Sakai Meets Google

I’m excited to preview the integration we’ve been working on at rSmart between Sakai and Google Docs. We expect to release this integration in the upcoming 2.7.1 version of our rSmart Sakai CLE distribution, and once we see it in action, contribute the integration to the broader Sakai community. Embedded here is a 7.5 minute demo of the integration that covers the basic functionality. I’ve also attached an early case study rSmart produced in collaboration with Google on this functionality.

What makes this integration so cool is now Sakai users can harness the rich authoring and collaboration capabilities of Google Docs, and use Sakai to distribute their documents to other Sakai users, like students, classmates, or other collaborators. The integraton works with your personal Google user account, or if your institution uses Google Apps, your institutional Google identity.

This is a stellar example of all the new integrations we’re seeing with the Sakai platform. Look to try out the integration yourself soon on rSmart’s mySakai environment, where we’ll turn it on once our 2.7.1 version is released.

More? Or Less? Google CloudCourse

Google Cloud CourseAfter the announcement of Google’s CloudCourse being open-sourced, I decided to give it a try and see exactly what’s under the hood…at the very least, it would give me a chance to try out a Django app via Google App Engine, which alone is worth the time.

Long story short: I got CloudCourse up and running in a matter of minutes.

Any hullabaloo that CloudCourse as it stands now is a serious contender to existing full-featured online learning systems like Sakai, Moodle, Blackboard, or Desire2Learn is premature. CloudCourse is at its root a scheduling and rostering application, clearly designed for the internal training needs it was apparently developed to serve. No educational institution will be migrating from their current LMS to CloudCourse any time soon.

On the other hand, CloudCourse comes very close to serving a large chunk of the needs of commercial training: an application that enables various training opportunities to be scheduled, attendees to register, and attendance to be recorded. As long as training and assessment materials are developed and delivered externally, CloudCourse’s open source Django foundation would allow relatively easy integration with any remaining missing pieces, such as ecommerce integration, certification, etc. A small commercial training firm with some technical expertise or a larger firm with sizable internal training needs might pick up CloudCourse and extend it to their needs without huge effort.

The larger, subterranean story here is that with CloudCourse, Google adds one more (little) tool into its suite of not-yet-fully-integrated applications that together do indeed approximate—and in some cases far outstrip (eg, Google Wave)—current LMS capabilities. If Google decided to focus on this area and integrate its various offerings—probably not so much for profit as for mindshare—the capabilities they could offer at a price that would blow proprietary systems out of the water would radically transform the educational technology space.

People complain about Blackboard’s near monopoly now, but in a couple of years, Google could make Blackboard cease to matter—if Google decided to bother. Open source communities like Sakai and Moodle should also take heed: we offer deep value neither Google nor any of the proprietary LMS platforms offer, but where, when, and how do we add value in an environment where the cost of the educational technology infrastructure approaches zero?

For Google, one huge issue remains: how to gain trust in the storage and use of educational data. After all, we’re talking about our children here, and as any student of history knows, nothing is more sacred than our children.

Phoenix: It’s Not ALL Goldwaterwasting Utilitaurs

Now that I’m working for rSmart, I expect to need to be at their HQ in Phoenix, Arizona fairly often. Being a native Coloradan, I probably don’t need to belabor our general attitude toward Phoenix: This land of water- and gas-guzzling conservative golfers should not exist.

But now that I’ve matured (some), I’m trying to have a more open mind. Also, as I have to keep coming back to Phoenix for work, I should try to find something here to like (besides my awesome colleagues at rSmart).

Serendipity and Google (is there a difference?) led me to search online for a bed and breakfast in Phoenix for my current trip after the soulless corporate hotel I expected to stay at was booked. Top results returned the ZenYard, where I’m staying now. For way less cost than the corporate hotel, I’m a guest at this charming, friendly, spotlessly clean B&B. I can join in the group yoga classes, swim in the pool, soak in the jacuzzi (Warning: iPhones work in jacuzzis, but not afterward), and chat with the nice guys that run the place about their vision to make it even more awesome. The zenmasters tell me they are one of only three B&B’s in PHX, which confirms my suspicion that there’s a general lack of imagination down here, but there’s also an opportunity. For a single night or a longer stay (ZenYard is finishing the detached guest houses with full kitchens now), you don’t have to be be zen to need zen.

Left to my own devices Friday night, I tried an experiment to see whether an iPhone alone could lead me on a worthy tour of Phoenix nightspots that wouldn’t make my allergy to plastic places and people break out. Starting from the “Skyharbor” airport (whatever that’s supposed to mean, can I catch a a blimp for the moon there?), I googled “phoenix cool bars” and the first two results were articles on five and ten great Phoenix bars. Switching to the iPhone’s gmap function, I put in the address for what sounded the best on the list and 15 minutes later I was drinking a draft Dogfish Head IPA (it’s not local to PHX, but it sure is good) and grooving to an eclectic DJ mix at Carly’s Bistro. Carly’s was so good, I’m back this morning for a delicious brunch, consisting mostly of figs (ie, a prosciutto/fig/cheese panini and a fresh fig salad), coffee and more Dogfish Head, while Carly herself educates me on Phoenix’s alternative scene and I’m using the wifi to blog this entry. Carly probably belongs in PDX, but instead she’s bringing those values to PHX: Go Carly!

Next up was Hidden House, a spacious dive bar with pool and darts on one side and a DJ/live act club on the other. It was sort of empty and the DJ wasn’t hitting my groove at that moment, so I decided to save the $5 cover and come back another time. HH seemed like a good bet if you want to drink or dance without suffering pretensions.

Not far away was Shady’s Lounge, a small hipster joint that should’ve been dark and smoky, but was just dark thanks to the small herd of cancer stick addicts braving the chill on the patio, obeying what I hear is a new anti-smoking law. They only had usual suspects on tap (eg, Sierra Nevada), so I went with a bottle of Stone IPA. A friendly group called me over to share some of their Belgian Chimay and we chatted it up until closing. This poor girl at the next table’s date had passed out, so in keeping with the friendly spirit, I gave them a ride home.

The girl dumped her drunk date at his place a few blocks away and convinced me to drive her to the nearby Glam danceclub where she talked us in for free. Glam maybe sums up the incongruity of Phoenix: on the inside, you would have thought Glam was a NYC East Village afterhours place from the early 90s. On the outside, Glam was just a slot in a nondescript, trashy minimall between a tax prep storefront and a temp job agency (thanks Google street view for enabling me to be specific about Glam’s lowrent neighbors). I called it a night and returned to the calm of the ZenYard, thinking that in Phoenix, maybe sometimes the ugly is only skin deep.

Next time I’m in PHX, Carly told me about her friend’s independent hotel, the Clarendon, which also supposedly has a cool rooftop bar. If I’m zenned out, maybe I’ll stay there next. For sustenance, I wanted to try The Roosevelt also.

PS: A “utilitaur” is my wife’s term for the suburban housewife at the helm of her mighty SUV. Like the half-human, half-horse centaur, the half-human, half-machine utilitaur is a dangerous beast, especially when encountered while driving and mobilephoning.