Eric Kunnen\’s GRCC Blog

Michigan Higher Education Sakai Conference – Lansing Community College West Campus
October 4, 2006, 4:30 pm
Filed under: Conferences

October 3, 2006

west_campus.jpg photo_100306_002.jpg photo_100306_001.jpg

Approximately 40 in attendance from IBM, Michigan State University, Wayne County Community College, Saginaw Valley State University, Grand Rapids Community College, and other sites.

Conference Brochure: Sakai Flyer

What is Sakai? Sakai is an open source Course Management System. (Another open source CMS that is available is called Moodle.) Originally called “CHEF” at the University of Michigan, Sakai appears to have been written from the CHEF architecture instead of a clean code base. Similar to Blackboard courses and organization sites, Sakai can be used to support teaching and learning (Bb Course Sites), ad hoc group collaboration (Bb Organization Sites), support for portfolios and research collaboration (Bb Content System).

Sakai is an open source product that is built and maintained by the Sakai Community. Sakai’s development model is called “Community Source” because many of the developers creating Sakai are drawn from the “community” of organizations that have adopted and are using Sakai. For example, the Sakai assessment engine called Samigo (which reportedly takes up 25% of the code base) was written by Stanford. The assessment engine is currently marked as provisional which means it doesn’t come with the core install of Sakai. Accoring to the site, “…several of the tools are listed as provisional — these tools are not core components of Sakai Releases, but they are reletively well developed and are in use at multiple Sakai instlallations.” Some of the provisional tools that are not currently part of the core install are: Message Center (group collaboration), Post’em (posting feedback and grades with excel), Tests and Quizzes, Melete, Roster, Super User Admin Tool, TwinPeaks repository, and the RWiki tool.

While this isn’t a technology centered event, it is unclear if Sakai has a performance group managing the overall efficiency of the application. It’s also unclear is there are any published APIs available, such as Blackboard Building Blocks which allow vendors to easily link their products into the system through integration which will be continue to work through various upgrades and patches.

Questions that I have been asked to ask today are:

1. What is IBM contributing to Sakai?

IBM worked to enable a SCORM reader for Sakai. IBM was able to customize a SCORM reader to work with Sakai. It is currently provisional, and not included in the core tools for Sakai. Webshere is an open source product available thorugh IBM. Moving to a software model, download and use it – it is free, if you need support you can by it. Other than that there was not much of specifics mentioned on exactly what IBM is contributing.

2. What is Oracle contributing?

Here is a press release on this topic:

3. What are the future grants for Sakai?

Not enough money, need more, colleges need to recognize this is mission critical and help fund, UofM has only 3 or 4 developers, foundations can certainly help fund and there is more need for this, IBM and other commercial entities can help too. For example, IBM worked to enable a SCORM reader for Sakai. IBM was able to customize a SCORM reader to work with Sakai.

4. What is Sakai’s relationship with Bb?

Blackboard applied to become an affiliate in
2004 but was turned down.

5. What are Sakai’s strengths and weaknesses?
Unable to ask.

6. What commercial vendors are integrating with Sakai?

This question was asked, and right now there are very few, except for the affliates. For example, there isn’t any publishers mentioned that are building content packages for Sakai. As of yet. It was mentioned that by next year there may be some.

7. What is Sakai doing with IMS?

Unable to ask. I’m not sure there is compliance here yet. As a side, it appear that course archiving is not possible in the current release.

8. What is Sakai’s ADA compliance?

Sakai is concerned and committed to making Sakai complient. Trying to ensuring labels and forms and tags in coding. They have a group of screen readers on a volunteer basis helping to address issues. Have not yet gone through the checklist as of yet for all of their tools.

9. How is the UI work handled for standards, look and feel, ease of use?

Unable to ask.

The opening address of the conference featured a focus on the Spelling Commission.
More information is available here:

Mike Schuler, Executive Director of the Learning Academy at GRCC took the following notes:
Spelling Commission Report (see:, or

The report highlighted four action items:

“ACTION ONE under my plan is to build on this by expanding the effective principles ofNo Child Left Behind and holding high schools accountable for results…

ACTION TWO under my plan is for my Department to streamline the process, cut the application time in half, and notify students of their aid eligibility earlier than Spring of their senior year to help families plan….

ACTION THREE under my plan will work to pull together the same kind of privacy-protected student-level data we already have for K through 12 students. And use that data to create a higher education information system….

ACTION FOUR under my plan will provide matching funds to colleges, universities, and states that collect and publicly report student learning outcomes….(1) fill the gap between high school results and college needs, (2) Restructure financial aid, (3) new call for transparency & accountability, (4) Invest in innovation & a culture of quality, (5) embrace lifelong learning and a national strategy for post secondary learning, and (6) we ARE in a knowledge economy but our ed structure is mechanistic. Freiddman “World is Flat” (see is an appropriate read.

Open source supports the new paradigm

Moores Law (exponential growth) supports new paradigm

Our current trajectory supports new paradigm… in other words (mine) the proverbial writing is on the wall… we ain’t goin’ back.

We have the technology to support this paradigm: wireless, networks – the “cyber formation is structurally sound…”

MIT realized it’s easier to “give away open source” than it is to regulate its transaction, or the transaction of learning. Interesting… since when has it “better” to give something away than to make money. This, alone, represents the shift in cultural capacity.

The “meta university” is here, (or will be coming to a screen near you soon…

The “fab five” is different than five freshmen from UofM… instead, it represents the five noted schools aligned with Google to digitize 80% of the written words in the world.

Are Colleges & Universities prepared for the revolution? As they were circa 1850? 60 Provosts agree (see Spelling) that ours is like the educational reformation in this country from 150 years ago… radical transformation.

Words like “wave” and “tsunami” were described to illustrate the transformative shift. Like Buick, we cannot be our parents education.

Introducing Sakai
Joseph Hardin, University of Michigan

“This session will trace briefly the evolution of Sakai from a project to a foundation, describe Sakai’s community-source approach to software design, development and distribution, showcase Sakai’s feature set with a live demonstration, outline current community processes covering design, development, documentation and testing, and end with a discussion on ways to get involved in the community.”

  • Working on Sakai for the past 3 years
  • Open Source Project (examples include: Linux, Firefox, OpenOffice, Sakai, Moodle, ATutor)
  • Startup included: UofM, Indiana University, MIT, Standford, uPortal consortium, and the Open Knowledge Initiative
  • Now Sakai is an independent founcation and it is the corporate home for the Sakai communicate which includes 100 universities, colleges, and commercial partners.
  • The Sakai Foundation helps to coordinate community development, support services, and host annual conferences.
  • Culture change for many institution. It is a new way of doing business.
  • Shared development and support for the software and it’s use.
  • Sakai’s license is an Apache type of license. Sakai hopes that the community will take it and give back.
  • Recognize openess for commerical and non-commerical software.
  • VLE/VREs are now core infrastructure at our universities. Used by 40,000 students and faculty. 5,000 concurrent users an the requirement for it to be up 24/6, it’s mission critical.
  • Economic advantages to Sakai institutions – predict/control costs now and in future, realize economices of shared development, QA, testing, support.
  • Higher ed values – open, sharing, building the knowledge commons
  • Ability to rapidly innovate, bringing other intitutions software into the framework.
  • It is a framework, which is a set of tools that can be used for collaboration, teaching, and research.
  • It is a community of alliances
  • It is a founctaion of community-funded and community sustaining instutions.
  • It is meant to be scalable, out of the box it is set to support 100,000 users in a production environment.
  • Support Teaching and Learning: webdav, resources, course sites (similar to Bb Course Sites)
  • Support Distributed Research : general collaboration tools, getting people together (similar to Bb Organization Sites)
  • Bringing Research into the Classroom:
  • Bringing it all Online:
  • Global Community at Around 100 institutions, slowly growing partnership program. Membership is optional. 76% America, 13% Europe, 8% Asia
  • Non-profit and Commercial Partners, you can run it 100% yourself, or finding other commercial vendors to help you run it.
  • Set of tools in Sakai that must go into the product and need QA. Innovation can come with Melete (Foothill Community College), Portfolio, Wiki (Cambrige), Blog (Lancaster), Syllabus, and Site Stats.
  • You can add your own components fairly easily. For a university you can decide which tools are available. As a faculty member you can decide which tools you want.
  • In production at: Indiana University (121,000 users), UofM (67,000 users), Uof California – Merced (1,230 users), Yale (14,000 users)
  • Sakai 2.1.2 at UofM currently in production.
  • FUTURE: Working on interoperability and data portability.
  • Plone, LAMS, Dspace
  • “OpenCourseWare expresses our blief in the way education can be advanced – by constantly widening access to information and by inspiring others to participate.” Charles M. Vest, President of MIT
  • MIT’s OCW Project ( site. 1,400 courses online through MIT. How can we do this in Michigan? Use Sakai for Teaching and Research –> raw course content –> publication pipeline (ip management, tagging, exporting from CTools, QA and review) –> vetted OCW content –> UofM OCW Web Site
    • OCW Tool under development process: Step 1: Choose Materials, Step 2: Tag, Step 3: Check Copyright, Step 4: Create Course Pages, Step 5: OCW Review, Step 6: Export
  • 6th Sakai Conference in Atlanta, Georgia in December 5-8.
  • Question: What is the portal for Sakai? uPortal is the portal recommended to be used with Sakai.
  • Question: What about the financial aspects? Not enough money, need more, colleges need to recognize this is mission critical and help fund, UofM has only 3 or 4 developers, foundations can certainly help fund and there is more need for this, IBM and other commercial entities can help too. For example, IBM worked to enable a SCORM reader for Sakai. IBM was able to customize a SCORM reader to work with Sakai.
  • Question: What about pushing out a CMS to the community, where can we get help documentation, support, and those sort of things. This is an Open Source Community, if it is not available, go fix it and go do it! There is a person in Indiana responsible for QA. What have others done? Can we share it or can you share it? If more and more schools begin using we will have more resources.

Overview of Open Source Portfolio
Hannah Reeves, The rSmart Group and Melissa Peet, University of Michigan

“Discover how the Open Source Portfolio can be applied to your campus through an understanding of what a portfolio is, and how it can be used for student development, integrative learning and program assessment. This session will being with a brief overview of the OSP tools.”

  • OSP Community

    • 30 educational institutions
    • Started at the University of Minnesota
    • Belief in transformative potential of ePortfolios
    • Share understanding of integrative learning and reflective practice
  • Conceptual Overview

    • Portfolio Owner: REFLECT –>(Guide) INTEGRATE –>(Review) DEMONSTRATE –>(Report) COLLECT(Motivate)
    • …enable Individuals to Prepare for Life-long Learning
    • Desire to have students that have “adaptive expertise”
    • Meeting Needs of Higher Ed. Crossover of student, institutional, and faculty needs. Aligning curriculum with student outcomes, accreditation, and formal/informal learning.
  • Sample Uses & Practices
    • Self Presentation – Resumes, presentations, curricular projects

      • Contains: Profile/Picture, Career Objectives, Education History, Applicable Sklls, Comments from other Users.
    • Teaching and Reflective Practice – real world, across disciplines, knowledge and skills in relation to competencies, and time

      • Matrix learning: Level I, II, III and provide examples and artifacts/assets in regard to general education outcomes such as: written communication, cirtical thinking, information retreival, reasoning, oral communication, quantiative literacy, ethics and social responsibility, etc.
      • Reflection on Learning Goals: Provide restatement/reflection and “proof” with assets/artifacts
    • Assessment/Accrediation – Demo outcomes, skills, competencies

      • Matrix includes rubric with: Ready, Pending, Completed, Locked
      • Example: Nursing – Experience charted across pre-matriculation, to year 1, to year 2, and so on.
      • Example: Nursing – Experience charted on criteria such as: medical knowledge, professionalism, research, teaching, administrative, patient care
  • Overview of OSP Tools & Purposes
    • 1) Collect & Reflect – Resource, 2) Scaffold/Guide – Forms (templates forced or free form), Wizards, Matrices, Glossary, 3) Present – Portfolios, Styles, Layouts, Templates, 4) Assss & Evaluate – Evaluations, Reports
    • Demo – Interface for version 2.2. (rSmart Version)

      • Collect – Resources and Assets/Artifacts, Reuse Data (Forms submitted – push out to students, Assignments Created)
      • Scaffold – Matrix includes a table for criteria and Level of mastery, drag and drop assets into each cell. Example: University of Hawaii, Kapiolani Community College. Core Teacher Standards Matrix (sample lesson plan, video clip, etc.) and during upload complete a rubric/expectation then say why it met the criteria.
      • Demonstrate/ Present – Styles, Portfolio Layouts, Template, View Other Users Portfolios
      • Assessment & Evaluation – Evaluations and Reports (still under construction)
    • OSP Processes

      • Clarify Needs & Goals
      • Define Scaffolding
      • Build Portfolio Elements
      • Reflect & Synthesize (Students)
      • Give & Receive Feedback (Faculty & Students for Peer Review)
      • Develop Presentations (Students)
      • Run Reports (Admin)
    • 15 Pilot Sites across schools and disciplines in the Michigan OSP Pilot

      • Planning and Design Phase to surface best practices.
      • Build local environments to translate best practices into OSP forms, matrices, and wizards (currently only 1 site built)
      • Use & Evaluation to capture and disseminate learning across pilot sites
    • State of Rhode Island (rSmart and Sakai) is encouraging students in High School to complete portfolios which is integrated with assignments. Instructors indicate criteria/goals/outcomes for the assignment which is then linked to a portfolio requirement and students can present evidence for this completion.

Use of Sakai at the University of Michigan
John Leasia, University of Michigan”The UofM has been using Sakai for several years, first in pilot, then in parallel with their legacy home grown system, and now as the single system in full production. An overview of the installation will be provide with information on the usage, infrastructure, staffing and support in places. A demonstration will be given with examples of in class and project sites.”CTools = Sakai at the University of Michigan

  • Demonstration

    • My Workspace is front page. Users can create Resources (create folders and items, can make public, similar to Bb Content System), access schedule/calendar (collective view, can also create personal items), announcements (collective view), news tools (rss feed display), web content tool (tool that displays a url, similar to external links in Bb), my profile, worksite setup (displays all courses and manages groups and tools).
    • Instructor View. UofM offers on course menu: Syllabus, Schedule, Announcements, Resources, Modules, Discussion, Message Center, Assignments, Gradebook, Drop Box, Chat Room, Wiki, UM News, Web Content/External Links, Library Reserves, Site info, Help. Recent announcements, discussion, chat messages on the front page of a course. Similar to What’s New functionality.
    • Resource area can contain folders and items. Used for lecture notes, etc. The resource area cannot be sorted manually yet, this is coming in a future release.
    • Assignment tool allows to create an assignment that students create a submission to. Accept until and Due Date fields. You can choose to allow inline or attachment or both submissions. You can add a due date to the schedule, you can add an announcements, and add an honor pledge when creating an assignment. The student view contains a status indicator, such that includes task oriented flags such as: not started, started, completed. Instructors can allow students to resubmit.
    • Gradebook had to be customized. Gradebook didn’t have a few features and Berkley customized the gradebook and UofM was able to use. In the future, you will beable to upload the gradebook.
    • Student View Toggle: Displays student view.
    • Drop Box. Each student has a folder, instructors see all folders. Can create items into the drop box using inline editor or upload.
    • Schedule Tool. By adding an event, you can type instructions into the calendar event and give it an event type of “deadline”. Deadline flags the calendar item with an exclamation point.
    • Modules/Melete. Allows instructors to construct a trail. Sequential and filtered by date. Similar to Learning Units in Blackboard. Not developed at UofM, but by Foothills Community College.
    • Courses have a “Users present” function identifying who is online.
    • Blue Stream (repository of media which can do conversions from one to another) in the future. Working eventually to integrate with Sakai.
    • Email Notification when creating Web Content/External Links. It appears many content types allow Email Notification.
    • Search Tool is new and was developed by Cambridge. Uses meta-data entered by instructor under the options area.
    • Discussion tool. Simplistic, easy to use. Doesn’t do a lot. Does get a little tedious when used as a main feature. When it gets to 90 topics it gets difficult to view what you have read and not read. Indiana University created a Message Center as a better tool. A user can turn on unread or new postings. Also a private message area with private discussion with others in the class. Neat feature that allows you to have public and private discussions in the same board. Has gradebook feature.
    • Jforum has been created by Foothills Community College also. Decision has to be made whether or not to use all 3 forums (Discussion, Message Center, Jforum) or just 1.
    • Chat. Messages are archived. Simple interface, users in chat, text field.
    • Wiki Tool. For projects. Doesn’t have a WYSIWYG editor.
    • iTunes U integration is available.
  • is a demo server managed by the Sakai Foundation.
  • UofM Statistics:

    • UofM recently added: Wiki, Modules, Gradebook, Assignment, Groups (all these were created by other colleges).
    • UofM coming up: groups include resources, improved wysiwyg, UM specific gradebook, iTunesU, and the following tools are currently in test: message center, ePortfolio.
    • UofM coming next: search, ocw, resources enhancements, Test and Quizzies, jForumm, Blog tool, course evaluation (Virginia Tec).
    • UofM coming in the future: CANS (what’s new), Synoptic Calendar, Checklist, Linktool, LAMS (learning module creator), SakaiLibrary, Goal Management, Mailtool (Boston University), Stats Tools (Missouri).
    • UofM current usage: 3020 Fall 06 class sites, sites with Wiki 771, sites with modules tool 303, sites with gradebook tool 1004, sites with iTunes U tool 48.
    • UofM usage from Winter 2006: Max users 4306, Course sites 2791.
    • UofM usage currently includes 8 servers.
    • UofM summer data includes 400-600 active users during the week.
  • Support

    • 90 hours week temporary workers
    • 1.5 FTE
    • Training and Documents
  • Campus Integration Issues

    • Login Integration
    • SAMS, gradebook and assessment tool for Physics, randomize answers and questions
    • LSA-ART, statistical package for curriculum planning
    • MScribe, physics podcasting, video/audio/slides
    • Gradetools
    • Roster/Profile (student pictures), integrate with MAIS to get access to pictures
    • Academic Calendars

Can A Small Institution Run and Support Sakai?
Daniel Tyger and Noah Botmier, Saginaw Valley State University

“This presentation will focus on the trials and tribulations a smaller, financially challenged institution must face when considering the implementation, adoption and support of Sakai. What are the bare bones hardware and software specs, server support personnel, and front-end training needs?”

  • 9,400 students
  • Blackboard user for 6 years
  • 800 courses using Blackboard Basic (unable to access Building Blocks, SSL or LDAP)
  • Piloted Moodle but are no longer using.
  • Piloted Sakai
  • 107 courses are now using Sakai
  • Software Stack includes core functionality with the following sitting on top: JForum, Goal Management (Syracuse), OSP, Melete
  • SVSU appears to be working to batch processing of Sakai to automate some of the course sites creation. They appear to not have investigated the automation capabilities of Blackboard Enterprise.
  • In order to run Sakai, you would nee a Server-Side Support Person with XML, Java, MySQL, OS configuration skills.
  • Melete is a good tool, but it is pretty challenging and painful to set up.
  • Course Archives is currently a functionality with Sakai that is not working.
  • Standards compliance is coming around.
  • Publishers haven’t really offered much for Sakai as of yet.
  • The presenters mentioned that they thought that there hasn’t been much innovation with Bb lately (for 2 years). (Side Bar: It is important to note that Saginaw Valley is running Blackboard Basic, and also hasn’t upgraded their Blackboard install since 2004. SVSU appears to be running version 6.2, and 6.2 has been out since the Fall of 2004. Since that time, Bb has released, 6.3, 7.0, and 7.1. The list of innovation and/or expanded features is extensive.)

Blue Moon: IBM’s Collaborative Learning Services for Education
Jenny Chow, IBM

“IBM is a commercial partner of Sakai and continues to support the community through code donations, developer support, and other initiatives to help foster innovation and growth. Based on this partnership and others, IBM has developed a standards based framework for education that leverages components from both the open source communities and the commercial world. Working with rSmart, IBM has developed solution bundles for clients to support production implementations of Sakai. IBM believes standards-based open technologies, utilizing such advances as service-orientated architecture, will increase access to education, improve operational productivity, reduce costs, and improve academic achievement. This presentation includes a demonstration of typical scenarios from a hosted instance of this framework highlighting benefits we are bringing to our pilot uses.”

  • Unable to Attend

1 Comment so far
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The subsequent versions of Blackboard upgrades that you mention (6.3, 7, 7.1) offered little-no extension of functionality for BASIC customers.


Comment by Daniel Tyger

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