Sakai (and me) in Europe

The upcoming Sakai Conference in Paris will be the second year in a row in which a Sakai Community conference has been held in Europe. In part we’re trying to make it easier for the existing European and African Sakai community to attend the conference (which of course makes it harder for North Americans to come and no easier, really, for Australians). But we’re also trying to reach out to those who haven’t attended Sakai Conferences or recently looked at our software. The Sakai Conferences really drive home the value of the software and the community and are a great outreach event. And we want to continue the momentum built by the success of the Amsterdam Conference last year. So I’m really looking forward to the event in Paris, where 50% of the current registrants are from outside of North America (as compared to only 20% in Newport Beach).

In other news regarding Sakai in Europe, I’ve been presented with a personal opportunity to spend much of the next academic year in France. As you may know, my wife is faculty at UC Berkeley and has earned a sabbatical and has been invited to spend time Université Paris 8. So we’ll be relocating the whole family to Paris for awhile. We’ve found a housing exchange (a French professor visiting Berkeley), believe it or not, right next to the Université Pierre et Marie Curie where the conference is being hosted. It’s an amazing coincidence. And we’ve got our long stay visas (it was easy…don’t believe what they say about the French bureaucracy).

So, I’ll be taking advantage of this to spend as much time as I can with the Sakai community in Europe. I’ll also take advantage of the fact that South Africa is a lot closer and make a trip there, likely in February. I’ll of course be coming back to the US regularly. I’ll be back for Educause in October, of course, but we’re also working on both West Coast and East Coast Sakai meetings, probably in November. These won’t be as big a production as our community conferences and will have more time dedicated to getting work done rather than attending/giving presentations. We should have more news on these by the time the Paris conference rolls around.

So if you’re reading this and are in Europe, the Middle East or Africa (EMEA, as North American companies dub the region) and are interested in having me visit then please send me a note.


Bollywood, Open Source and Blackboard

So two people sent me the same set of videos on the same day. I guess something is in the air and I thought I’d pass along the virus…

There’s a site called “BombayTV” that lets you put your own subtitles on top of Bollywood films. Randy Thorton, an instructional technologist at The University of Pugent Sound (in the Seattle area) has put together a hilarious set of these dealing with Open Source Software and Blackboard.

Here’s my favorite (I’m biased, of course).

But they are all worth watching. Check ’em out. And I should point out that George Kroner from Blackboard was the first person to point these out to me about 6 weeks ago.

Openness and Sakai History

There was an excellent exchange recently on the Sakai Teaching & Learning email list ( about how open Sakai is as a community. I’ve captured the original question and the main replies on a wiki page but thought I would highlight my own response in this space.

Here’s part of the original email that gives the general gist of things (the whole thing is on the wiki page):

…I’m presenting at the Computers & Writing conference next week: The theme is open source. I was recently talking to a colleague (main player in the C&W community) who is completely against Sakai. I honestly do not know all of his issues and concerns, but I would like to be prepared for responses and those like his at the conference. When I talked to him, he said that he was in charge at his institution of examining open source CMSs and he found Sakai to be the least open of open source CMS communities. In part, he says this because of the cost to join. He would suggest, I suppose, that cost is, itself, a gatekeeping mechanism that prevents some institutions from becoming involved. He also suggested that the community was driven primarily by developers and that it required too much developer knowledge to customize…

Some of this is just misinformation. Sakai doesn’t cost anything to use and you can certainly participate in the community without being a member of the Sakai Foundation. Other comments have some truth to them, namely, the fact that the level of knowledge needed by developers is higher than other “similar” projects. This may not be as bad as it seems (do you really want to be responsible for a million lines of PHP, I think Chuck Severance once said) but is an issue that the Sakai community is currently addressing through the MySakai work (see my recent blog post for more detail).

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Common Cartridge is cool; LTI is even cooler

I spent Monday and Tuesday at the IMS Learning Impact conference in Austin Texas. I got to see a few folks who I often see at learning technology industry events. Folks like Chuck Severance, John Lewis (Unicon), John Blakely (Unicon), Michael Feldstein (Oracle), Linda Feng (Oracle), Mick Silvecko (IBM), Annie Chechitelli (Wimba) and even Bob Alcorn (Bb, who was the 2nd best bowler at the last IMS meeting I attended in Sept. 2007). Chuck, as you may have read (you’ll need to scroll down the page), is working part time for the IMS, so he was all suited up and looking and sounding very official.

The special treat, though, was to get to see Zach Thomas of Aeroplane Software. Zach wasn’t able to attend Newport Beach, so most of the Sakai community hasn’t seen him since Amsterdam. If you’ve been following the CalDAV/Zimbra work you’ll know that Zach is the lead on that project for GeorgiaTech.  I asked Zach to attend the IMS meetings on behalf of the Sakai Foundation because he lives in Austin and because there is a Common Cartridge test fest this Thursday.  Zach has helped with the CC “proof of concept work” inside Sakai.  As you may know, I think Common Cartridge is a pretty important standard that Sakai should support (once it becomes final). We should see a blog from Zach sometime soon on his thoughts about supporting Common Cartridge in Sakai.
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Githens and LISP and the Code Critiquer

So I was talking to Steve Githens at a bar in St. Paul two weeks ago. He was showing me Sash running as a Sakai tool, which I have to admit I didn’t appreciate to the degree Steve expected. The conversation turned (I forget how, beer was involved) to the fact that I used to program in LISP. My street-cred went way up in Githens’ eyes, which is very cool for me (now that I’m a pointy-haired manager).

The next morning I was able to find some code I helped write in 1992 that is still available free of charge on the web (there is no open source license associated with it). It’s for providing access to QuickTime for the Macintosh in LISP. While the code is currently likely to be worthless, I was happy to see that contributions were still being made in 1997. My contributions appear to have been relatively narrow (if I can’t remember my conversation with Steve 2 weeks ago, how do you expect me to remember stuff that happened back when Bill Clinton was first elected?), but I’m impressed to see that there is even some (minimal) test code. I also appear to have found a fundamental problem with the class organization and declined to fix it :-(. One other interesting thing to note is that the code is a collaboration between developers at Northwestern and MIT.

Now, the really crazy thing…

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Sakai Project Planning Meeting in St. Paul

As Dr. Chuck indicated in a comment to an earlier blog post of mine, the St. Paul Sakai Project Planning meetings were quite efficient and successful. A number of topics were discussed and I’ll provide a brief summary here. As usual, while we made some concrete proposals about how to move forward, no decisions were made. All of these proposals will be circulated on the lists for comment and feedback before they become official. With that caveat, here are some highlights (forgive the length):

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Georgia Tech, Bedework, and Enlightened Self-Interest

Bedework LogoI have so much to say about what went on in St. Paul at the JA-Sig Spring Conference that I hardly know where to begin. I’ll start with a meeting that some Sakai folks had with the folks from Bedework. If you don’t know about Bedework, it’s a higher education-based community source calendar project. It’s built in Java and has an intense focus on complying with calendar standards like CalDAV. It’s currently based at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

After their excellent presentation, we (John Lewis from Unicon, Clay Fenlason from Georgia Tech, Mike Osterman from Whitman College and myself) met with three members of the core project team, Mike Douglass, Gary Schwartz and Arlen Johnson. Mike, Arlen and Gary are very knowledgeable and passionate about Bedework and their work with the standards bodies is extremely valuable for the entire higher education community. Higher Education does have a different emphasis than your average company (e.g. public events are far more important) and even some unique use cases (e.g. faculty office hours need to be made available across multiple classes). Even if your campus is not going to use Bedework you should send a big “Thank you” their way for keeping higher education use cases front and center in the standards committees. And if you’re looking for a new calendaring system, check out Bedework.

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