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.
Josh says that software owned by a single commercial entity is preferable because "critical bug fixes, integration and innovation only come out of the folks that own the technology." I think history has shown that Josh's assertion is not true. Many open and community source projects that do not have a single commercial entity at their core consistently demonstrate high rates of maintenance, innovation, and integration. At the same time, what might be called "corporate" open source offerings do not always generate the qualities Josh describes.
Underneath this issue is an even more fundamental perspective that I also question: that there are only two paths of software ownership/development, which Josh defines in his question: "would you rather have a closed system owned by a commercial entity, or an open system not owned by anyone?" Josh goes on to suggest Instructure's open source strategy offers "the best of both worlds."
After 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.
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.
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.