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.

Sakai vs the World Wide Web 2.0: To Facebook or Not to Facebook?

I was inspired to propose and deliver a session titled “Sakai vs the World Wide Web 2.0: To Facebook or Not to Facebook?” for the recent Sakai 2011 conference in Los Angeles by the question below. While I write specifically of higher education here, I think the same questions—and perhaps answers—might be applied to any educational level or sector.

How is Sakai—or any online platform supported by an educational institution—relevant in an environment full of compelling web activities that engage our everyday lives? Does Sakai matter in the Age of Facebook, and if yes, then why and how?

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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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Why I’m Running for the Sakai Board

Used by (cc) from http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidfarrant/2512424842/

Used by (cc) from davidfarrant.

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.