Extension and Unizin…What’s in it for us?

Dave King, Associate Provost, Outreach and Engagement
Dave King, Associate Provost, Outreach and Engagement
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Some of you may have taken the time to participate in the recent Faculty and Staff Forum on Oregon State’s potential involvement in the Unizin consortium. It was lively discussion about the impact and merits of participating in this major university collaboration to build a “learning ecosystem.” If you missed it, the hour or so conversation is archived at:  https://media.oregonstate.edu/media/t/0_d73ieyl2 

In addition, you may or may not have seen the article in the OSU Barometer that reported on the learning management system change from Blackboard to Canvas. You can see that at: http://www.dailybarometer.com/news/canvas-to-replace-blackboard/article_565dd982-1c02-11e4-bb9c-0017a43b2370.html

It is fairly easy from these discussions to see the possible benefit to the campus as whole for these kinds of visionary changes we are suggesting, but what will this do for Extension and other non-credit programming from OSU? 

I think there are (at least) two aspects of this evolution that will have a significant impact on both what Extension at OSU looks like in five years and, beyond that, our opportunities for success.  They are access and analytics. 

Access
Up until now, the learning management system (LMS) of the University has been a sole domain of credit courses. The specialized tools for grading and managing curriculum for students were not available to Extension faculty and the learners we were trying to reach. If we used an LMS it was a one-off instance of some other tool—such as Moodle. Now, not only will the new Canvas LMS be open and available to Extension faculty and content developers, it will be available at no significantly increased cost. Access to a robust and constantly improving LMS will, over time, change the look, feel, and interactive nature of Extension faculty members’ relationship with our learners. In addition, it opens the door for much more interchangeability among credit and non-credit courses. We have talked for years about whether and how we can create a stronger synergy among the learning opportunities created in Extension and courses that are offered for credit in similar content areas. Access to the Canvas LMS and ultimately the foundation created by the Unizin learning ecosystem will provide common development approach that will allow much more cross-use of Extension learning objects, modules, and even fully developed programs in the credit environment, and vice versa. 

Analytics
The world of learning and education will be driven into the future by our greater ability to understand not just how people learn in general, but how individuals participating in our programs learn. Extension has been built over the last 100 years on the concept of personalized learning. Having people resident in our communities around the state has always offered the opportunity for local learners to find individualized solutions to the issues they face. As populations have grown more urbanized and concentrated, we have struggled to maintain that personalized approach. Our Ask-an-Expert initiative is directly related to the goal of personalized response. As embedded analytics become more of a reality in our programs—a direct outcome of working in the Unizin learning ecosystem—we will all be able to “see” more of what works with more granular groups of people when it comes to learning tactics. Not only that, but you will be able to see what others in the consortium are doing to address similar needs. The more we know about how individual people learn, the more we will be able to develop methods of reaching each of them in that individual fashion. Check out the Unizin web site for more background and information:  www.Unizin.org.   As we continue to step through the process of joining the Unizin consortium, we’ll look to you all for early adopters willing to test the waters of this new learning ecosystem. 

Now is the time for us all to frame the future of Extension on an educational foundation that is developed and shared by all our colleagues at OSU and around the country.  Watch for your chance to step up and help ensure the long-term success of all our programs. 

Dave King
Associate Provost
Outreach and Engagement