Blog has moved!

I’ve moved my blog to the new Sakai Project website blog.  You can follow my posts at either: (only my posts)

or (all Sakai staff blogs)

or (Sakai community blog aggregation)


Sakai, Blackboard and Moodle

Yesterday at Educause I was one of three panelists in a “Point/Counterpoint” session entitled “Blackboard, Moodle and Sakai.” The session was completely overcrowded. There were probably 400 people in the room 20 minutes before the scheduled start time, many others who were trying to watch on a TV screen outside the room and many others that gave up and did something else. Luckily it was recorded so you can watch the session online. And you can view the slides we used to structure the conversation.

The interest in the session shows that a large proportion of universities are thinking about what system will best meet their needs. So expect to see lots of change in the coming years. Interestingly, John Norman of Cambridge posted great advice about choosing a system on the Sakai email lists at about the same time the session was going on (he’s not at Educause this year):

The [feature & function checklist] approach to purchasing decisions is widely used because it gives the appearance of objectivity and is relatively easy and low-cost to operate.

In my personal opinion, this is a naive approach to purchasing that explains a great deal of the subsequent unhappiness in large IT deployments. Much information is lost in mapping to the ‘feature boxes’ and the boxes themselves are often defined from a base of a particular implementation.

Given the cost of adoption, and the later costs of switching if the wrong choice is made (or the cost of trying to justify the decision that _was_ made), the value of investing in the process of selection cannot be under-estimated.

I genuinely believe that there is tremendous value in identifying these technology-neutral faculty (and student) goals and then dispassionately (and ideally with users) assessing how readily the product facilitates those goals, and that this is the right approach to making a choice. Unfortunately, the process can take time and investment and can be challenged as open to subjective analysis. The good news is that the subjective analysis may be the way in which institutional culture is allowing into the decision and much of the investment in investigation will be valuable and reusable when you come to deploying the chosen system.

So if you’re looking to change, take your time and ask the right questions. All of these systems will meet the functional checklist over time (and I’d like to mention Desire2Learn, who was not represented on the panel). This is a long-term decision about a core mission of the university and should reflect the values of your institution.

One final note about our Educause session. It didn’t produce the fireworks that some people may hoped for. We chose to take a more reasoned tone for a variety of reasons. We, as panelists, didn’t know each other well and we didn’t want to seem to be fighting with each other personally. Also, because Moodle and Blackboard were represented by implementing universities (respectively Melody Childs of LSU and Dave Swarts of American), I certainly didn’t want to put them in a position of having to defend products/communities that they don’t work in on a day to day basis. But really, at the end of the day, while a verbal “fight” is more entertaining, all three of us wanted to generate more light than heat. We hope you find it helpful.

Unicon Market Research Session at Educause

Unicon has been invited to organize a Market Research session at this year’s Educause conference. This is an interesting and innovative program that the conference organizers are piloting this year. As I understand it Unicon is one of three companies invited to participate, the other two being SunGard and Google, so this is a big honor and a big deal for both Unicon and the entire open source community.

I encourage you to attend this session and then head over to the Open Source reception….read on for more information

Continue reading

Sakai Foundation Board Candidates Announced

Today the impressive slate of candidates for the Sakai Foundation Board were announced. You can find the candidate profiles and platform statements on the Sakai website.

This year four new Board Members will be elected from the group of 13 candidates. Voting occurs by Sakai Foundation member representatives from October 31 – November 13 and we will announce the new members soon after that. The newly elected members will start their terms with the first Board meeting of the new year and their terms last 3 years.

It’s a great slate and makes me wish we could have more board members!  Congratulations to all the candidates for their nomination and a big “thank you” to them for their willingness to serve.

If you’re reading this and your organization is a Sakai Foundation member please encourage your member representative to vote. If you aren’t sure who that is, feel free to contact Mary Miles.

Sakai at University of Florida


A couple of tweets in the last few days mentioned blog posts about the University of Florida and Sakai. So I thought it was worth mentioning pointing to them here. First, Sakai Foundation Product Manager Clay Fenlason made the drive from Georgia Tech to visit the Sakai team at UF and wrote about it on his blog. He mentions the infamous disaster preparedness plan that included a zombie attack scenario. I really appreciate that kind of irreverent humor and hope that the UF team will bring that creative spirit to the Sakai community. Although maybe not on the official website…

The second tweet from Mathieu Plourde pointed to Doug Johnson’s UF blog post announcing the selection of Sakai. A brief excerpt:

Ultimately, [the committee] decided that the power and flexibility of Sakai, coupled with the advantages of the open source model and the Sakai community, best met the needs of UF as envisioned in our strategic academic and IT plans.

A big welcome to the University of Florida!

Sakai 2.6.1 Released

I’m happy to announce the release of Sakai 2.6.1. This maintenance release provides a set of bug fixes, language/locale updates and performance enhancements that improve upon the Sakai 2.6.0 release. Over 200 issues have been addressed by 2.6.1. Roughly half involve bug fixes while the remainder involve textual updates to language translation property bundles. In particular, important fixes have been applied to the Assignment, Chat, Portfolio, Tests & Quizzes and Site-manage tools while updates for Catalan, French, Russian, Spanish and Swedish translations have also been provided.

Sakai 2.6.1 utilizes core service updates provided in the recent Sakai kernel (K1) 1.0.12 maintenance release. Portfolio users will appreciate a performance enhancement made to the kernel’s Content Hosting Service that reduces portfolio assembly times. You can see a list of all Kernel changes included in this release on the Sakai bug tracking system.

For access to the source code and documentation, please see the Sakai 2.6.1 release page.

Sakai Article in Campus Technology

Josh Baron has a Sakai-related article in Campus Technology. It is based on the chapter he authored for the Sakai Book. It’s a nice piece about the Teaching with Sakai Innovation Award. Here’s an excerpt I particularly liked:

With hundreds of institutions, thousands of instructors and millions of students having now used Sakai, we have an endless number of examples of how this collaborative learning environment is being deployed in education today. Although few instructors are likely using Sakai to inflict physical pain on their students, the instructional approaches taken vary enormously; from traditional (e.g. posting lecture slides online) to extremely inventive (e.g. real world simulations). Looking across this continuum of instructional applications, it is evident that those on the “inventive” end exhibit the potential Sakai holds to transform the traditional educational experience into something more engaging, rich and meaningful for the learner.

You should definitely check out the article. Or, better yet, buy the book!