Category Archives: Sakai

Pros and Cons of hosting Sakai outside of your institution

The University of Notre Dame is moving from a proprietary LMS we host in our own Data Center to an open source system, Sakai, hosted with rSmart. Two big changes we’re lumping together. Ask yourself …

What advantages do you expect to gain when switching from a proprietary system to an open source system?

Does outsourcing the system’s management mitigate against those advantages?

What we’ve found so far (6 months):

Some Fixes/enhancements: can still be deployed faster than with a proprietary system, but not as fast as we expected … rSmart, or other provider, will still have tested version combinations and be reluctant to share risk with you of deploying a tool version in a lesser tested Sakai version
Staffing. You can redeploy your app admin to direct faculty support and do away with sys admin, DBA, etc. You didn’t have Developers before & by hosting, any development (customizations even) you wanted to contribute now will be problematic unless you still build an in-house development/test instance.
TCO: You may find the costs between licensing/hosting yourself and not-licensing hosting elsewhere to be very similar. You are re-arranging your human resources, which could bring advantages to your faculty despite the similar cost of ownership.
SIS integration: Always more difficult when your ‘home data’ has to be shared with someone off-site. Particularly bad at the moment as the industry transitions from former methods of SIS- LMS integration to the new LIS 2.0 standard.
Part of fixes/enhancements, that of User Acceptance Testing, involves back and forth communication, and management of Help Desk ticketing between you and your host vendor. You have a dependency on the ability to use a test or 2nd instance with your live data, but this synchronization between live and test is no longer handled by you – but by your vendor.

Tufts University, University of South Alabama, Notre Dame and Sakai–a middle way?

Representatives of our three schools, along with Nate Angell of rSmart, began conferencing a few weeks ago in order to discuss their mutual desire to provide multiple methods integrating SunGard Banner and Sakai.

As many of you know, to date there are two methods to provision ones LMS or CLE.

A. Administratively create course site shells each semester for all, or a majority, of your course offerings. When Instructors login, their course and its enrollments are already in place and managed by the SIS integration.

B. Allow (change the verb here depending on your perspective…) Instructors to create their own course sites and to choose which groups of students (rosters) are given access.

Tufts, Notre Dame and U of South Alabama are currently constructing what their requirements look like for a middle way, a third method in which:

–  all course site shells are created and instructors given access

– instructors wanting the flexibility to re-arrange which groups of students (rosters) can access their course are free to create a new course shell and to add various rosters to it (still maintaining enrollment synchronization with Banner).

  1. Multiple sections can then interact in a single course site.
  2. The rosters from the pre-built crosslisted course sites could also be re-combined if instructors are teaching multiple sections of those.
  3. Final grades can be submitted from Sakai back to Banner no matter whether the instructor is using a pre-built course site or one they created and added rosters to themselves.

The requirements process is in its early stages. Is your institution interested? Please comment.

Metaphors for Sakai Community

As a participant observer at the Sakai Foundation conference in Los Angeles in June, I noted the conference itself…

  • Was held at a world class hotel (The Bonaventure)
  • Was a ‘budget’ affair for which neither the hotel nor a 3rd party AV vendor was contracted other than basic “comes with” conference venue room sound, wifi, and room lights (the podium was dark, sort of a ‘witness protection’ feel to the speakers)
  • Efforts to stream sessions were ad hoc
  • Presenters used free tools  (I saw Ustream,, and etherpad).
  • Presenters tended to overspeak their geek to audiences that appeared to me to often be less weighted toward fellow developers and technology folk and just as likely to be faculty and administrators
  • Session topics were often misleading, I ended up in several which turned out to be nothing like their titles
  • Everyone I spoke to was very informal, very jovial, and glad to be there
  • It was hard to spot the ‘leaders’ – not by apparel, swag, name badges, showmanship, or technology. Very egalitarian.
  • I’d say roughly 85% of the participants were carrying iPads.
  • There were no big name keynote speakers, no one to stamp “green” or “bold” or “innovative” on Sakai by virtue of their cool presence.

How did it feel?

The Sakai community is like a farmer’s co-op. Everybody tils the soil, grows the vegetables, sets up a booth, pays the rent and votes about next year. Edamame sells better than broccoli.

The Sakai community is like a Mennonite barn raising. When one calls for help, the rest may grouse about the time lost, the inconvenient season, the proposed style, the materials and tools chosen… but still they show up, roll up their sleeves and pitch in anyway. (I don’t think they get fed well for their participation, and it will take longer to finish but the job does get done!)

The Sakai community is like histoplasmosis or DED (Dutch elm disease)  … unwitting people carry the ethos around from place to place and it spreads organically like bat guano droppings on ones boots or that firewood carried in ones minivan halfway cross the state. There’s probably an air born version as well. It’s contagious.

Quirky Odd and Our Own

Found on a road construction crew in Michigan. Hmm… metaphysically at least, ala James Taylor, “I’m a steam roller, baby, I’m gonna roll all over you”

I get by with a little help from my friends


I’ve now been in the learning management space for 12 years. I still love it. And I love that the professional networks I began back then, over time, and any number of conferences, become people I value as friends. I know which ones I can trust and which ones spout baloney after a couple of beers. Bob Boufford, I can trust. Couldn’t believe where he is today and how timely that is for some of my current questions about importing BbVista quizzes to Sakai!

BobBoufford_withRespondusNow (click on image)

Make new friends and keep the old, they say. My recent queries out to the universe through Twitter have emphasized just that. I met new friends from the University of Florida at Notre Dame’s Learning Technology Consortium confab and someone I’ve never met but whom I’m guessing is related to those folks, answered.

SakaiCAS_WebDAV_answer(click on image)

I asked whether anyone knew how to configure Sakai with CAS such that a desktop client like WebDAV could authenticate too. Old friends surprised me as well. Check out what THEY’RE doing:

KronerOnCAS_Blackboard(click on image)

How my work might change: support again

(How my work might change if Notre Dame chose Sakai as its next LMS)

I posted our current and future hypothetical support structures back on October 12th. I’m still ruminating on it.

I’m still ruminating mainly because the current support structure is not sustainable. More users, same amount of support? Greater diversity of needs met, same amount of support? Continually increasing interfaces to other systems, same amount of support?

The upticks in the past 6 years have been gradual and mostly, but not completely, absorbable. For example, we’ve quietly added iTunes U, but don’t really market it. And there exists no documentation for a mashup between that content and our LMS. We’ve added Wimba tools, but only the Language programs officially know about it… and therefore the Language Resource Center is one to whom we direct support calls. We don’t regularily update any library of online support FAQs; recently instead we started writing blog posts, attempting to make them timely, and relying on their searchability so they can function also as online support resources.

But a new system rollout always brings more exploration and establishes new users even after the transition is over.

I think we should anticipate that some portion of ramped up resources for the transition will need to continue to support the new system.

And I’m saying this without reference to whether the new system is attached to an open source community with the added decision point for Notre Dame of: What kind of a giveback to the community do we want to maintain? Where and how do we participate in the community?

Those questions need to be addressed and resources allocated for their implementation.


The Big News

Where open source and open standards meet.

A Business partnership of great import to higher ed analyzed.

Sungard makes a move that will truly impact the LMS marketplace.

Michael Feldstein, you say it so much better than I could.

There is no need to reproduce your analysis here, I’m simply going to link to it. Readers, this post from Michael Feldstein’s e-Literate blog has already been posted in Notable Posts, Openness, Tools, Toys, and Technology (Oh my!) and tagged in edunomics, IMS LIS, Oracle, rSmart, Sakai Project, Sungard, Unicon.

Here’s the direct link.