Category Archives: LMS

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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All the Connecting Dots

We’re planning an upgrade of our LMS. Consider these “dots” and their connections:

  • The old gradebook is out. No further development. When do we take it away from our instructors? How many times do we notify them first?
  • We’re in the middle of changing video on demand (VOD) providers. The old one was to have been available ’til Jan. 2019, but the old one does not provide a standard LTI integration and therefore isn’t ready for the upgraded LMS version.
  • Also, there is no straight migration of content between the old VOD and the new one. Our instructors want to take their content with them. There are 576 sites which have media that needs to be migrated. This needs to be decoupled from any and all LMS upgrades. I wish.
  • We’ve been running this LMS since 2011 with that aforementioned gradebook. There is no archival method for old sites in this LMS, nor in any other LMS I’m aware of. Nor should anyone ever expect that an LMS is a system of record. But instructors do. So when we upgrade to the new version without the old gradebook, none of their old sites will have grades. Just a blank screen. Can we live with that?
  • There’s one best time frame for an LMS upgrade, even one that mostly streamlines performance and usability without adding new features or seriously changing workflows. That time is Commencement weekend, a mere 5 and a half weeks from now.

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Instead of focusing on the technical details, all the splotches that need to be corralled, tested, organized, cleaned up and formed into a pleasing whole… let’s see if it helps to imagine this from our constituents’ point of view. What do they need to know and when?

  • Their current gradebook is going away. Even in old course sites they haven’t seen in a long time. Now would be a good time to check their records and export gradebooks from long ago since instructors are responsible for these things, not the LMS, nor those who run it.
    • From Fall 2018 course sites on, the old gradebook will no longer be available.
    • From that same time, old course sites also won’t have grades records.
    • We’re working on a copy of all those sites to run on the old server software version, so that we can take requests for anyone who missed these messages, and get them spreadsheet exports of those old gradebooks. But that old server software won’t be able to be up for ever. We’re thinking may another year?
  • They’re going to like the new gradebook. And we’ll help. In fact, we’ve been offering it as an alternative since last May, so even if it wasn’t in use by any given instructor, LMS support staff already knows a good deal about it and the kinds of questions  people have.
  • The upgrade to the LMS? Not really of consequence this time. People will care more about their gradebooks and their embedded video service.
  • How fast can we migrate their content from the old (“K”) to the new (“P”) video on demand/playback service? Because of course we can’t take away K without delivering on an alternative!

Sometime in August I hope to deliver on a cohesive orchestrated totality.

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Notre Dame wants to get to know a Sakai developer – is that you?

Shameless plug for a Learning Management Developer (One Year Limited Term) …

Sunrise over St. Mary's lake, late summer...Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

Sunrise over St. Mary’s lake, late summer…Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

You should come work for the Office of Information Technologies. And here’s why –

The University of Notre Dame ranks 9th among “Best Places to Work in IT” for the third year running. 

We were cool before that, but lately it’s official.

We have a one year contract position open for a senior developer for Sakai. Are you scared to apply?

If you’re experienced, you could be married, you could have children. You’re probably comfortable where you are. A one year contract? Are you kidding?

No. I’m not kidding. Come to Notre Dame. Plan on staying. I did. I’ve been here 17 years. That initial one year contract was an opportunity for Notre Dame to get to know the values I hold, the work ethic I bring, my extraordinary creativity, not to mention that I always think strategically. (Like this post – we have great talent at Notre Dame, but we want to add to our talent pool, to seek out and convince the best talent).

They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s me. Is it you too?

Apply. Check it out. What’ve you got to lose? The posting: https://jobs.nd.edu/postings/3256

Working with the Ents

Enterprise architecture, the endeavor of building technical reference architecture for the business, or, in this case, for higher ed, is a deliberative iterative and s l o w process.

Here I am in Madison, Wisconsin joining phenomenally gifted and wise senior enterprise architects such as Rich Stevens (University of Maryland), Jim Phelps (U of Wisconsin and current chair of ITANA*), Leo Fernig (U of British Columbia) and Scott Fullerton (U of Wisconsin) in creating a Learning Reference architecture for presentation at Educause in the fall. Knock on wood.

Wood, you say? Or trees? Not only the things architects see through on their way to categorizing the whole forest, but really, these deliberate conversations with their careful measured tone …which I am learning from in enormous measure… think before you speak, Laura, hear the rationale of that statement on the inside of your brain before you say it on the outside…, these deliberate conversations make me feel as foolish as the Hobbits among the Ents.

Even my fellow subject matter experts, Jeanne Blochwitz (Asst. Director of Academic Technology, Wisconsin) and Jeff Bohrer (Instructional Technology Consultant, Wisconsin) seem more tuned to this pace than I am.

Remember this Lord of the Rings council of war by the Keepers of the Forests, the Ents? (There are Hobbits in this photo perched in an Ent, but you can’t really see them).

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*ITANA, by the way, is a constituent group of Educause, an outreach arm for Enterprise, Business, and Technical Architects in Academia.

Look for the presentation of our work at Educause this fall. Knock on wood (but not in an Entish forest) we’ll be done!

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?

Summit Timed Announcements–Monday’s News

Just to recap for those of us sitting at home while colleagues text, tweet, mail, and blog Monday’s happenings from Las Vegas …

It’s not at all odd if you think about it that most of those announcements come from a SunGard partner, oops, a Datatel+SGHE, oops again! – I mean an Ellucian partner , the LMS provider, Blackboard.

SunGard –drats! I did it again, I mean,  Ellucian , after all, has partnerships with LMS providers around the IMS Global Consortium standard, LIS 2.0 , which is behind the Banner Event Publisher or BEP (affectionally pronounced beep ) and it’s new eLearning tool (a flexUI built upon Oracle streams). So yes, Blackboard and others often time marketing announcements around the annual Summit conference.

Monday’s announcements from Blackboard include a new division, new acquisitions, a new employee of the month, and that ANGEL, contrary to the previous WebCT LMS acquisition, will not in fact be decommissioned and blended in with the favored in-house LMS – Blackboard Learn.

I guess the timing is good. Although you’re probably noting a certain tinge of cynicism as I write. It’s not cynism about Blackboard or Ellucian as much as a weariness, a true bone-crunching weariness, with the churn created by the velocity of market change we’ve been experiencing for what? a year or two now?

I’m trying to have a good attitude. Change up all at once and get it over with, right? Wake up one morning and find a complete plot twist. Blackboard is wearing the white hat. Ellucian rolls off the tongue much easier than Datatel+SGHE or Illusion or Delusion – and hopefully I’m not succumbing to either of those…. Sakai community founder Dr. Chuck (Severance) now to work for Blackboard, newly boosted as GoodGuys, and still sporting his indelible, recently augmented, tattoo with Sakai at the center of the known universe . Oh, I get it now!

If you don’t get it too, start here: http://www.dr-chuck.com/csev-blog/2012/03/connecting-blackboard-sakai-and-open-source/

PS. Obviously the Star Trek metaphor for Blackboard as the Borg, or the “BlackBorg” doesn’t work anymore. Giulia Forsythe (@giuliaforsythe) put the news in Star Wars language  on Twitter, “In other news, The Empire buys The Jedi Academy; will help support training in The Force.”

#LMSunSIG Tweets: Strategic Vision

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NERCOMP LMS UnSIG website: http://edtechgroup.org/lmsunconference/