Follow up on Sakai 3 Webinar …

After the June 1st webinar, Kim Thanos of emailed to say,

“I have been working with Michael on Sakai 3 communications and would love any thoughts that you have. Specifically, I know that ND is using Bb today. As you view Sakai 3, what will set it apart from Blackboard? Where do you see Blackboard’s capability will continue to be preferable for your users? ”

With Kim’s permission, I’m responding to her here.

First I’ve got to say I don’t understand Sakai very well. I don’t understand where to go for more information about the software, what it does, what it’s capable of … It’s strange. I’m a bright person but before I can even find out whether the thing I might be interested in is worth further effort, I have to wade through a series of communication channels, none of which are what I’m accustomed to. I can sign up for these kinds of listserves: product development (which I don’t care about yet); product design (too highlevel for me. I want to know what it does today). These listserves aren’t helpful because people who already know what they’re talking about use their internal shorthand there.

I do know how to find information on most software, what its feature set is, what it integrates with, when the next version is available, whether and how to set up a demo environment for myself. And I don’t need to know another language to do that.

Sakai reminds me a little of Amway or MaryKay, where you think you’re involved in a product demonstration so you can buy the best cleaners or cosmetics, but really the pitch is to sign you up to sell Amway and make a billion bucks yourself. You’re not sure yet whether you even like the current product enough to personally USE it, let alone evangelize it.

So… Kim’s question about what will set Sakai apart from Blackboard ? First it will be in the same categories I rate Blackboard:

  • Does it function as a glue to manage permissions and route access to best of breed 3rd party tools? (It claims to. So does Blackboard).
  • Does it integrate with my SIS to automate account creation, accredited Program, Course, and section enrollments? THEN – does it support other access controlled (or not) groups such as research?
  • Does it understand different types of content (public, copyright, controlled access, Instructor’s intellectual copyright)?
  • How do I do content authoring?
  • How does it accomodate term to term management of existing content in all those categories?

Not until I get the answers to those questions do I care about Sakai as a ‘service’ in which I am part of a greater community which delivers that to each other. We Blackboard Admins today do that pretty well among ourselves, something I don’t thin Sakai proponents understand.

Kim’s second question, “Where do you see Blackboard’s capability will continue to be preferable for your users?”  Hmm… Integration with SunGard Banner is important to us. I can’t emphasize how much. Blackboard’s new product currently doesn’t have parity with the Bb Vista product in this area.

I also had an email just this week from the Chairman of our CMS subcommittee to Notre Dame’s Academic Technologies governing body. His main question about whether Sakai would ever be preferable for our users is whether its capabilities as needed by Notre Dame could ever be supported by Notre Dame for less $$$ than Blackboard today.

It would be helpful to find others with policy and requirement similarity to Notre Dame to discover what skills and resources they require to effectively manage their Sakai CLE service.

So far it’s still the devil that I know winning over the devil I don’t know….


One response to “Follow up on Sakai 3 Webinar …

  1. Hi Laura,
    Great post. I’ll respond to just a few pieces of it. First of all, like many community-driven open source projects, Sakai isn’t great at doing marketing and communications outside of the adoptee community. They’ve gotten better over the last couple of years, but they still have a lot of work to do. And the webinar that you attended in particular was aimed primarily at existing Sakai adoptees–specifically, it was focused on informing them about the major re-architecture that is underway and recruit development resources. (Hence, the Amway feel.) This was a pitch aimed at schools that are already committed to the product, many of whom have contributed development resources in the past. I have suggested to Michael Korcuska that it would be a good idea to do a different webinar aimed at non-Sakai schools.
    Regarding your questions, keep in mind that Sakai v3 doesn’t exist yet. We can talk about the goals and intentions, and we can also talk about what exists in prototype, but we can’t say with certainty what the capabilities of the final product will be. So the devil you don’t know is going to stay unknown for a while yet. For that reason, you may choose to wait a while longer before evaluating v3. The current version is another story. Josh Barron of Marist College is hosting a webinar tomorrow at noon Eastern time on his college’s migration process to the current version of Sakai. You can register for it here: I would also recommend going to one of the Sakai support vendors (e.g., Unicon or rSmart) to get a product pitch that focuses on answering your questions and feels a little bit more like what you’re used to getting from your vendors.
    On the SIS integration front, I think there are good reasons to be hopeful. Unicon has contributed support for the IMS LIS standard to the current version of Sakai. (I happen to know a bit about this because it’s one of the things I work on at Oracle and I’m on the IMS working group for the standard.) LIS is specifically designed for SIS/LMS interoperability. Sungard has publicly committed to implementing the standard, but has not announced when that support would come. You might want to ask them about it. There’s work being done by Berkeley for Sakai 3 that would bake this integration standard and, more generally, interoperability support for a range of identity management standards, into the core of the product.

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