A Little Bird Told Me

Little Bird logo

I’ve been working in educational technology for the last 14 years: first at OMSI, then at Portland State, and most recently at rSmart, focused on Sakai open source collaboration and learning technologies. As of February 2013, I have joined former data-journalist Marshall Kirkpatrick‘s startup, Little Bird, here in Portland, Oregon, as Doorman: leading marketing, sales, and support.

I’m profoundly excited by Little Bird. While it may seem like a dramatic departure from my edtech work, at its heart, Little Bird is ultimately a powerful tool for learning, bringing you directly to the leading people and most worthy content in any topic. Little Bird can help anyone do with purpose what I have done haphhazardly and organically: building my own understanding and relationships by connecting to people that matter, first online, but then also, almost always, offline as well. Needless to say, I wouldn’t be joining Little Bird if I hadn’t first learned from, and then met and developed a relationship with Marshall on Twitter. Now with Little Bird, we are working to enable everyone to learn and build relationships that can change their work and lives.

Little Bird’s team is an awsome collection of wildly unique individuals, who nevertheless share inspiring intelligence and worthy values. I’m honored to be able to work alongside Marshall, his Little Bird co-founders Mikalina Kirkpatrick and Tyler Gillies, and our growing team of folks including Danish AzizPeat BakkeDevin Gaffney, and Brennan Novak. As much as I have learned from and loved working with folks around the world in the Sakai community and at rSmart, it’s a like opening a present every day to spend time face-to-face with Little Bird’s team of smart, thoughtful people, deeply embedded in Portland’s welcoming, innovative tech and creative communities.

My connection to edtech remains: for as long as it makes sense (or until my term ends, which ever comes first), I still serve on the board of directors for the Apereo Foundation—the new organization formed in late 2012 by joining Sakai and Jasig. Maybe the new experience and viewpoints I gain from Little Bird can add some valuable perspective to Apereo. At the very least, I know I’ll be looking at education, and the technologies we hope to make serve it, with a new, avianette lens.

Looking back, I’d like to give my deepest thanks to the people that made my journey with Sakai and rSmart possible: first and foremost, Chris Coppola, who helped me start that journey and lead me forward with his thinking, drive, and values. Wende Garrison and Trish Harris, who put a lot of very smart wind and perspective in my sails and sailed along with me. Kim Thanos, who continues to advise and inspire me in so many wise ways large and small. The whole rSmart team, but most especially Brooke Biltimier, Brenda Chapman, Tom ChapmanDuffy Gillman, Paul HauserOrla MesterErik Mertz, and Lance Speelmon, who always seemed like close collaborators even though we were so often working at a distance. In the worldwide Sakai community there are too many to name who have been my brothers and sisters in the campaign to make education better: but I thank you all and hope to continue to serve you at Apereo and beyond.

Sakai + Jasig > Apereo

Recently institutional representatives from the member institutions of the Sakai and Jasig communities voted overwhelmingly to combine their two organizations into a new, umbrella organization focused on open educational technologies and practices: Apereo.

Inspired by other multi-project open technology organizations (eg, the Apache Foundation), Apereo’s mission is to assist and facilitate educational organizations which “collaborate to foster, develop, and sustain open technologies and innovation to support learning, teaching, and research.” Sakai and its Collaboration and Learning Environment (Sakai CLE) and Open Academic Environment (Sakai OAE) projects will maintain their brand and identity, living on under the Apereo umbrella along with Jasig’s many projects such as Bedework, CAS, uMobile, and uPortal. We are especially excited to extend and enrich Jasig’s established incubation process as we work to become a fully multi-project organization. Read more about Apereo and its formation on our FAQs.

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Critical Mass? On the Proposed Sakai-Jasig Merger

As a currently serving Sakai Foundation board member, I have been a close participant in the merger efforts between Sakai and Jasig, including participating in the joint working group on the merger with the Jasig board and being “elected” to be a part of the founding board of the new merged foundation, should it come into existence.

I have been supportive of the idea of the merger because I’m always looking for ways education can increase control of its technology destiny and leverage common resources. Because Sakai itself is evolving to be a multiproject organization (with the Sakai CLE and OAE projects), it makes sense to consider evolving our community further to support multiple projects, and multiple approaches to project success. As someone who has participated in the formation and maintenance of a number of nonprofit organizations, I especially welcome the idea that with such an umbrella organization, like-minded projects and communities might not have to form their own independent nonprofit organizations, a necessity that I have seen result in significant duplication of efforts and seems an inefficient use of our scarce resources.

While the somewhat different cultures and technologies of Jasig don’t necessarily make it the ideal first partner for Sakai, I believe we have more in common than we have different. The merger investigation alone has started new collaborations and insights across our communities. With an expanded umbrella, we could shelter new partnerships of different types in the future with other like-minded open educational technology organizations (eg, DuraSpace, Kuali, Opencast, etc). We don’t all have to merge, but we call all work more closely together.

As the merger has moved forward however, I have become less supportive of an immediate merger, only because I have seen it generate sufficient friction within the Sakai community that I believe could be a damaging distraction to other important work. Let’s face it: everybody involved has more in common than we have different and we all have far better things to do to achieve our mostly shared goals than argue amongst ourselves. I hope to to see some more healthy, respectful, open debate in our communities before finalizing my personal viewpoint. I’m disappointed that some of those who seem to think the merger is important—both for and against—have not engaged in more public discourse on the matter.

Some may have taken note that my employer—rSmart—is one of the few organizations to take a public stand on the merger, announcing that as a Sakai Commercial Affiliate, rSmart would vote against the merger in the planned community vote. It may seem odd that my viewpoint does not exactly match rSmart’s.

In all this and in my board and community work in general, I would like to applaud rSmart, CEO Chris Coppola, and the rest of the rSmart team for consistently recognizing and supporting my independent viewpoints and office, rather than attempting to shape my board position and community voice to further rSmart’s or anyone’s interests and/or viewpoints. rSmart’s conduct here is a further demonstration of rSmart’s highly ethical culture, and provides more evidence of the healthy synergy we see in Sakai among commercial and educational organizations that share values and visions.

Whatever the outcomes of the merger, I’m proud to be a member of the Sakai community and to work for an organization that continues to earn my respect.

I welcome any and all comments—public or private.