10th Sakai Conference Highlights

Sakai Boston LogoI just got back to Berkeley after an amazing week in Boston at the 10th Sakai Conference. It was an exhausting week for me, starting with Project Cooridnation meetings on Monday, a Sakai Foundation Board meeting on Tuesday, the Newcomer’s Reception Tuesday evening, the main conference and associated receptions and dinners from Wednesday – Friday and a post-conference Project Coordination meeting on Saturday.  Then the long flight from BOS-SFO on Sunday morning (what good does it do to be Premiere Executive on United if you get stuck in the back of the plane next to someone playing Brain Age on her DS for literally the entire 6 hour flight).

But more than exhausting it was exhilirating. I don’t know if you had the same feeling, but I felt an exceptionaly amount of energy and enthusiasm at the conference. Why was that?

With over 500 attendees this was the largest Sakai Conference in terms of actual attendance (more registrants in Balitmore but fewer attendees) and we had a large proportion of first-time attendees (between 35% and 40%).  We also had a large number of facutly and instructional design staff (32%)–the people who are using Sakai every day and stretching its capabilities. The mix of developers, designers, users and organizational decision-makers was superb. So this contributed to the great energy.

But more than that I think there is combination of three factors. First, the recognition that the Sakai community has been successful in creating a usable alternative to commercial products. It is no longer just the early adopters or the large research universities–there are too many success stories to dismiss Sakai as a niche solution. Second, the awareness that we haven’t come close to realizing our potential. Finally, the formation of a vision–represented in many ways by Sakai 3–for how we can do even better. We see the challenges and potential that lie ahead while simultaneously knowing that we have the skills and resources to successfully meet those challenges. In many way it reminds me of the psychological concept of flow from my days studying Cognitive Psychology.

Suffice it to say that I’m more excited about Sakai than I’ve ever been and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

I did want to mention a few highlights from “my” Sakai Conference. Everyone’s experience is different, of course, but mine is probably an outlier. Still a few things that caught my attention:

  • The Teaching With Sakai Innovation Award presentations. First place winner Dr. Andrea Crampton from Charles Sturt University in Australia and Second place winner Dr. Edith Sheffer from Stanford (my alma mater!) gave the keynote presentation on Thursday.  Bringing everyone together to see what Sakai can do was a great idea and I think we’ll continue this for future confernece. Andrea’s session is available now and, finally, so is Edith’s.
  • There was participation from two South American commercial affiliates at the conference.  Unitech from Argentina gave a presenation about their “All Kids Online” project in conjunction with LA PUNTA University. It supported 2500 K-12 students using Sakai.  People Educação of Brazil was a conference attendee and highlighted for me a number of Sakai installations they are supporting in Brazil. I hope next year they will submit a presentation but in the meantime I’ll share the information they presented to me as soon as I get soft copies. In any case, perhaps it is time to think about a South American Sakai meeting sometime. I’m thinking December of January would be good. Maybe in Rio :-).
  • The enthusiasm and engagement around the Sakai 3 effort was also a highlight. We’re beginning to see more an more oganizational committment to the project which will make things move even faster. A lot of this happens outside of conference sessiosn and there is still more work to do to turn the interest and committment into concrete project plans, but I left much more confident about delivering Sakai 3 in a reasonable timeframe.
  • The two new Sakai staff members, Clay Fenlason as Product Manager and Pieter Hartsook as Communitcations manager, are going to have a large positive impact on the community. Clay will help get development organized and Pieter will really help keeping everyone informed about what is happening. I’m thrilled to have both of them on board.
  • The interest in the variety of Open Syllabus presntations was not surprising, but it was good to see that tool is reaching a state where it can be used with real users. See the Sakai wiki for the latest information on this tool.
  • The “Openness” panel with Chris Mackie, Brad Wheeler, Peter Suber and Patrick Masson was eye-opening and entertaining. It clear we can do a better job exploiting the natural links between Open Educational Resources, Open Source Software and Open Scholarly Publishing. We need to work to bring the communities together and get the combined message out–that openness in education is more than just an important core value, it also makes great business sense. And getting to see Brad Wheeler in a tie-dye shirt was definitely a highlight. Thanks to all the panelists for participating and to Josh Baron, Hannah Reeves and Trent Batson for putting the panel together.

I’ll leave it there for now as I have some other things to do.  I’m sure I’ll have some additional updates as more of the videos from the conference are edited and posted.

And don’t forget to make your presentations and videos available to the rest of the Sakai community.  The conference wiki page has information on where to put things (and where to find them).


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