Category Archives: 21st Century Learning

Sakai is alive and well and on the move

Like Sakai, this tiger is alive, staring directly at you, and ready to spring

Sakai is open source. So yeah, many open source softwares come and go.

But other open source softwares embed into your infrastructure, are constantly maintained and improved and evolving. Examples: Apache webserver, Central Auth Service, Git, Linux, and Sakai.

Don’t believe me? Monitor the commits on github. Look at contributions from Western Ontario, University of Virginia and Longsight (a commercial affiliate). Oh, and globally? Check out Flying Kite of Australia (busy enough that they don’t bother with a website but use LinkedIN (https://www.linkedin.com/company/flying-kite-au ) and Entornos de Formación of Spain (big enough to have an English language website: https://www.edf.global/ ).

So let’s see where Sakai compares with overall caveats proposed by Sam Saltis in his recent blogpost on Core dna:

#1. Cost. Sam says, “Open software providers are also increasingly charging for extras like add-ons, integration, and additional services, which can negate any cost-saving advantages in some cases. In the end, rather than being free, you are still paying for a service with open source software.”

And he’s right. This is happening. But not with Sakai. Sakai is community-based and community maintained. It can be hosted anywhere you like, including by a commercial hosting provider or in your own institutional AWS, Google or Azure cloud. It can also be multi-tenanted, so that you could share costs of an instance. With Sakai you control the cost by controlling your choices.

#2. Service. Sam says, “Open source software relies on a loyal and engaged online user community to deliver support via forums and blogs, but this support often fails to deliver the high level of response that many consumers expect (and can receive with proprietary software).”

And he’s right. But it’s also a strength. Sakai has a loyal and engaged online user community which is highly responsive. I dare you to engage with us on our lists. You’ll get an answer within 24 hours for sure, but often within minutes(!)

#3. Innovation. Sam says, “Open source software provides a large amount of flexibility and freedom to change the software without restriction. This innovation, however, may not be passed on to all users and it is debated whether customized changes to the original source code can limit the future support and growth of the software. Once more, open source software providers often struggle to attract large-scale research and development.”

I have to answer this one for the Sakai community in parts: a) Yes, you are able to change Sakai without restriction. Truthfully, we like that control. b) Don’t do it in a vacuum. Engage with the community to innovate in a direction we all can use. That’s what we do. c) The Sakai community is a member of a larger open source umbrella organization, Apereo. This has been a good move for us spurring even more innovation. The Apereo Foundation is like a ‘braintrust’ for higher ed open source software projects. Check it out. 

#4. Usability. Sam says, “Usability is often a major area of criticism for open source software because the technology is generally not reviewed by usability experts and caters to developers rather than the vast majority of layperson users. User guides are not required by law and are therefore often ignored. When manuals are written, they are often filled with jargon that is difficult to follow.”

And he’s right. And admittedly, in the past this has plagued Sakai software as well. We reached a tipping point in community involvement about 3 years ago when we held a little “Sakai Camp” for the first time and discovered those who came were about half developers and half instructional designers, LMS Admins, and those representing accessibility and usability concerns. More and more instructional designers and faculty are being heard from on the lists. Even the formerly predominantly developer list, sakai-dev@apereo.org , now has regular members who are NOT developers but again are peoople who care about usability.

Sakai is now reviewed by usability and accessibility experts.

Sakai has robust user guides created by users, not developers.

#5. Security. And finally, Sam says, “With individual users all around the world developing the software, there is a lack of continuity and common direction that prevents effective communication. Once more, the software is not always peer-reviewed or validated, meaning that a programmer can embed a backdoor Trojan into the software while the user is none the wiser.”

This is just plain bogus. This is not how many of the most popular open source softwares are maintained. Maybe it was back in the days of the wild west, but today I think the majority of open source software has nailed this one. I’d like to think Sakai was among the first.

I’m not a developer. But I care about the software I am administering for Notre Dame. So I know those who run Sakai and develop Sakai keep current on exploits and test Sakai for those. I know when an exploit is identified, a patch comes out very quickly. It becomes part of the main branch from which anyone who implements Sakai can pull.

Finally, “continuity and common direction” – well, let’s let the comment section by my Sakai peers speak to this.

Sam Saltis’ full article.

 

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Disruptive Education – Or Encouraging Education?

It is disruptive. But it shouldn’t be. Putting myself in faculty shoes, the hardest part is mastery of this new online stuff, which, really, if I’m being honest, I don’t want to do myself and I probably don’t have time to do myself anyway. I need to just get the gist of it and find individuals or even a team I can work with effectively so that they can find or build the reusuable learning objects, the content bundles and the sequencing I need to supplement and enhance the way I teach and the content I intend to cover.  I remain the subject matter expert, but they advise me and participate with me in finding the best ways to get across the material.

Michael Stanton’s Disruptive Education

I can focus on my research, bring the students into what I’m learning, modeling and mentoring the processes those in our field master to forward our discipline. I may find vital to reaching and engaging my students such online activities as virtual office hours, blogging, or contributing in other public spaces in which my students have their discussions and launch their questions.

But I daren’t be a fearful learner myself.

Data, Research, Education and … Hunches

A national gas station chain opens a neighborhood store, adds a customer loyalty program, puts up a website to collect registration data, gets people to swipe the card at the pump whenever buying gas, while inside asks again for the card and/or zip code, pays out their incentives: coffee, frozen drinks, snack packs, cookies, crackers, 2-liter pops. A video camera records it all.

Another day, a researcher working on a project to determine the snacking habits of obese people versus non-obese people has just struck a gold mine if they can agree to responsibly treat this data in the aggregate only. (Didn’t the gas station promise not to share the data when they collected it? Maybe. Or maybe just not to sell it to companies looking for more consumers ). Canvassing begins, more data gathered, and correlation theories processed.

A couple months ago, in an entrepreneurial startup weekend, publically available data was called upon to inform or power a new phone app with predictive capabilities for determining the rise or fall of stock prices. That one’ll be hot. Publically available data …

Try this idea: Find existing data useful for research, and then create the questions which could be answered by its careful analysis.

Call it “Backward Research.” Start with a data set first. Ask questions later. Find data in existence, not just to be mined, but to be curated, aggregated, built-upon, re-defined, and continually expanded to provide answers to new questions, questions we weren’t capable of even dreaming until we’d gathered the data.

In the years ahead more and more data constructs will be created which are ‘living,’ persist over time, and therefore will be useful for ongoing research.

Education data is such data. Who owns that data? Who should own that data? We’re calling this burgeoning field learning analytics, but do we know what we’re really talking about?

K-12 students will be tested via computer in most of the United states starting 2014. Those results, mapped to the Common Core standards, will over time form a ginormous data repository. What rules will govern access to that repository? Should the state governments own it? Federal?

To what purposes could we put a repository of testing information for each child’s educational career ? I remember the Twitter backchannel asking those same questions during the Educause Midwest 2009 Keynote. Nancy Zimpher, then of University of Cincinnati, was telling us about a “virtual backpack” of student data which travels with the person from cradle through career. Nope, not science fiction.

While the future which the Tweeters in the room that day were cynically pronouncing was one of categorization and the creation of societal strata based on past performance such as late reading, or non-social kindergarten behaviors, which then solidified the students’ role in society forever, I would sound the alarm that now is the time to develop policy around such education data, policy which prescribes its appropriate and inappropriate use, policy which gives it an accountable owner, one beyond reproach, one with the best interests of the individual in mind. This is not the government, my friend. The government’s mission is to have the best interest of society in mind.

That data is here now. It will be aggregated. It will be researched. It should be researched. How and by whom are the questions…

There are dots to be connected. I would feel most comfortable if they were connected by researchers and educators at responsible higher ed institutions. Over at Music for Deckchairs, in the context of creating and curating educational content, Kate Bowles is making this connection, “The sudden partnership between venture-funded educational startups and traditional elite universities has thrown down a big challenge to less flexible models of higher education, especially outside the U.S. And the fact that we’ve typically bundled content, learning and accreditation under the broad heading “education” doesn’t mean that we’ll be able to keep them all contained in this way indefinitely.”

Michael Feldstein, commenting on Blackboard strategy via Ray Henderson, says, “…there are huge potential benefits to a true SaaS [Software as a Service]platform in terms of the value of the data that can be gathered. With analytics and adaptive learning being the huge buzzwords that they are, the future success of learning technology companies will largely depend on their ability to capture the data exhaust from students’ and teachers’ interactions on the platform and harness it to produce better learning outcomes.”

In all of this, who will speak for the student?

More Reading:

Researchers Digitize AIDS Quilt to Make it a Research Tool,” July 9, 2012.

Blackboard’s New Platform Strategy,” Annotated Link Here – Feldstein Quote. August 19, 2012.

The revolution might be televised,” July 22, 2012. Kate Bowles.

Disruption in the Force of Higher Education

When online degrees by the commercial entity University of Phoenix began in 1989, it introduced a new market segment. When Your Town Community College began offering online courses, it was a new revenue stream.

When Your State University added an online component of its face-to-face courses in order to optimize its use of brick and mortar classrooms by reducing the number of classroom meeting times per course, it was cost effective.

Now It’s Online and Free

The real disruption, which David Brooks last Thursday likened to that which has already overtaken newspapers and magazines, is about to happen to the elite of the higher education institutions: completely online and  completely free courses.

Most of my local and world news has been freely mine for years. The last time I bought a newspaper was probably 9/11  and that out of shock. I needed something tangible to hold on to. These days I’m not sure how my local newspaper company stays in business. And magazines? The print edition isn’t keeping them in business, more of a convenience or a perk or a side effect of my online subscription.

With Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Michigan, Penn, Princeton, Yale and Carnegie-Mellon professors offering the best of their best online, what will happen to the ‘print edition’ – the college degree?

You scoff. You say I will still need and want, and be willing to pay for, that piece of paper and the invaluable relationships and community derived from a campus where ideas can flow and be freely exchanged in a multiplicity of well-crafted and ad hoc face-to-face encounters . Yes, I think that’s true for many.

But to which of those institutions will those who want (and can pay for) that experience go? How will they evaluate and compare? Will the campus visit be discarded or augmented by a sampling of the best online courses? Will those institutions with  the most credible and engaging online Instructors have the highest application rates?

I’d say some of our nation’s best institutions are banking on it.

Devaluation

By some this may be interpreted as a reaction to another disruption in the force, the devaluation of a college degree. Although debatable as to how the devaluation began, I think we can agree that the combined and systematic factors of recession, spiraling costs, and glut of degrees (sometimes less than meaningful indicators of skill to employers) on the market are yet another indicator.

Portfolio Alternative

Yes, my colleagues, the business of higher ed must change. We must be more fluid, provide more options, become more conversational, do more research and foster more collaboration, and become even more personal – for that is our strength in the midst of all of this, is it not?

Otherwise, the pick-and-choose disruption sends our potential students to create stand alone personal portfolios of their intentional, or cobbled together, meaningful, or haphazard, experiences including exemplary (and free) online courses, and presenting that, with greater and greater finesse and effect, to employers…. without our college degree.

Innovation, Entrepreneurship, Yes, in This Context Too 

Our Schools of Business are busting their chops on new curricula, new Centers, new whatevers, to build and create curricula training the next leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, our administrators dally around doing business as usual or responding with incremental movement. With disruptive forces all around us, revolutionary innovation then, must be something we not only teach, but something we also do.

Add’l:

Blackboard Open Enrollment Announcement

In another move following Blackboard’s March 26th announcement (aggregated responses on e-Literate site), yesterday Blackboard announced that Instructors using their CourseSitescan make their courses available for enrollment by anyone, effectively supporting an open courseware model. It means individuals can set up open teaching initiatives, community outreach and volunteer training, as well as collaborative research programs.

Of course, Sakai Project Sites also support these activities, but Sakai servers are not usually set up outside institutions.

Instructure Canvas is another company that also supports these activities, with their “Free for Teachers” version. I don’t know whether it supports open enrollment. Yet. But it will.

It’s a strange reversal for those of us observing this space. The past few years were those in which options seemed to become more and more limited. Without much of a pause, the pendulum now swings to more and more choices. Still, other than whether social media and mobile are supported, the choices don’t have many functional differentiators.

Instead, a main platform differentiator appears to be in the models for provisioning, reuse and interoperability of content. Our appetites are continually expanding for high quality content. Publishers, it’s your turn.

For further reading: “When it Comes to Content, Say “Yes” to Wrappers But “No” to Containers

 

Observations on Entrepreneurialism, Startups and Education

Normally I write about higher ed and educational technology of some sort. This post is about the startup weekend I attended at Innovation Park, Notre Dame’s entrepreneurial incubator. Bear with me there *is* a connection.

The competition’s finalists all presented evidence of their proposition’s value addition to the marketplace. This included the ideas which, as solutions, were “solutions” to pretty trivial problems in the grand scheme of things. One of the finalists, for example, will be launching a smartphone app which creates a connection between you and the clubs you attend – effectively moving you to the head of long lines and helping you and your friends decide which club to meet up at that evening.

Startup Weekend” is a competition. The organizers are out of Portland and have over a thousand such events under their belts. The teams that form around each idea are teams of volunteers (who’ve paid to participate). I think we can all agree pulling a startup idea out of the oven depends on the characteristics, individual and jointly, of the team surrounding the idea. The same was true of winning the competition – but awkwardly enough, not every team knew this.

My view at the table? I participated on the team that formed around the pitch given by a special ed language arts teacher from Ohio. Faced with the K-12 adoption of the Common Core Standards and the need to provide his less able students with enough drill practice to succeed, at least by the standard measurements, his vision was for a software product he and his peers could use that would map practice activities to the standards to progress reports that teachers and administrators could use. Yep, sounds like where I could make a contribution. More than that, sounded like a winner. As a FIRST Lego League robotics coach, I’m regularly exposed to the hype over STEM subjects, and sure enough, there are companies with the goal of building such a software for the Math standards. For Language Arts? Not so much.  I was excited at how this business proposal was a convergence of many areas in which I have experience, not least of these my degree in Applied Linguistics, experience teaching EFL, and as volunteer tech implementor for my kids’ K-8 school. Very cool.

Startup Weekend included local leaders. They spoke about: Social consciousness. Give-back to the community. What we can do for community development.

Here are the dots I’m connecting –

Conclusions?

  • It’s fairly obvious higher ed will not survive unless we change. We’ve been doing so incrementally: startup weekends, entrepreneurial programs, engineering emphases, interdisciplinary programs, undergrad research angles. Changing traditional brick and mortar schools into something more fluid and flexible is hard.  In many ways we don’t even want to do it. We have our traditions. Time-honored. Founded in #### before the Mayflower. Alumni who send their kids to the school because of the tradition which was so important to them.
  • But find out how your alumi have made their money and perhaps you see that they have become what your institution needs to become.
  • Less formal. More collaborative. Students – Faculty – Administrators – Businesses building something together for now for the institution and for the student to take with them at graduation. Apprenticeships over Internships?
  • Less rigid and traditional. More reconstructive.
  • Let’s model in our own business practice the practices we must teach to the next generation.

Stalking Sakai

I’m new to the open source model. To supporting it. To participating in the community. To seeing how it’s built and how features are added. But I’ve been watching for nigh unto 15 years. And I’m here to tell you: higher ed is generally bullish on software derived from this open source model.

It’s almost as if open source were the answer to all the budgetary , visionary, and advocacy issues we all face. From Community Jr. College to State School to Private – we’ve summoned open source to give us more freedom, more features, more revenue, more integration points, more responsiveness to our constituencies,  and more control of our destinies.

Software derived from and supported by the open source model is more and more under investigation by more and more institutions of higher ed. Cautiously under investigation in some cases, but under investigation nevertheless.

Sakai began around 2004 initially as a collaboration between University of Michigan, Indiana University, MIT and Stanford. By 2005 Foundation Staff on the Sakai CLE were 5 people- salaries based mostly on contributions from higher ed IT.

Institutions joined up. Commercial affiliates formed. Synergies developed. The coalition worked diligently. Advocated. Listened. Built. Deployed. Software developed by higher ed for higher ed and ‘owned’ by all.

Very cool.

Except when too many institutions want to take and not give back.

That was the message I was shocked to internalize last week when one of the chief Sakai advocates and architects this past 8 years, Dr. Chuck Severance, defended his decision to take employment from – Blackboard. He took a position at Blackboard that furthers his goals (shared by the Sakai community) of making learning technologies interoperable. Below, website by website, is a visual of his considerable breadth of reach. From development acknowledgements at Moodlerooms, and Blackboard’s Edugarage , to standards work at IMS Global and thought leadership published by Gilfus, Delta Initiatives, Campus Technology, edu1World and InsideHigher Ed. (As well as a frequently referenced though ‘unpublished’ work…!).

dr chuck severance internet presence

But today, according to Dr. Chuck, since about 4 months ago,  Sakai Foundation Staff actively working on the Sakai CLE (version 2.9 now) is zero.  Instead, the only remaining +dedicated+ release management resources moving the release forward come from commercial affiliates, NOT higher ed.

In Dr. Chuck’s call to action posting last week, he says, “Does it bother you that about 40 higher educations stopped supporting the Sakai Foundation over the past five years?” We remember the past five years- In budgetary terms, everyone ran for the hills, dug in where we could. The difficulty is that if higher ed doesn’t sustain this effort, who will?

He goes on to ask,  “Are you uncomfortable that for-profit companies already provide all of the long-term committed resources for the Sakai CLE product?”

I am. I am very uncomfortable. Are you?