during the academic year. This allows Unizin members to observe the use and impact of digital learning tools in real-time and collaborate on data modeling and analytics, application development and cross-institutional research initiatives.

Once UT has implemented the Unizin Data Platform on campus, the University will gain access to solutions developed by other Unizin members, such as My Learning Analytics (MyLA), a student-facing application developed by the University of Michigan that Unizin hosts for members. MyLA empowers self-regulated learning by sharing course-level performance and engagement data with students. When contextualized with data from their peers in the same courses, these kinds of analytics can provide students with actionable insights on study habits or learning strategies to improve their academic performance.

“Our goal is to target challenging ‘gateway’ courses,” said Jeff Freels, UT’s Director of Academic Policy and Research. “Over time, we hope to see improved pass rates in these courses, some of which have historical failure and withdrawal rates of 15-25%.”

Once fully deployed, the Unizin Data Platform will provide a more robust investigation of the relationship between course-level student success and students’ engagement with Canvas and their digital learning materials. Academic advisors will gain a new tool as Academic Affairs collaborates with the Undergraduate College to develop integrated early-alert applications for advisors and faculty. Over time, faculty, students, leaders and support staff will have access to data generated from various tools, platforms and materials across the digital learning environment to inform improvements to teaching, learning and student support.

UT Austin is at the forefront of research and practice in digital teaching and learning, and Unizin membership will help propel a new era of data-informed decision-making. UT Austin can foster collaborations with other Unizin member institutions and leverage the experience, knowledge and tools they have accumulated and developed using the Unizin Data Platform. Knowledge sharing among members helps shorten development times for new and evolving data applications. Eventually, the University will be able to study and compare student outcomes at UT Austin with the outcomes at other Unizin member institutions.

“We approach digital transformation in higher education as a team sport,” said Unizin CEO Bart Pursel. “Adding UT Austin to our membership roster is like adding a four-star recruit to an already strong program. Unizin members are excited to learn from the great work the Academic Affairs division has already done and explore new ideas and collaborative opportunities.”

Academic Affairs has been in dialogue with Unizin since 2022. In 2023, the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost sponsored a Canvas Data Task Force — a 17-person group comprised of faculty and staff from various units, including Academic Affairs, Enrollment Management, Data to Insights, Academic Information Systems, IT Solutions, college and school Dean’s Offices, and Athletics — to recommend a sustainable approach to Canvas data management and application development. Joining Unizin was the task force’s top recommendation.

The technical onboard to the Unizin Data Platform will begin this summer and is expected to take six to nine months, with data becoming available to some UT Austin stakeholders by early 2025.