Instructure’s Open Source Strategy

I have been watching Instructure and it’s move to offer part of its Canvas learning platform under an AGPLv3 open source license with great interest.

First, Canvas is a compelling product, with some great usabilty and features. I also welcome Instructure’s move to a (forked?) open source path, which I think helps evolve platform options and the marketplace in useful ways.

I am unconvinced, however, by a main thread Instructure CEO Josh Coates takes up in his recent blog post on Instructure’s open source strategy.

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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.

Who Is Using Sakai & Moodle

A recent exchange online with colleagues in the Moodle community led me to take another look at the statistics about which institutions are using Moodle in comparison with Sakai. Before you read further, know that I think of Moodle as a sister open-source project to Sakai and would celebrate Moodle’s increased adoption and success just as I would Sakai’s.

Up till now, I’ve always felt publicly available information about who is using Sakai has been inaccurate, erring on the side of undercounting, while Moodle’s published usage statistics have always seemed unbelievably high and in need of a lot of interpretation. Steps are being taken in the Sakai Community to do a better job of reporting who is using Sakai and how, but I would like to see even better information available because I know what we have is not yet complete and accurate.

Taking a new look at Moodle’s statistics: clearly, a lot of people download, install and somehow use Moodle, but I find it hard to distill a realistic picture of enterprise use in educational institutions from the big numbers on display. For example, the two instances on record for UNC Charlotte together have 118,352 users and 40,438 sites! There must be more to that story. Big numbers like that just lead me to question what is really being counted. Moodle publishes how their statistics are generated—and it sounds highly credible—but when I look at the actual stats, I’m still left feeling like I’m not getting an accurate picture that really tells me which institutions are using Moodle and how.

As an experiment, I analyzed the 7,724 US sites shown in the Moodle stats as of 11 Nov 2009. 2,070 are private and are not shown and thus unavailable for analysis—hopefully, real Moodle implementations at .EDU sites are not keeping themselves private, as that would be a disservice to the larger Moodle community. Of the remaining 5,654, I was able to find 574 potentially valid .EDU domains (below). Many of them are clearly not enterprise, higher ed implementations, but are rather departmental, project-based or even K12; others appear to be duplicates. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to comb through this list and extract which are actual enterprise, production implementations of Moodle.

While it may look good for Moodle to have such big numbers, I think potential enterprise adopters would be better served if they could find a credible list of peer institutions who have adopted Moodle as their primary, enterprise online learning platform without having to engage in such involved filtering. I’m working with others in the Sakai community to provide exactly that kind of data to help people connect with peers and generate a more useful picture of Sakai’s use.

US .EDU Moodle Sites

(from Moodle as of 11 Nov 2009)

  1. Accessible Technology Initiative
  2. Achieving Competence Today
  3. ACU Online Course Management Alternative: Moodle
  4. Adelphi Moodle
  5. Admissions Moodle
  6. Alachua County Public Schools
  7. Alaska Pacific University Moodle
  8. Albion College Course Webs
  9. Albion College Discussion Boards
  10. Alliant International University
  11. Alma College Courses Online
  12. American Liberty University
  13. American University Of Health Sciences Virtual College
  14. Anaheim University Online
  15. Anderson University Moodle
  16. Andrew Jackson University
  17. Anywhere School
  18. Aquinas College Course Web Pages
  19. Art Center College of Design | dotEd
  20. Aurora University Online Learning System – Moodle
  21. Bacone Online
  22. Baker – Production
  23. Bakersfield College Online
  24. Baptist Bible College and Graduate School Online
  25. Bastrop ISD Online Learning Center
  26. BCMoodle
  27. Beacon’s Online Learning Portal
  28. Bethany Divinity College and Seminary
  29. Bethany Theological Seminary and Earlham School of Religion Online Courses
  30. Bethel College
  31. Bishop George Ahr High School
  32. Blue Ridge Community College Continuing Education
  33. Blue Ridge Community College Online Learning
  34. Boston Baptist College – Course Management System
  36. Brigham Young University
  37. Brooklyn Techincal High School
  38. BuMathEd.Org (experimental)
  39. BYU Mathematics Department Courses
  40. California State University
  41. Career Technology Center Virtual Classroom
  42. Carl Albert State College
  43. Carrier LMS
  44. CASAT Instructor-Led Distance Learning
  45. CBIS DL
  46. CCC CS Moodle: Online Support for Computer Science Classes@ Contra Costa College
  47. CCLE
  48. CCTC Online
  49. Cedarville Moodle
  50. CEHD Moodle
  51. CEHD Online Courses
  52. CEHHS Demo Moodle
  53. Center for Educational Training & Technology LMS
  54. Center for Veterinary Health Sciences
  55. Central Kitsap School District Moodle Site Ver 1.9.2
  56. Centre College Moodle Pilot
  57. Cerro Coso Community College
  58. Chaminade University of Honolulu
  59. Chapman University MathCS Moodle Site
  60. Charger Learning
  61. Chatham University
  62. Chemistry Diagnostic Test
  63. Chemistry Learning Center
  64. Cherokee High School E-Learning
  65. Christian Brothers University
  66. CICADA
  67. City Vision College
  68. CIU Moodle
  69. Classroom
  70. Classroom Portal
  71. CNS Course Site
  72. COE Portal Moodle
  73. Colgate Moodle
  74. Colgate Moodle
  75. Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School
  76. College Math Prep
  77. College of Education and Health Sciences
  78. College of Education Moodle Server
  79. College of Education Moodle Server
  80. College of Education Moodle Server
  81. Collins Career Center
  82. Columbia College Chicago Moodle Site
  83. Columbia College Chicago Moodle Site
  84. Computer Information Systems
  85. Computer Science At Mount Mercy College
  86. Computer Science Moodle
  87. Computer Science Moodle Site
  88. Computer Science Online!
  89. Computer Systems Moodle
  90. Concord Math/CS Department Moodle Site
  91. Concordia Moodle LMS
  92. “Continuing Education, Pharmacy”
  93. “Continuing Education, Pharmacy”
  94. Continuing Professional Education
  95. Cornell College Moodle
  96. Cornell Cooperative Extension Online Courses
  97. Course Support Materials for laddbc
  98. Courses taught by Prof. George Karypis
  100. Courses@Colgate (Courses.Colgate.Edu)
  101. CPCC Moodle
  102. Crab Orchard Elementary
  103. “Craig A. Struble, Ph.D.”
  104. CS Moodle
  105. CSC512 Web Sites
  106. CSE Dropbox
  107. CSU Bakersfield Computer Science Course Site
  108. CSU Monterey Bay Moodle (iLearn)
  109. CTER Course Management System – Illinois
  110. CTER Student Moodle
  111. CTYOnline
  112. CTY’s Parent Forum
  113. Cumberland County Schools-Central Office
  114. CUNY Moodle
  115. CygNET – National University of Health Sciences
  116. Dallas Christian College Online
  117. Dallas Nursing Institute Online Learning System
  118. David Carroll
  119. Davis College E-Learning Site
  120. Dean College
  121. Decatur City Schools Training
  122. Deerfield Academy Moodle
  123. Department of Computer Science – University of West Georgia
  124. DePauw University Moodle
  125. Development – Neurobiology and Behavior Educational Partnership
  126. Devin’s Wonder Symposium of Magical Wonders and Candy Fields
  127. Digital Humanities at UNL
  128. Discovery – Northwest University
  129. Distance Learning at Continuing Education
  130. Distance Learning Center
  131. Dordt College Online Courses
  132. Dr. Walck’s Moodle Site
  133. Drew University Moodle
  134. DRI Computer Based Training Site
  135. Dulap MOODLE
  136. Earlham Moodle 2010
  137. Earlham School of Religion Online Courses
  138. East Los Angeles College
  139. Eastern Michigan University: Professional & Ethics Modules
  140. eCampus: FutureEd4U
  141. eCOW2
  142. ECU Moodle Server
  143. Edinboro University of PA
  144. Edmonds eLearning Project
  146. Educational Psychology
  147. Educational Technology
  148. Educational Technology Masters Cohort
  149. Educational Technology Support Center Courses
  150. Edward Waters College
  151. EIS Moodle 1.6
  152. eLearn @ Loras College
  153. elearning
  154. eLearning – Kilgore College
  155. eLearning at the Monterey Institute
  157. Ellensburg School District – Moodle Server
  158. Elmhurst College
  159. Emerging and Exotic Diseases of Animals & Initial Accreditation Training
  160. Emmanuel Online!
  161. Emmaus e-learning
  162. Emmaus Moodle
  163. ESL @ ISU
  164. ESL Services @ UT Austin
  165. ETI Online Training Center
  166. Executive Development Center e-Learning Community
  167. Exploratorium Moodle
  168. Facultad Online
  169. Faculty Development
  170. Fielding Graduate University’s Moodle site
  171. Flint Hills Technical College Online Courses
  172. Florida Center for Instructional Technology
  173. Florida International University
  174. Florida Tech Computer Sciences
  175. Fox Chapel Area School District Moodle
  176. Franklin College Moodle
  177. Fresno Pacific University Moodle Site
  178. GauchoSpace
  179. Gavilan iLearn
  181. GGE Moodle
  182. GOBC course support
  183. Goshen College Learning Management System
  184. Grace Communion Seminary
  185. Graduate School of Education and Information Studies
  186. Graduate Theological Union
  187. Guilford College Moodle
  188. Guilford Technical Community College
  189. GVSU Statistics
  190. Hartwick College Modern and Classical Langauges
  191. Haywood Community College
  192. Health Sciences Library and Informatics Center
  193. Health Services Courses and Workshops
  194. HEBLearning
  195. HMI Courses
  196. Homestead Elementary School
  197. Hood Theological Seminary Moodle
  198. Hope College Psychology Course Sites
  199. HSU Moodle
  200. HTIC Elearning
  202. Humboldt State University Moodle
  203. Huntington College of Health Sciences
  204. IALC Moodle
  205. ICON: Iliff Community Network
  206. iLearn@MPC
  207. Illinois College
  208. Illinois Wesleyan University
  209. IMSA Online Teaching & Learning Environment
  210. Increasing Patient Access to Pain Medicines around the World: A Framework to Improve National Policies that Govern Drug Distribution
  211. insideCatlin Moodle
  212. Iowa State University College of Human Sciences
  213. Iowa State University English Department Courses
  214. Iowa State University Extension Courses
  215. IR Toolbox
  216. Isothermal Community College (The Learning College)
  217. ISUComm Courses
  218. ITA
  219. ITLS @ USU – Instructional Technology & Learning Sciences
  220. IVE Course Management System
  221. Jack Baskin School of Engineering
  222. Jackson Community College
  223. JCSU Moodle
  224. JFK University
  225. JHU Center for Talented Youth Staff Information
  226. Juniata College Moodle
  227. Kalamazoo College Guilds
  228. Kalamazoo College Moodle
  229. Kamehameha Schools Hawaii Campus eClassroom
  230. KCAI Moodle
  231. Kepler College Coursesite
  232. Keuka College Courses
  233. Keuka Online
  234. Kilgore College
  235. “Klaus Brandl, Ph.D.”
  236. KMSD Moodle
  237. Knox College Moodle
  238. KSC Vietnam Field Study Summer 2009
  239. Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College
  240. Lake Forest College Course Moodle
  241. Lake Forest College Moodle
  242. Lambuth University
  243. Lancaster Bible College and Graduate School – PRODUCTION
  244. Landmark College Institute for Research and Training
  245. LATTC Moodle Server
  246. LCA Moodle
  247. Learning with and about technology
  248. Learning with and about technology
  249. Learning@BGU
  250. LearnRightNow
  251. Levelland ISD Web Campus
  252. Lewis & Clark College Moodle
  253. Lewis & Clark College Moodle
  254. Linn-Benton Community College eLearning
  255. Los Angeles Mission College
  256. Los Angeles Southwest College Online
  257. LSU Health Sciences Center Moodle
  258. Lubbock Christian University
  259. Luther College KATIE Learning Management System
  260. Lyceum
  261. Maharishi University of Managment
  262. Manzano Cluster Intranet
  263. Manzano HS Classroom Connection
  264. Manzano HS Classroom Connection
  265. Marina High School
  266. Marywood University Moodle
  267. Math Center
  268. MC Moodle
  269. MCCSC Moodle
  270. McKinley College
  271. Mercyhurst Moodle
  272. Messenger Online
  273. Messiah College Moodle
  274. MHS Cluster Family Connection
  275. MHS Cluster Family Connection
  276. MIAD Course Management
  277. Mid Michigan Community College
  278. MidSOUTH
  279. “Mildred Elley College (Albany, NY and Pittsfield, MA)”
  280. Missouri Valley College – Moodle
  281. MKO Course Site
  282. MLC/WELS Online Learning
  283. Montreat College Online
  284. Montreat College Online
  285. Moodle
  286. Moodle @ Bethany College
  287. Moodle @ Coe
  288. Moodle @ Coe
  289. Moodle @ East Carolina University
  290. Moodle @ Fuller
  291. Moodle @ Jacksonville College
  292. Moodle @ Lawrence University
  293. Moodle @ Rhodes
  294. Moodle @ RMCC
  295. Moodle @ The Dwight School
  296. Moodle @ Tougaloo College
  297. Moodle @ UVa-Wise
  298. Moodle at D’Youville College
  299. Moodle at Kalamazoo College
  300. Moodle at Lane Community College
  301. Moodle at Montclair State University
  302. Moodle at NJIT
  303. Moodle at OIT – Open Source Course Management Software
  304. Moodle at the ELI
  305. Moodle CMS at WV State
  306. Moodle Community at George Fox
  307. Moodle EDTC
  308. Moodle for courses instructed by Dr. Gray
  309. Moodle for ISI Networking classes
  310. Moodle for TAMUCC
  311. Moodle on Chaucer
  312. Moodle One
  313. Moodle University of Washington
  316. moodle.macalester 2004-2005 Archive
  317. moodle.macalester Spring 2006
  321. moodle.oxy
  324. moodle@CACC
  325. Moodle@Learning Technologies
  326. Moodle@PhilaU
  327. Moodle4Me
  328. moodlearchive.macalester Fall 2005 Archive
  329. MOODLE–SNU’s Online Course Management System
  330. Moss Landing Marine Labs Moodle
  331. Mrs. Liu’s Site
  332. MSUM Fall 2009 Moodle installation
  334. Multnomah Biblical Seminary :: Connect
  335. My Moodle – Wake Technical Community College
  336. MyCBIT LMS
  337. myCourses @ Louisiana State University – Eunice
  338. Nami Group
  339. National School Lunch Program Refresher Module
  340. Native Eyes Indigenous Studies Online
  341. nbep
  342. NC Testing Program Moodle
  343. NCNM Continuing Education
  344. NCSA Education Moodle
  345. NDNU LMS
  346. Nebo School District Moodle Server
  347. Nebraska Christian College Online
  348. Neumont University LMS
  349. Neurobiology and Behavior Educational Partnership
  350. Neurobiology and Behavior Educational Partnership
  351. New York Theological Seminary Online Learning System
  352. Newbury College
  353. NJ Transit Training
  354. NMT Distance Education
  355. North Cumberland Elementary
  356. Northeast Technology Center
  357. Northern Seminary
  358. Northwest AHEC
  359. Northwest Christian University
  360. Northwest Indian College Moodle Site
  361. Northwest University Discovery
  362. Northwestern College CourseSites
  363. Northwestern Michigan College
  364. NSCC Computer Science and Engineering Site
  365. NUoodle of Norwich University
  366. NWHSU Moodle
  367. OBI Online
  368. OCC Moodle
  369. Oglala Lakota College
  370. Ohio State Department of Mathematics Course Pages
  371. Oklahoma Wesleyan University
  372. Olympia Regional Learning Academy
  373. Olympic ESD Moodle Server
  374. Online @ University of Dubuque
  375. Online Communication Courses
  376. Online Education @ RCC
  377. onlineNTID
  378. Open Source College Administrator
  379. OtterMoodle
  380. Passion University eLearning
  381. PICCLE: A Forum for International Discussions
  382. PICCLE: A Forum for International Discussions
  383. Pierce Mortuary College
  384. Pine View Elementary School
  385. Pitt CE
  386. Pitt Community College
  387. Portal@USCB
  388. Porter-Gaud Moodle
  389. Posner-Keele Cognitive Labs Experiment Scheduling System
  390. PPDC Act 48 Professional Development Center
  391. Prescott College Learning Management System
  392. Project ACCESS Community of Practice
  393. Projects
  395. PROWL- CC’s Platform and Repository for On-line and Web-based Learning
  396. PTI Training
  397. QCC Center for Continuing Education
  398. Quant Moodle
  399. Quincy University
  400. Race and Gender Conscious Remedies
  401. Radford University Moodle Server
  402. Ramapo College
  403. RCE Online – Localization
  404. Reading Academy
  405. Red Cross
  406. Renaissance School of Therapeutic Massage
  407. Rhetorica Moodle
  408. Riverdale Country School Moodle
  409. RWC Moodle
  410. S.C. Professional Development Consortium
  411. Safety on the Internet
  412. Sage Online
  413. Saint Martin’s University Moodle
  414. San Francisco Art Institute
  415. Sauk Valley Community College
  416. SBCC Online College
  417. SCC Computer Careers Moodle Server
  418. SCE Moodle
  419. School Nutrition Toolbox
  420. School of Business Reseach
  421. School of Health Information Sciences
  422. SDI Online
  423. SDSC Education Data Portal
  424. SDSC Online Training
  425. Seattle Pacific University – Moodle
  426. SEBTS Moodle
  427. Sierra College Computer Science
  428. Sinte Gleska University Moodle Learning Site
  429. Sioux Falls Seminary Contextual Learning
  430. Skidmore College Moodle
  431. Smith College’s Moodle
  432. Smith College’s Moodle
  433. Soil Science Courses
  434. South Kitsap School District
  435. South Piedmont Community College
  436. South Texas College of Law Online courses
  437. Southeast Arkansas College
  438. Southeastern Free Will Baptist College Center for Online Studies
  439. Southwestern CC Moodle – Curriculum
  440. Southwestern Community College Continuing Education Moodle
  441. SSC Moodle
  443. St Vladimir’s Seminary E-Campus
  444. St. Augustine College E-learning
  445. St. Catherine University: Moodle
  446. St. Mary’s College Moodle
  447. St. Mary’s University Course Management System
  448. St. Norbert College
  449. St. Norbert College
  450. St. Olaf College Moodle Server
  451. St. Olaf College Moodle Server
  452. Stone Memorial High School
  453. Strategic Open Source At CIS SAC Moodle
  454. Students of the Global Information Internship Program
  455. SU College of Technology Moodle Server
  456. Subject & Course Guides
  457. SUNY Oneonta – Moodle
  458. SVC Web-based Course Resource Center
  459. SVSU – Online Learning
  460. Sweet Briar College
  461. TeacherTECH Community Portal
  462. Teaching English as a Second Language/Applied Linguistics at ISU
  463. test for moodle
  464. Testing Suite
  465. Texarkana College Online
  466. The Agora
  467. The Browning School
  468. The Browning School Parents Association
  469. The Center for Child and Family Studies Online Training
  470. The City College of the Arts
  471. The College of Idaho Moodle
  472. The COMET Virtual Classroom
  473. The Personal Learning Center
  474. The South Hills School of Business & Technology
  475. The UW MEBI Online Course Management System
  476. Thomas Krichel’s moodle at LIU
  477. Thunderbird Learning Environment
  478. TJNHS
  479. TLEARN – Trinity University Moodle Site
  480. TMCC Partnership Moodle
  481. TnTech Computer Science / Web Design Moodle Portal
  482. Toccoa Falls College Online
  483. Transylvania University Moodle Server
  484. Trinity Christian College
  485. Trinity International University
  486. Trinity Online Learning Center
  487. Truckee Meadows Community College
  488. TSTC Moodle Help
  489. UAA Instructional Design Resources
  490. UAB School of Public Health Moodle
  491. UC Davis – Language Learning Center
  492. UCAR Education and Outreach Online Courses
  493. UCCS Moodle
  494. UCLA CCLE – test
  495. UCLA CCLE Moodle
  496. UCLA CCLE Moodle – Archived Sites
  497. UCLA Department of Statistics Collaborative Learning Portal
  498. UCLA Engineering Science Corps Outreach Program
  499. UCLA Physics & Astronomy
  500. UCLA Physics & Astronomy
  501. UCSB ID Moodle
  502. UCSB Music Project
  503. UCSF Collaborative Learning Environment
  504. UF College of Education Online
  505. UIUC Life Sciences
  506. UIUC Life Sciences
  507. ULM Moodle
  508. UMaine College Of Education and Human Development Moodle
  509. UMCES Moodle Courseware Server
  510. Umpqua Moodle
  511. UNCC Moodle
  512. UNCC Moodle
  513. Unet – Moodle
  514. UNH Cooperative Extension – eLearning
  515. Union at Catholic Theological Union
  516. Union College Course Management System
  517. United States Sports Academy
  518. Univeristy of Tennessee Center for Executive Education
  520. University of Louisiana at Lafayette – Moodle LMS
  521. University of New Mexico
  522. University of Philosophical Research On-line Campus
  523. University of Philosophical Research On-line Campus
  524. University of Philosophical Research On-line Campus
  525. University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary Courses Online
  526. University of Texas at San Antonio
  527. University of Texas at San Antonio
  528. “University of Washington, Tacoma Moodle Server”
  529. University of Wisconsin Department of Mathematics
  530. University of Wisconsin Department of Mathematics
  531. UNLV COE Courses
  532. UNLV Computer Science
  533. UNO Moodle
  534. UPS Moodle Courses
  535. UR Math Moodle
  536. URMoodle
  537. USF Department of Computer Science
  538. USU Mild Moderate Distance Community
  539. UT Extension Online: Certifications
  540. “UV Open – Open Educational Resources, OpenCourseWare”
  541. UW Madison Agronomy Web Courseware
  542. UW Math Moodle Test Site
  543. UWT Institute of Technology Moodle
  544. Vance Granville – Continuing Education
  545. Vance-Granville Moodle
  546. Vanguard University
  547. Vanguard University
  548. Virginia International University
  549. VT – ESIH Moodle Site
  550. W&J Moodle
  551. Waldorf College Course Management
  552. Walla Walla University
  553. Warden Schools Moodle Site
  554. Warner University
  555. Warren Wilson College Online Classrooms
  556. WDT Online
  557. Weatherford College Workforce & Continuing Education Online Courses
  558. WebIT: Online Instructional Technology
  559. Welcome to the iCollaboratory
  560. West Shore Community College – Moodle
  561. Wharton County Junior College
  562. Whatcom Community College Access
  563. Whittier College Moodle
  564. Wilkes Mathematics and Computer Science
  565. Wilkes University
  566. Winsor Moodle
  567. woodle
  568. Woodward Academy
  569. WOSC Portal
  570. WOSC Portal
  571. WPC Online Learning
  572. Writing Assessment System
  573. WWU NSF ILN Moodle Site
  574. yurimi’s courses

Sakai 3’s Commonplace Destiny

I’ve recently been enjoying some (possibly) healthy, irreverent debate with colleagues at Blackboard and beyond about some of the differences between such proprietary regimes and the open-source community of Sakai. While the Twitter channel we’ve been using generates plenty of pithy ripostes, at times a tweet calls out for more sustained thought and response.

A recent tweet from @georgekroner—one of my favorite Blackboarders—set me thinking and led to some longer—if not deeper—reflections, likely to be far less entertaining than the short salvos in our ongoing snarkument on Twitter.

The tweet that set me off was George sharing his concern that Sakai 3’s planned capabilities might be “commonplace” by the time it is ready for widespread use.

I’m not entirely convinced George’s concern is for real, given that Sakai is one of the most significant challenges to Blackboard’s market dominance in learning technologies and it would seem any failure on Sakai’s part would be cause for celebration rather concern over at Blackboard. But maybe George is just the kind of guy who wishes the best for everyone. Or maybe it’s part of Blackboard’s continued posture that having a near monopoly in the proprietary market is fine as long as there is at least one viable open-source alternative like Sakai, even while Blackboard itself acts like open source can’t really compete.

But I’m not inspired here just to wipe away Blackboard’s crocodile tears. George’s tweet started me thinking: if he is right, and the kind of experience Sakai 3 will offer becomes commonplace, we should all celebrate rather than wring our hands.

If Sakai 3 ends up fitting within the broader scope of contemporary online experience, that means Sakai 3’s open, social, user-centered, integrative paradigm shares in broader understandings of what online experience should be—both within education and beyond. It wouldn’t just mean Sakai 3 “guessed right,” it would also mean a very healthy, widespread vision of what the web can and should be has won out. Far from a concern, I would count Sakai 3’s capabilities becoming “commonplace” as a major success, not only for Sakai, but for the web in general.

George was so kind as to provide some examples that illustrate his observation that technology is headed in the same general direction as Sakai 3. Here’s George’s short list:

The question I asked myself after reading George’s list is whether the widespread use of any of these tools (or others like them) would really make Sakai—or other integrated learning platforms—obsolete or unnecessary or uninteresting—in other words, “commonplace.” I and others have taken up this point before and in the end, I still land in the same place. I think educational institutions will want and need to supply a local platform that enables things like a common user experience, integration, authentication, identity management, and more. I would assume Blackboard also holds this view. At the same time, I agree with George’s thinking (but not his concern) that the best of these local platforms will follow Sakai 3’s model, and often integrate other tools, enable collaboration and social networking, open their APIs, be delivered via devices not yet invented, and so on. Last but not least, I still think the educational community itself is the best engine for the development of the tools specific to its core mission, like teaching, learning, and research.

In the first category from George’s list, Google’s Sidewiki stands alone as an example of what we might call an independent, “web 2.0” tool that provides some specific functionality that might be used in conjunction with a variety of other tools. There are way too many great examples of such tools to list here, from social bookmarking tools like Delicious to web conferencing tools like DimDim. I don’t think any of these tools alone could stand in for a full learning platform, but any might be used to extend a learning platform, or be cobbled together with a number of complementary tools to approximate an integrated learning platform (earlier, I attempted an instructive, but ultimately unsatisfying, experiment of this nature using Ning at EDU Next).

Sakai 3 will provide the perfect platform to integrate these kinds of tools, from user treats like Sidewiki all the way down the stack to important glue like Apache Jackrabbit. The community designing Sakai 3 is highly conscious of where the boundaries should be drawn: where Sakai should provide native functionality, where it should leverage already existing tools, and where it should leave things open for integration (ie, pretty much everywhere).

The second category in George’s list includes Atlassian’s Confluence wiki and Jive’s social business suite (headquartered right here in our own PDX!). Both are examples of more fulsome systems designed primarily for business that one might see as approximating the capabilities of a learning platform (along with similar examples like Microsoft Sharepoint). Yet one crucial difference separates these business systems from learning platforms like Sakai, Moodle, Desire2Learn, a host of others, and—one would hope, Blackboard itself: namely, none of these systems is designed primarily for education.

One could argue (and I would agree) that education is a lifelong process and that all these systems are tending toward worthy common practices to support it that incorporate capabilities such as user-centered experience, collaboration, integrative mash-ups, and social networking. However in the Sakai community, we believe strongly that our work benefits from our clear, primary focus on education. It may be that from Blackboard’s proprietary, corporate viewpoint, it is harder to tell the difference between their products and these systems designed primarily for business use. We don’t have that concern about our work within Sakai.

The last category in George’s examples is represented by OpenSocial. Not just a tool or platform, OpenSocial represents a more general technology, standard or protocol which any or all of the other examples above might incorporate. We expect to see Sakai 3 integrate OpenSocial along with other such standards and protocols that make sense, just as we have seen in Sakai 2. Examples would include other parts of the open stack (eg, OpenID, OAuth, PoCo, etc), JSR, IMS, and others too. The existence of something like OpenSocial doesn’t obviate the value of an integrated, open source learning platform like Sakai, built by education, for education, any more than it suggests the obsolescence of a proprietary system like Blackboard. Quite the opposite: Sakai’s open platform and community provide an ideal use case for technologies like OpenSocial that cut across systems, opening up, rather than closing down possibilities for integration and creative use.

I thank George for the inspiring tweet and thoughtful list. It helped me turn concern into even greater assurance that Sakai 3 is headed in the right direction.

Addendum: for the full context of the tweets that inspired this post, see below:

@nicolamj tweeted:
@georgekroner I think the idea is that Sakai 3 will be a generation beyond *any* LMS…

@georgekroner tweeted:
@nicolamj Sakai 3 looks great, but my concern is that by the time it is launched what now seems beyond will then be commonplace

@xolotl (that’s me) tweeted:
@georgekroner you suggest planned Sakai 3 capabilities will soon be commonplace. Examples? (cc @nicolamj)

@georgekroner tweeted:
@xolotl @nicolamj re: Sakai 3 concepts

Where is Sakai headed? Or: I want my user-centered mash-up with extra gravy!

Hearing Chuck Severance’s presentation at JA-SIG St Paul 2008 about work on the IMS Learning Tools Interoperability 2.0 (LTI) standard restarted some thinking I’d already been doing about where online learning technology is (should be?) headed.

Severance sketched out a model enabled by IMS LTI in which the online learning environment has evolved into a kind of personal workspace, where the user makes choices about what tools appear. Some tools could appear automatically, chosen by the user’s institution, instructor or group organizer. Other tools would be chosen only by the user and could come from either a trusted local service or a wide variety of external sources.

Later in St Paul, the Sakai team at Cambridge University showcased the work they’ve been doing to repackage and deliver Sakai content and tools outside the Sakai framework via JSON into a user-centered dashboard that can also consume and display other similar tools, widgets or services.

At the same time, I’ve been watching what seems like the leading wave of online application design—mostly outside higher education in that space that I’ll call “social media” and “Web 2.0” for lack of a better terms. That wave is headed toward or has in many ways already arrived at a place that matches the user-centered, distributed toolset scenario that Severance gestured toward and Cambridge has enacted.

Sakai ED Michael Korcuska asked Severance the obvious question: Will Sakai—or other learning environments—disappear in the individualized, distributed world he described? I found myself agreeing with Severance’s answer that Sakai or other online learning systems will not disappear. Institutions will continue to want and need an environment where they supply and control some of—or even most of—the user experience.

But where does that leave Sakai as a project?

First, Sakai can and should tell a true story in which it has been moving down this very path toward the user-centered mash-up with extra gravy at a fast clip. Starting out with its web content tool, feed aggregation and consumers for web services, Sakai is now leagues ahead with Cambridge’s working code, Severance’s groundwork, and probably other things as well.

But next Sakai must fully adopt this trajectory as its future. Sakai should evolve toward a well-made, flexible and receptive user-centered container and a collection of first-rate tools for teaching, learning and collaboration that can appear here, there and everywhere.

What will be important in this future? For starters, the Sakai container should be optimzed for education and innovation: usable, accessible, quality-assured and easy to fill with the widest possible variety of other functionality. Key tools for education like tests and quizzes and gradebooks, developed by educators, for educators will continue to have high priority.

Next, Sakai should focus on delivering tools that provide standards-aware interoperability—the glue that will stick all these various tools together, for the user, for the institution, and for the larger conversations and purposes that cross and combine users and institutions. These tools should provide common services—like gradability, testability, tagability, commentability, shareability—that can be applied to items generated by any source.

By fully embracing this model, Sakai can further differentiate itself from proprietary systems like Blackboard, Angel and Desire2Learn, which may also see this future emerging, but have little financial incentive to embrace such a loss of central control, and even if they do are less likely to be able to deliver it anytime soon.

Looking at Open Source Portfolio Systems

Thanks to the University of London, I was able to try out a few open source portfolio systems, including Elgg, Mahara and Moodle.

I’ll admit I have a lot more experience with Open Source Portfolio than any of these projects, but nevertheless, I was expecting to be blown away by their superiority. Surprisingly, I ended up feeling like OSP competes well against these projects, especially in its ability to integrate personal expression with more structured teaching and learning goals.

Ultimately, there are a million schmancy ways to express oneself online, many of them way more satisfying than any of these systems. But in the end, if one wants to express oneself in the context of a formal learning experience, we are still waiting to for the perfect solution.

After my admittedly quick assessment, I feel the jury is still out, but I end up feeling like given the varying quality and functionality of user experience, the OSP/Sakai combination shows great promise not only in delivering the best user experience, but also in assuring the greatest project continuity.