"The SAKAI Project is a collaboration among several higher education institutions to develop and share open source software." Universities involved are MIT, U. of Michigan, Indiana U., and Stanford. Looks like it is going to be a Java implementation under its own license. Here are some articles:
Sakai Project launches groundbreaking open source collaboration[U. of Michigan]
Sakai Project Launches Groundbreaking Open Source Collaboration [Indiana U.]
It's interesting to read Blackboard's response in this excerpt from an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
(I don't work for the Sakai Project. I just read the above article.)
Critics cited in the Chronicle article are using the same arguments used by opponents of other open source projects. Here are some excerpts from that article:
"Open source is great and it's free, but who do you go to when it's not working right?"asked Trace Urdan, an equity analyst at ThinkEquity, in San Francisco. "There is value to the sales process. It isn't simply how you get the customer to buy the product. There's education, and support, and accountability."
"Do you want to be part of a small-developer community, or do you want to join a large-developer community where the costs are spread out more?" [Blackboard's chairman] Mr. Pittinsky asked.
The readers of this forum probably know how they would answer the above questions.
These guys from these Unis are always announcing this stuff, it seems, yet with little impact beyond the initial hoopla. Seems like a lot of people are soaking up a lot of nice grant money, then thinking up ways to get more.
I spent some time talking with people from Coursework last year about how their product could be a better open source project so maybe something will happen this time around.
Stumbled across this article and wanted to pass it on as an FYI to this discussion. It mentions Moodle,too.
Sakai Project Offers an Alternative to Commercial Course-Management Programs
By JEFFREY R. YOUNG
For colleges that adopt Sakai, an open-source course-management system released this summer, there is no toll-free number to call to report a bug or request a new feature. But because the software's underlying code is published for all to see, colleges' programmers can build any patches or tools that they want, or find other users who might have already made the desired changes.
The goal of the effort is to stop the rising cost of course-management software, which professors use to create Web pages for their courses. The programs have become essential tools on many campuses. A few years ago colleges that bought such software typically paid only a few thousand dollars per year. Now, however, some of the same companies charge tens or even hundreds of thousands for their products, and college officials worry that costs will continue to soar.
The success of Sakai depends largely on whether its leaders can foster a community of users and developers who contribute their programming skills and ideas to the free-software project. With that in mind, project leaders started the Sakai Educational Partners' Program in February. The program has quickly grown from the initial 19 members to more than 46, with each institution paying a $10,000-a-year membership fee for at least three years.
And some open-source enthusiasts are looking to the project as a model that -- if it works -- could lead to similar collaborations by colleges to build all kinds of software products.
Just last month a project modeled on Sakai was begun to create financial-information-system software for colleges, although it will not have a working prototype for another two years ("Next Up for Open Source: Financial Systems," The Chronicle, September 10).
At the first meeting of Sakai partner colleges, held here this summer, Joseph B. Hardin, who is chairman of Sakai's board of directors and director of the University of Michigan's Collaborative Technologies Laboratory, repeated a refrain so often that it began to draw laughs: "Go to the discussion groups." Sakai partners need to be active in online forums, he said, and need to be willing to give advice and help others, in addition to seeking help when problems arise.
"Collaboration costs often sink projects like this," said Mr. Hardin at an opening session of the meeting. Besides trying to build good software, he said, Sakai's leaders have been working to answer the question, "How would you drive cooperation costs between all these schools essentially to zero?"
Although open-source software is free, experts say estimating the total costs of using it is difficult because of the time and effort required to install and modify the programs.
Over the course of the meeting, Mr. Hardin and other Sakai leaders laid out their vision of how the participating colleges could collaborate efficiently on the software project, and attendees seemed as interested in hearing that plan as they were in seeing demonstrations of the actual software. An early version of the program was released at the conference, and a public release was made a few weeks later.
Other college officials who attended the meeting said that while a plan for cooperation is important, they were keener on measuring the enthusiasm and commitment of the people leading the project. It's that enthusiasm, they argued, that will determine the software's success or failure.
College officials are also watching to see how commercial course-management providers like Blackboard and WebCT respond -- and whether they make their software compatible with Sakai or take a competitive stance.
Sakai is led by Indiana University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and Stanford University. Each of the four had already built its own course-management system rather than purchase a commercial product. They decided that it would be easier to produce software jointly, and make it free to all, than to continue going it alone. They got a $2.4-million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the open-source project.
For the initial version of Sakai, programmers essentially took the best parts of each of the partners' four existing programs, using Michigan's software, called Chef, as the foundation. The name Sakai refers to a chef on Iron Chef, a popular cable-television cooking show.
To demonstrate their commitment to the software, all four universities have pledged to use Sakai campuswide by 2005. Michigan started running it this fall. So the software will have, at the very least, a few programmers on each of the campuses who are devoted to refining and adding to it. Each institution expects to spend about $1-million in staff time on the project.
In part because the initial release was created in just six months, the first version of Sakai is not quite ready for prime time, according to its creators. But an upgrade is already well under way, and the plan is to release version 2.0 by next summer. In the meantime, partner colleges are being encouraged to test the software and begin designing add-ons.
An institution does not have to be a Sakai partner to get the software. Anyone can download Sakai free from the project's Web site (http://www.sakaiproject.org). But partner colleges get early releases of upgrades as well as access to meetings with project leaders and other developers.
Any college -- whether or not it is a Sakai partner -- can look under the hood and change the software itself. More important, because all of the software's code is published, programmers can easily design homemade software to work with the Sakai system.
For instance, if a college's programmers have built a calendar program, they can integrate that into Sakai so that the programs work seamlessly together.
That flexibility will be a big plus, officials say. Commercial providers like Blackboard and WebCT publish some of their computer code to allow colleges to build add-on tools, but the companies are far more guarded about their core programming code, and they do not generally allow colleges to alter the programs' core code.
Robert Lowden, vice president for information technology at Indiana University's Indianapolis campus, told the partners' meeting that an institution seeking a new feature for Sakai has three options: suggest to the project's leaders that the feature be added to the core software, form an ad hoc partnership with another college to build the feature, or build the add-on itself.
"Our strongest strength is intellectual property," said Mr. Lowden. Although the commercial providers might be able to employ more full-time programmers than colleges do, he said, colleges have direct access to professors who submit feedback and ideas for features. The trick will be to harness that resource, he said, adding "we can hire 12,000 faculty members" as advisers. The project's leaders hope that Sakai will help spread innovative tools created by individual faculty members. On many campuses, professors come up with high-tech teaching tools, often with the help of small grants from their institutions, but then fail to share the tools with others. If those tools could easily be made compatible with Sakai and offered through the Sakai community, many campuses could end up sharing and using them.
Two forthcoming features of the software generated the most buzz at the meeting: an advanced online grade book and an online testing tool. Both projects were developed by professors and are being adapted to work with Sakai.
"We cannot innovate fast enough for the wonderful things our faculty are doing with teaching and learning, and also just the things our students expect with electronic services," says Bradley Wheeler, vice chairman of Sakai's board and associate vice president for research and academic computing at Indiana University at Bloomington. "So I need to be able to leverage the innovation of others."
An unresolved question is whether Blackboard, WebCT, and other companies will make their software work with Sakai.
In July, Blackboard submitted a letter to Sakai's board asking to be a Sakai corporate partner. The company pledged to publish instructions on how to make Blackboard's software compatible with Sakai within 45 days of each formal Sakai upgrade.
"Attempts in the industry to create all-in-one proprietary applications that ignore or alienate community development are, in our opinion, misguided," said the letter, signed by Matthew Pittinsky, Blackboard's chairman. It was also signed by computing officials at Dartmouth College, Northwestern and Princeton Universities, and the University of Cambridge, in England, which are Sakai partners and Blackboard customers. But Sakai's leaders declined the request.
"At this time, Sakai wants to work with those few firms that are supporting the Sakai software, and for this reason these companies that have similar products wouldn't qualify for the commercial-affiliates program," said Jim Farmer, director of Sakai's partner program. The group has named four other affiliates, however -- Embanet, the R-Smart Group, SunGard SCT, and Unicon, which plan to offer Sakai user support for a fee.
In response, Mr. Pittinsky sent an e-mail message to officials at Sakai partner colleges stating that the company still hoped both to work with Sakai and to support open standards.
He said in the e-mail message that he had heard from customers that they saw Sakai as a way to develop tools they could add to Blackboard or other commercial products, rather than as a replacement for the commercial software. "To be sure," he added, "others may be kicking the tires for a substitute. Whatever the reason for membership, I wanted you to know that working well with Sakai is a personal priority of mine."
During one evening event at the Sakai meeting here, officials nursed complimentary cocktails while they browsed a room with computer stations demonstrating Sakai software.
Several participants said they were impressed by both the demonstrations and the people involved in the project.
Rory Mather, a Web developer for the University of Hawaii, said he arrived at the conference doubting whether the project would get off the ground. His university is a partner institution, but he had not been involved in the decision to join. He was sent as a representative to find out more about the software.
He said he was impressed by "the energy behind it and a clear depth of knowledge -- that gives me confidence that something is going to come of this."
"It doesn't feel like a research project," he said. "It really feels more like a company than an academic project. ... I'm seriously going to push it."
In what was perhaps a sign of that enthusiasm, the project's leaders soon donned tall white chef's toques emblazoned with the Sakai logo and posed for a group picture. But can the enthusiasm be maintained for years or decades?
An open-source course-management-software project that got its start in Australia in 1999 is still going strong, according to its leaders. The free software, called Moodle, is in use at more than 1,800 colleges, schools, and institutions, most of them outside of the United States.
Some corporate officials, however, say companies are the safer bet when it comes to longevity. They point to some open-source projects that have sputtered due to lack of interest.
Kevin Kohn, vice president of marketing for RedDot, which sells course-management software, says of open-source leaders, "a lot of these guys are just incredibly bright," but as time goes on, "they get a little bored and move on to the next project."
"Usually it starts out with a good plan," he says, "but it gets defused because there's a lot of people involved."
Section: Information Technology
Volume 51, Issue 5, Page B12
Reports of this to the Sakai folks seem to be met with nonchalance, they apparantly have a different attitude about the meaning of "RC" than standard.
Here in the states, this is the first major exposure many IT directors have to the idea that OSS might be respectable (with the MIT, Stanford, and UofM involvement), so on that side it is a good thing. On the downside, merging the various home built CMS's into one working system seems like an engineering nightmare. If they had asked me I would have told them to either build something from scratch or take once existing project and build on that (Iowa and Hi.'s OSS financial management project is using this model), but they didn't.
The danger is all that money thrown at the project, if it fails to deliver (& with their cathedral mode and commitee based development path, it's pretty likely to deliver far less than it could have for the time and $ invested, IMO, it may put a damper on OSS use in US higher Ed.
I'm telling folks that if they like the idea of what Sakai says it will deliver someday, they should install Moodle now.
Another thing about Sakai that I perceive will be a problem, is that it is focused on higher education only. To be a partner, one has to pay $10,000, and this will effectively limit its audience I think to universities.
While Moodle was initially developed for university level courses, it has developed in such a way that it is also very suitable for other educational contexts as well, in particular, schools. This in my own opinion, is a very good thing. Frankly, I think school teachers are much more innovative in their teaching methods than college professors. And school children are less afraid of creative teaching methods than college students are. And let us not forget, to be a teacher requires one to take classes in teaching in most cases, the same is not true to become a professor. So teachers have a better grounding in educational methods.
I'm not knocking professors, but even the best ones still mostly conceive of a course as a syllabus, books and articles to be read, papers to be written, and tests to be taken. So with Moodle being friendly to other types of users besides universities, it fosters more creative development in my opinion.
As for the remark in the article that companies have a better chance of surviving, I just had to laugh. Are people's memories so short that they already have forgotten the dot.com bust?
>>The program has quickly grown from the initial 19 members to more than 46, with each institution paying a $10,000-a-year membership fee for at least three years.
Gahhh! $10k x 3 commitment for participant institutions for a platform that is still non-functional?
Listen, I love the good folks at Mellon, and myself and local faculty members have often directly and indirectly benefited from their philanthropy (access to JStor, Appalachian College Association conferences, stipends etc.).
>>They got a $2.4-million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the open-source project.
Think what might have happened if they had donated some of that $2.4 million to MOODLE development instead.
Hey Martin, have you ever been approached by any of the big U.S. higher ed philanthropies like Mellon, Carnegie, Sloan, duPont, or others? Or are they looking at strictly homegrown solutions...
What has been achieved so far, mostly by people working gratis or for very little here at Moodle on their own equipment, is worth a lot more than $2.4 million. What gets results, in my experience, is not necessarily having a lot of money behind a project, but having enthusiastic individuals involved who are commited to producing the best product possible.