Live blogging from the Sakai 2011 conference in Los Angeles

Sakai Los Angeles logoTuesday, June 14, 2011

Greetings from the Westin Bonaventure hotel where I am attending the annual Sakai conference. There are about 500 people here from all over the US and from abroad. The conference kicked off this morning with a general session with presentations from Ian Dolphin, Executive Director of the Sakai Foundation; Jens Haeusser, University of British Columbia, Chair of the Board of Directors of Jasig; and Josh Baron from Marist College and Chair of the Sakai Foundation Board. The most interesting news from the keynote presentation was that the Sakai Foundation and Jasig are in active discussions for merging the two foundations. If all goes as planned the merged organization would be in place by January 2012.

The first presentation I attended this morning was by my colleagues at Pomona College and Claremont McKenna College. Jason Smith and Ben Royas shared our somewhat painful experience with our upgrade to Sakai 2.7 last fall. We ran into some fairly significant bugs at the beginning of the Fall semester that did not show up during our summer testing. The experience led to a great deal of discussion at the Sakai Administration Team on our upgrade process. It’s a lot more fun sharing your success stories, but the community is always appreciative when presenters share their missteps as well.

Jason and Ben’s presentation was one of two presentations from The Claremont Colleges. In the afternoon Mary McMahon (Pomona), Teresa Shaw (Pomona), Ben Royas (CMC) and I presented on the use of project sites. Our presentation was well attended and we had some great questions from the audience.

The most exciting session today was the general session after lunch where we saw live demos of Sakai OAE (previously known as Sakai 3). Sakai OAE is a total redesign of Sakai and the developers have made a lot of progress since the demos I saw last year. The demos focused on three of the design themes: openness, content creation and re-use, and collaboration. I was most impressed by the ways in which the developers have redesigned Sakai to make content more “discoverable” even by people who are not registered Sakai users. Another feature that I’m sure will make many users happy is the new ability to view documents from within Sakai without downloading them. This includes PDF files, images, and all Office files. It was pretty cool!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Today’s sessions were not quite as exciting as yesterday’s, but I had several interesting conversations which I hope have given me a clearer picture of the future of the Sakai CLE and OAE. At last year’s Sakai conference Sakai 3 was discussed as the brand new redesign of Sakai and the replacement for Sakai 2. In the course of the past year the Sakai Foundation began referring to Sakai 2 as the Sakai CLE¬† and Sakai 3 as Sakai OAE. The rationale behind that decision became a lot clearer to me after today’s sessions and a conversation with Chuck Severance, or Dr. Chuck as he’s known in the Sakai community. Sakai CLE and OAE are now being seen as separate but complimentary products. Sakai OAE development will focus on design themes such as social interaction, content creation and re-use, openness, and user autonomy. Sakai CLE development will focus on teaching and learning management, learning activities, and evaluation and assessment. Sakai 2.8 was released just a few months ago, a Sakai 2.9 release is planned for late this year, and there was even talk of Sakai 2.10. So development on Sakai 2 will be continuing for quite some time. The most common scenario is for institutions who are interested in taking advantage of the new features of Sakai OAE is to run both Sakai CLE and OAE in what is being referred to as hybrid mode where users can access CLE tools from within OAE.

Dr. Chuck did a session this afternoon on the work being done on Sakai 2.9. It’s been over 4 years since any real changes have been made to the user interface of Sakai CLE. Sakai 2.9 plans to address some of the user navigation and usability¬† issues that customers have complained about for years. The demo was quite impressive. The new design will also bring Sakai CLE more in line with the look and feel of Sakai OAE. So lots to look forward to in the Sakai world!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thursday was the last day of the conference and was not a full day of sessions. But I attended two sessions that were quite interesting. The first was by Duffy Gillman from rSmart on his efforts to integrate Google Docs into the Sakai CLE. There are lots of issues and complications with making that happen in a truly useful way. The most difficult issue is that Google and Sakai have very different concepts of permissions. Google has a pretty simple set of permission settings, while Sakai has a much more fine-grained concept. In any event the first pass at a solution from rSmart allows users to add a link to their Resources tool that basically creates a copy of the current state of the Google doc when a user clicks on it. Users can’t edit or create a Google doc from within Sakai. So it’s a start but far from a complete solution.

The second session that I found interesting was from HEC Montreal, a business school in Canada. The session’s focus was on how they manage the lifecycle of their course sites using PeopleSoft and Sakai. They have built a tool that is basically an extension of the Worksite Setup tool that allows power users to manage multiple sites, copy the contents of one site to another, and archive sites. The part that I found fascinating is that when they archive a course site at the end of the semester, instead of un-publishing the site as we do at The Claremont Colleges, they have a script that sets the course site to be “read only.” Basically the script resets the role permissions on the site so that faculty and students can no longer make any changes to the site. Faculty and students still have access to the site, but can’t modify it. It’s an interesting idea since it allows student to continue to access the course content as long as they are students at the institution.

I hope you enjoyed reading about the Sakai conference. If you’re interested in looking at any of the session slides from the conference you can find them at: https://confluence.sakaiproject.org/display/CONF2011/Session+Wiki+Pages. Thanks for reading!

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