How UNC is trying to make ed tech better

A compelling recent report from EDUCAUSE proposes that the “Next Generation Digital Learning Environment” will be based on a “‘Lego’ approach,” in which “components … allow individuals and institutions the opportunity to construct learning environments tailored to their requirements and goals.” The authors, Malcolm Brown, Joanne Dehoney, and Nancy Millichap, envision an app-like ecosystem of interoperable ed tech tools, each of which does one thing well, rather than the monolithic collection of functionality that is the learning management system.

Today, with the launch of the UNC Learning Technology Commons, the University of North Carolina system is taking a step in the direction of this more modular, flexible, and learner- and educator-centered approach.

We’re reimagining the way university faculty and staff buy the ed tech they need to help their students learn. Our goal is to empower educators with the best instructional tools available — in the classroom or online.

The UNC Learning Technology Commons is a system-wide effort to curate an annotated catalogue of digital learning products available for accelerated purchase by the 20,000 faculty members of the UNC system, and to build a community of educators who share (anonymized, aggregated) learning outcomes and user experiences with those products.

We’ve designed an inclusive process to build the Commons — in partnership with faculty, university purchasing and ed tech providers — not a knock-out competition. Providers must agree to a standard set of terms and conditions, comply with relevant law and regulations, and spell out how much their products cost at different volumes. (Free and open source products are welcome, of course, as well.) We expect all vendors who meet those basic requirements to receive approval to join the Commons.

No money will change hands immediately with vendors selected to participate. Instead, faculty and staff from the 17 UNC constituent institutions will access the Commons to identify tools appropriate for their needs and expedite purchasing of those tools for their classroom or department. We believe this will meaningfully shorten the discovery and purchasing cycle. Faculty will visit the Commons to ask questions of one another, share the tools they’re using and their experiences with them, and learn from the insights of colleagues across the UNC system. We hope the Commons will enable more evidence-based decisions for instructional technology, make it easier for faculty to identify and buy the tools they need, and offer a more streamlined process for vendors.

The UNC Learning Technology Commons will make it easier for ed tech companies to work with UNC. Providers can expect at least four benefits:

  1. Increased visibility among the 20,000 UNC faculty serving 225,000 students on 17 campuses and online;
  2. Published inclusion in the UNC Learning Technology Commons, making it clear to ed tech buyers across the UNC system that your company has accepted our standard terms and conditions;
  3. An accelerated purchasing process that can reduce the lead time to close deals with our campuses;
  4. Valuable learning from faculty users who share what’s working and offer feedback on your products.

The UNC Learning Technology Commons is built on the LearnTrials platform — a research-based, online ed tech management system designed by, with, and for educators and administrators. LearnTrials is used by thousands of educators and their institutions across the country to discover and manage over 4,000 products. (Providers may take advantage of other benefits through the LearnTrials platform by claiming their profile during the application process.)

We’re pleased to open the Commons to the ed tech community today. If you’re an ed tech provider interested in working with the 17 campuses of the UNC system apply to join the UNC Learning Technology Commons here (unc.learntrials.com) and let your networks know using #UNCltc.