*Unity unifies your university

Research

Research is at the same time becoming both more competitive and more collaborative.
To compete better, you have to move faster.
To move faster, you have to collaborate better.

*Unity’s software has been developed by some of the world’s most celebrated research universities to help you academia work together. That’s why *Unity has the unique inside/outside quality that lets you collaborate as easily with people outside your institution as inside.

So *Unity’s good for routine tasks like writing scholarly articles or grant proposals. Write, share, discuss, revise, revert. You can iterate to perfection on *Unity.

*Unity’s also good for research groups. You can organise not only your files but also your discussions in one private place. You’ll never go back to the fragmented haystack of SharePoint, DropBox, email and attachments.

*Unity is ideal for research projects. You can set one up in seconds and invite researchers anywhere to join. Keep stuff private. Or open some of it up to the world.

*Unity also works for peer review and committees. In fact, it’s the perfect, free-flowing complement to the forms and rigidity of your administrative systems.

And *Unity comes from *Research, the people who supply *Research Professional to hundreds of the world’s top universities. So you can be sure that as *Unity develops it will always be a great place to organize your research life.


Learning

Universities used to be full of blocks composed of classrooms and lecture theatres. These days many universities are knocking down those old blocks and replacing them with new ones that include open break out spaces such as coffee shops. They are making space for informal learning.

The same principles apply to online learning. Students are routinely ushered into Learning Management Systems like Blackboard or Canvas that - like classrooms - are structured, didactic and closed to the world.

*Unity is different. It is the equivalent of those break out spaces in the new buildings - unstructured, multi-purpose, flexible and open.

Students can work with each other. With their teaching assistants. And with their professors. *Unity is a space where groups can spring up in moments

Go back into the etymology of “scholarship” and you’ll find its original root is in a Greek word for benches. The benches defined a place where people would gather to discuss things and learn. *Unity is benches for the Facebook generation.

And for the generation of universities that have Learning Management Systems, *Unity integrates with the Tin Can API for learning analytics.


Tech transfer

Strictly speaking, *Unity is not so much about tech transfer as knowledge transfer. It’s about a soft, informal, uncontracted flow of understanding. In the first place, that flow is between academics themselves. But *Unity is also good for connecting academic researchers with companies, government agencies, hospitals, schools and charities.

First, *Unity is open to everyone at your institution. It’s not just for researchers. It’s not just for administrators. This makes it easy to pull together the teams needed for successful KT.

Second, *Unity lets enterprising students get into the game just as easily as academics.

Third, in our upcoming release, you can invite anyone to join you in *Unity just by entering their email address. There’s no cost to them and you can set up a new collaborative project with them in seconds.

Fourth, *Unity is just as useful for lots of companies as it is for universities. For example, you can cheaply foster a much closer relationship with small local firms by providing them with a *Unity tenancy that is connected to your own.

And if you want to know where these ideas come from and gauge our commitment to knowledge transfer, we recommend you read our company vision statement. It’s called Knowledge Innovation Network.


Alumni

When you look at the online experience of students today, it’s no wonder that Facebook and LinkedIn know more about the alumni of most universities than the universities themselves

Usually, the student’s experience is something like this.

When they start a course, they are ushered into a Learning Management System (Virtual Learning Environment). They can access the course materials, take tests and so on. It’s closed and didactic. If the online experience was all the student had, they would little inkling of the wider life of the university, its research, scholarship, advising, consulting and culture.

Then, when the student completes their course, they are booted out of the one environment with which they are familiar. At this point the alumni office takes over and tries to recruit the graduate to a new venue for almuni.

The drop out rates as universities try to heave students across the divide and into their new alumni world are gigantic. And even the ones who make it into the alumni venue are often unsure of the role it really should play in their life. No wonder most of them are disengaged.

So here’s a better idea.

When the student enrols, usher them into your *Unity tenancy. Let them connect there with fellow students, and faculty.

Then, when they graduate, change nothing. Just let them carry on talking to their friends.

Don’t struggle heroically to create an alumni community. Just let your alumni carry on being part of the community they already made for themselves as students.

This isn’t email-for-life. It’s a community for life, relationships for life. It’s a space that can have a meaningful role in the life of all your alumni.

You control your tenancy in *Unity. You own the data. And because *Unity is an open platform with open APIs, you can easily integrate it with your existing CRM.

Welcome to the future of alumni relations.


Admin

People and projects are the essence of administrative teamwork in universities. And *Unity excels at bringing them together.

We’ve been through an era where software has been developed for more and more specialised tasks. It works - but it also fragments. You are left with the problems of siloed resources, users having to learn different interfaces and technical teams having to integrate disparate systems. No wonder email, for all its problems, still carries the main load of administration in most universities.

*Unity offers a simpler way. It’s a dedicated collaboration platform that makes it easy to work together. It’s simple to use and not tied to any specific task. You can use if for anything.

*Unity’s modern interface works across all devices. And features like a unified activity stream and sophisticated notifications mean it’s easy to stay on top of your work.

Your institution gets its own secure tenancy and everyone gets access through your established Single Sign On. Once you’re in, it’s easy to set up projects, share documents and work together. When you need to, you can also securely share materials with people in other institutions.

*Unity has been built on the simple fact that most collaboration in universities revolves around documents. So it makes it easy to do all the things that are important when you are working together on things like grant applications, committee papers or reviews.

For example, you can draft documents in the cloud collaboratively in real time. Or draft them in Word, upload, share, read online and download. Revisions are tracked and can be restored. Inline annotations are coloured by author. Any document can be discussed.

The result is that all the thinking that currently dies in email is pulled together in one place. That makes it easier to move forward and creates a resource that can be drawn on in future.

*Unity makes it easier for your people to do their projects. It really is that simple.


'The Others'

Enabling slick, cheap cooperation with a wide variety of outsiders

Most universities have a lot of people who don’t fall into simple categories such as “permanent staff” or “three year undergraduates”. These people are varied but include:

  • Temporary staff
  • Contractors
  • External partners in internal projects
  • People taking Continuous Professional Development courses
  • People in spin out companies
  • Students on MOOCs.

A common feature of ‘The Others’, as they are sometimes called, is that they don't go through the same demanding procedures of identity verification that are used for regular staff and students.

So you want to work with them, you want to provide them with some way of collaborating with other people in your institution, but you can’t put them through the mainstream systems which are based on first verifying the identity of the user. What do you do?

That’s a problem that has perplexed universities for years and the available solutions are clunky and expensive. They generally have a terrible user experience and often require manual labour by university IT staff.

*Unity cuts through the problems. Here’s how it works:

  • Someone in your university wants to invite a guest to collaborate on something in *Unity – perhaps a document or a group
  • They click on the “Share” option
  • They type in the guest’s email address
  • The guest receives an email invitation
  • The guest clicks through to a simple page, registers for *Unity (often via their own institution’s Single Sign On page) and is then taken to the thing that was being shared with them
  • From then on, the guest can freely collaborate with everyone in *Unity.

It’s a simple user experience that requires zero management, zero manual effort and costs you nothing.

Compared to your current solution for The Others, the *Unity way is almost certainly simpler for users, simpler for the IT department, more effective and cheaper.


*Unity case studies

Everyday collaboration

University of Murcia, Spain

The University of Murcia deployed *Unity in 2013 and has since used it in three distinct scenarios:

  • Collaborative document editing by students, in place of a wiki
  • Ad hoc collaboration by students
  • Ad hoc collaboration by faculty.

The collaborative editing is part of a course and use of *Unity is mandated. The other scenarios arise spontaneously, but within an institutional context in which Murcia has recommended use of *Unity across the institution.

Previously, when Murcia used a wiki for collaborative drafting, it was under pressure to provide another collaborative medium such as chat to allow students to discuss what was in the wiki and work out what they wanted to do. But with *Unity students found that they could work together on the text (at the same time!) and discuss the text and have all this pulled together on a single page.

"The students really like that," says José Mariano Luján González, a manager of educational systems at the university.

In a recent survey, more than 90 per cent of Murcia students said that *Unity was a good place to work in groups, learn together and experience learning.

Faculty use *Unity for a growing variety of projects. For example, creating the materials for a MOOC. For a typical course, the faculty create a group and then use the library to collect and discuss materials. “Feedback is good,” says Luján González, who notes the popularity of the Activity Feed for keeping everyone up-to-date about progress on projects.


Working across many institutions

ESUP-Portail, France

ESUP-Portail is an association of more than 70 universities in France that has been using the OAE software on which *Unity is built since 2012. One of the uses has been for administering schemes that involve many institutions, such as student ID cards.

The “Carte Multiservice” provides enrolled students with access to libraries, cafeterias and other services and is issued to three million students across France. The scheme involves 50 universities, which have all purchased the same card management software, and is organized by region.

French is one of about a dozen languages into which the OAE software has been translated. So everyone involved in the Carte Multiservice discussion can work in their native tongue.

The OAE is used to support the management of the scheme by universities. It is used to:

  • Coordinate members of the project into groups
  • Upload or create documents
  • Organize materials into folders
  • Share materials with the members
  • Organize discussions around the materials
  • Ensure there is a persistent archive of material for a project that is expected to last for years
  • To provide a secure, confidential space for all activity for participants from multiple institutions.

For collaboration across institutions, there is no other service available that meets the minimum requirements for cross-institutional collaboration:

  • Services like Google Apps or Microsoft 365 are purely institutional services that become insecure and clunky as soon as you try to use them across multiple institutions. For example, to share a file in Google Apps with someone outside your tenancy you have to generate a URL for the file and email it to your collaborators. In doing that, you have made your file insecure, and anyone with the URL can access the document.
  • The same sort of weakness applies even more strongly to consumer services such as DropBox, where the institutional context is also missing.
  • Some kind of dedicated project site is possible, but it is a one-off solution that requires a significant overhead in terms of set up and maintenance. For example, there’s ongoing friction in terms of providing access to materials to users who aren’t in the group of people originally authorized to use the system.
  • A mishmash of email and file sharing can easily become chaotic and insecure and lacks a central arena for materials and discussion.

*Unity suffers from none of these problems. It is designed for collaboration both within and between institutions because that’s how universities and researchers work. Sharing never becomes insecure, it’s good for archiving and it’s easy to add new people to collaboration.

“The collaboration has been a success,” says Alain Mayeur, the head of informatics services at the University of Valenciennes. “The OAE is becoming very popular.”


Running a company

*Research, London

*Research is a company with its HQ in London and about 80 employees across four continents. It adopted *Unity as the core of its internal communications and organization at the end of 2013.

Like any organization, *Research already had a variety of collaborative systems in place. These included JIRA for the software development teams, two distinct content management systems for editorial teams, a CRM for sales and marketing, an off-the-shelf website for connecting with customers and Google Apps. Less well-used systems included shared network file storage (like SharePoint) and ad hoc wikis and Google Groups. It also had various real world systems, such as a lot of editorial copy flow, that were based on emails and attachments.

“In reality, we were disjointed,” says William Cullerne Bown, the executive chairman. “Everyone complained about it. There was no central place for pulling together our teams and projects. Staff outside the London office who didn’t pick up things by gossip were particularly isolated.”

Now *Unity has brought coherence to *Research’s work. Groups are the key organizing element. The company set up groups for the different offices to handle local issues (e.g. the “Cape Town” group), groups to organize teamwork (e.g. the “Sales” group) and groups to handle specific projects (e.g. the “Fingerprinting” group).

Within these groups, *Unity is being used in many different ways:

  • Staff work together in *Unity to develop new materials, for marketing campaigns for example.
  • The journalists write all day and like to work in Word. But instead of passing the document around by email (no version control, no archive, frequent problems with continuity of commentary between multiple editors) they now upload Word files to folders in *Unity and discuss copy there.
  • On the commercial side, staff use *Unity for routine tasks like sharing and discussing desk research on new markets or technology options, drafting contracts, discussing budgets and managing projects. The ability to pull together all kinds of content – from spreadsheets to pdfs to links – preview them and discuss them makes *Unity the place in which several teams now live for most of the day.
  • Never ending FAQ-type discussion threads have proved good for collecting small bits of feedback that help improve quality. For example, in one thread editors who index funding opportunities can suggest and discuss revisions to our indexing taxonomy.

*Research has also created tenancies for some of the smaller companies who are its suppliers, such as outside designers or consultants. It then grants them access to certain folders or groups within its own tenancy. That makes it easy for them to work with *Research while limiting the content that is exposed to them.

Six months on, the less well-used systems that we had before are being retired. The ad hoc email systems are dropping out of use. And *Unity is helping to draw together the other core systems that *Research continues to rely on.

For example, the tech team continues to work in JIRA, for its task-oriented environment. But the creative product team works in *Unity, for its fluidity. Parallel structures in the two systems mean “groups” in *Unity match “swimstreams” in JIRA so that its easy for developers to look up product background and for the product team to track progress in coding.

“We communicate better,” says Cullerne Bown. “We work together better. It’s easier to find stuff. We move faster.”


Mentoring, students and alumni

University of Toledo

The Judith Herb College of Education at the University of Toledo in Ohio trains school teachers. Its Licensure and Master’s Program (LAMP) is a one-year, graduate course where students serve a one-year internship with a mentor teacher in a classroom setting while completing the required coursework on campus. The course has been described by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation as a “transformative model” for teacher training in the US and 90 per cent of graduates in recent years have gone on to become full-time teachers.

The mixed on-campus, off-campus experience created a need for an online environment that could handle diverse needs. The college set up a tenancy on *Unity and integrated it into its offering for students as the Academic Community of Educators at The University of Toledo (ACE).

“Because LAMP integrates experiences across the year and across courses, and our students are often not on campus since they are in the school, we use ACE for continuous dialogue and support,” says Rebecca Schneider, a professor of science education who directs the program.

The popularity of *Unity as a platform among both students and faculty means that its use is starting to spill out into a variety of other roles. For example, the initial focus on current students has been extended to support for recent graduates.

“Teachers have told us they want to remain in contact with faculty,” says Schneider.

Alumni offices take note. The Judith Herb College of Education doesn’t have to try to create a rich alumni community out of nothing. Using *Unity, it just emerges seamlessly from the students’ online experience. There are groups for both LAMP interns and LAMP graduates in ACE, and faculty are included in both.

“We are using ACE to bridge between our on campus events (four per year) and to include our new teachers who are unable to attend on-campus sessions,” says Schneider.

The university’s website (https://www.utoledo.edu/education/about/index.html) says, “ACE is an online collaborative environment to support students, alumni, faculty, and school partners in working together across courses and beyond graduation. This academic environment is designed to facilitate ongoing professional groups for learning so that faculty can mentor students across programs and extend learning for practicing professionals.”

Now the college has extended *Unity to its undergraduate teachers, supporting schoolteachers as they begin their first year in the classroom. And faculty have also started to adopt it for their own work, for example collaborating in groups to develop new courses or liaising with administrators.

“We are developing an online program with faculty across two colleges,” says Schneider. “We are using ACE to develop this program. We have faculty meetings but not everyone can always attend. We keep all our work on ACE and everyone contributes to our working documents.”

“When the program launches we will create a group for the students and faculty together.”


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