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 it's 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.
The Sakai Foundation Board is elected by members of the Sakai Foundation. Each Board member serves a three-year term and may be re-elected to serve a second term. The current Board is comprised of higher education technology leaders, esteemed faculty members, accomplished software architects and developers, and commercial leaders.
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."
Recently, I was honored to accept nomination to stand for the Board of Directors of the Sakai Foundation, the nonprofit organization that coordinates the larger collaboration of the Sakai community.
Some people are confused about the role of the Sakai Board, which stewards the Foundation itself, not Sakai the community or Sakai the product. Our community and product both have a variety of other leadership and governance mechanisms: all open, transparent, and drawing their membership from the community based on merit and contribution rather than election. In short: the Board does not "lead" Sakai, but rather ensures that the Foundation is healthy so it in turn can coordinate—not lead—the real engine of Sakai: our community.
So before running for the Board, I had to stop and ask what I would want to accomplish in joining this body whose work might be seen as once—or even twice—removed from direct engagement with Sakai. My answer revolves around Sakai's characteristics as an open source project, and the role the Sakai Foundation and its Board play in maintaining Sakai's health and progress.
My thinking goes back to my earlier answers to the question "why Sakai now?" where I wrote:
Unlike any other proprietary or open source learning platform, only Sakai provides structured, open and transparent community and governance, powered by a substantial and growing number of institutions of every shape and size from around the world, coordinated by a formal, nonprofit entity, and including a strong and varied commercial ecosystem. We call this combination "community source" and it is open source, only much more.
I still hold by that statement, but recognize that it describes a very organic situation, constantly changing, filled with different forces pulling not always in the same directions. All the ingredients in Sakai's healthy mix are absolutely necessary for its continued success, but there is one crucial element that all the others depend on and can not do without—that central, shared entity that exists only to support everything else: the Sakai Foundation.
In addition to all the important work the Foundation does to coordinate community activity, perhaps its most important function is to serve as a conduit through which part of the community's growing resources circle back to empower common needs and goals. It is precisely this "virtuous cycle" that I would seek to strengthen if I were elected to the Sakai Board.
You can read my full platform statement on the Sakai Project website, and if you have not yet cast your ballot in the Sakai Board elections, I welcome your support.
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 (you can also grab the fullblown movie). 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.
I've long believed the open practices we follow in the Sakai community result in more, better, faster functionality, code, security, accessibility, standards-compliance, and innovation generally. But lately, evidence has been mounting to demonstrate the high value and wide acceptance of the open path more clearly than ever.
Today's announcement of a new partnership between rSmart and SunGard Higher Education (SGHE) to deliver and support Sakai is the latest manifestation of the huge body of valuable work being generated by those of us following the open path: commercial vendors, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, government entities, and individuals. Valuable work that is having real, positive effects on education.
A key part of rSmart and SGHE's work together is to extend Sakai's integration with SGHE's Banner Student Information System (SIS) platform to follow the latest IMS Learning Information System (LIS) standard. On the face of it, this sounds like a typical outcome of two technology firms working together, but that integration rests on a far larger body of work, produced collaboratively in our open community.
With Nate Angell (rSmart), Noah Botimer (University of Michigan), Eli Cochran (University of California, Berkeley), Michael Feldstein (Oracle), Clay Fenlason (Georgia Institute of Technology, Sakai Foundation), David Goodrum (Indiana University), John Lewis (Unicon), Stephen Marquard (University of Cape Town), John Norman (University of Cambridge), Max Whitney (New York University).
The Sakai Product Council acts on behalf of the broad Sakai community to ensure the exceptional quality and cohesiveness of Sakai product releases in their support of varied teaching, research and collaboration needs. It does this formally by determining those projects which will go into a release, and informally by advising projects as they progress from R&D to production-ready maturity. The Product Council will undertake its work: by employing the expertise of its members, through direct consultation with experts in the community, with reference to best practices for technology, pedagogy and standards, by establishing and communicating clear and objective criteria. You can read an interim report of Product Council activity in 2009 and goals for 2010 on the Sakai wiki. Join us at the Sakai conference to meet representatives from the Council, hear a current update of our activity and goals, and give us your input on our work to date and going forward.