donderdag, december 21, 2006

New kid on the Blog

I am new on this Sakai NL blog. My name is Jan van den Berge and I am one of two founders of Portfolio4u. Portfolio4u has translated Sakai to the Dutch Lanquage in cooperation with the UvA (University of Amsterdam).
We are specializing in the Digital Portfolio part of Sakai by using the OSP inside Sakai. Our main customers are educational institutes in the Netherlands starting with student from the age of 12 to adults. At this moment we have more than 16 Sakai implementations and more are on there way.
I visited the last Sakai conference a few weeks ago in Atlanta and I was surprised by all the work that already has been done all around the world.
For me as a sales person of our company I found it hard to believe we can make business with free software. But now, after 1,5 years working with Sakai and the community, I am convinced about the power of Open Source Software and how to make a business of it.
We have contributed our translation to the community and got a lot of things in return from other members of the community, works. It's a new way of thinking, new ways of telling our customers about Open Source Software and news ways of developing the tools and setting up our infrastructure. It's a great feeling to know people all around the world that are doing the same thing.
What I learned in Atlanta is how things are changing at the moment. Big players like BlackBoard seem to going out of business or have to change doing business in a complete other business model. I don't know if they are capable in doing that, so.. time will learn.
Ofcourse not everything is sunshine and lots of work has to be done, but what matters to our company, we believe in it. By specialising in the Portfolio part of Sakai we are one of the few people that are doing that in the world.
We believe that it is a good idea for a school to start working with portfolio's and after that slowly let the application grow to a bigger thing thats supports the complete educational process.
Working with e-portfolio's needs a real serious implementation. You need to look very carefully to the needs of the school and most importantly, what are the skills of the teachers and students. Students are mostly not the problem, but we learned in the last years that lots of teachers have problems or even fear working with digital tools and let go some of their power on groups of students.
So it is not a matter that teacher's dont want to change but lots of them are afraid of losing something. Something that they cannot explain, but it is the way the are working now for centuries. I don't think this New learning is a small change. This is something bigger, it seems to be like a learning or knowledge revolution like many years ago happened during the industrial revolution. So this will be not a easy process but finally people will be learning in an other way then they are used to now.
I believe the future of teachers will be much more interesting then it is now. They are changing from the teacher to coach. Someone thats helps the student how to learn instead of telling him/here exactly what to learn. This wil take still lots of years but you can see the change and the growing believe in this New way of learning.
Tools like Sakai will help teachers in learning to work in new ways. So it's not only a matter of developing this great tool but it is also a matter of learning how we can learn our teachers in using this new tools and finding new way's of working with students.
It seems that the use of the e-portfolio part in Sakai is very strong in the Netherlands and maybe we can tell the community more about what the developments are in The Netherlands during the next Sakai conference in June 2007, Amsterdam.
For the near future we have to develop more and new tools for connecting Sakai to other applications like administration tools and goal registration applications. That shall be a lot of work but I think we can do lots of devellpment within the community.
For now this is my first contribution to this blog and I hope you liked it. I am looking forward of meeting you at the next meeting in januari 2007. I wish you all a great Christmas time and lets make 2007 a real Sakai year.

woensdag, december 20, 2006

Just in case

In case you have not been able to find our 'official' website, I would like to remind you that we have one! It is located on (this is the English version; but there is also a Dutch version, at
On our website you will find our meeting minutes of face-to-face meetings that we have on a regular basis. Our last meeting was on November 22 (minutes of this meeting; in English). Our next meeting will be on January 31, 2007. The website is equipped with an RSS feed too!

donderdag, december 14, 2006

My audience in Arnhem

Photo taken by wytze.
Today, as I mentioned already, I presented at the yearly Open Source symposium. This symposium is mainly geared at the local governments, of which there are more than 400 in The Netherlands. The aim is that they will start working together more closely on the exchange of knowledge on open source and also open standards. Most prominent use of open source in this area is OpenOffice and Linux, but also in the GIS application area.
My first question to the audience was who knew what a VLE (or CMS) is. Most hands were raised, which was actually quite surprising to me.
My talk went OK. I think I have shown that, besides the already mentioned Linux and OpenOffice, there are other areas where opensource software is quite succesfull. It might well be that, because local governments are quite receptive to opensource, that some of them will start trying out Sakai.
Actually most local governments are funding directly lots of primary and secondary schools. We will see who sends me an email in the coming days.

woensdag, december 13, 2006

Tomorrow: Arnhem

Tomorrow I will be doing some evangelism (can I say that?) for Sakai. I will be presenting Sakai (the product, the community, our university and Sakai) at a conference (only in Dutch) primarily focused on the use of open source in local government(s). There are talks about GIS, content managements and OpenOffice.

Maybe I can get some attention and can attain some valuable contacts within this area of our society. You never know. I will keep you posted!

zondag, december 10, 2006

Brooklyn Bridge

Photo taken by wytze.

Because of missing our connecting flight from JFK to Amsterdam, Allard and myself had to stay in New York for one day. We spent this day like real tourists: taking lots of pictures, riding the subway, visiting Brooklyn Bridge, Ground Zero etc. Finally we are home today (Sunday), tired as hell. Our suitcases are still somewhere between New York and Amsterdam :-(
Next time, one thing is sure: we will take a direct flight!

zaterdag, december 09, 2006

Moving to Stoas

This is sort of a personal announcement. I'll be working for Stoas in the new year. I was at the Atlanta Sakai Conference over the last couple of days and realized, when talking to people, that it would be a good idea to give it a little more public attention.

I have had wonderfull years at the University of Amsterdam and learned a lot. In my new position at Stoas I'll be able to work on exisiting systems like Blackboard and new systems like Sakai and other interesting initiatives.

Please feel free to contact me at 'vma {at} stoas {dot} nl'.

Victor Maijer

vrijdag, december 08, 2006

Mixed Sakai feelings

Although my review of the SAKAI system was rather critical I’m impressed by the devotion of the people at the conference. It is nice to see that so many people are working on a development of a system and also come to this kind of conferences. And then of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg, it is a large motivated community. But… I’m still wondering (and I think most of the people here) were we are going. Sometimes the presentations preach of a better open new collaborative world, were everything should be free and we all work together. I also heard a lot of people like myself that have problems with using the interface of the system, and that these problems are not taken seriously by the SAKAI board. So may be we all work together on the same system, the goals, expectations, and requirements do vary for each partner, and almost each individual. The fact is that developments focus on integration, in my opinion it is all very interesting to see that such big interest exists for such kind of tools, but that the investments are enormous and the question is how long these investments and interest will continue. The popularity of Moodle shows also that a large group is still interested in a easy to use, free e-learning system that can be used in a simple way… But for Sakai still a lot has to be done :-)

Do you like German beer?

"Das tolle bei Sakai ist ja immer, das hier viele kleine Tools benutzt werden und die Community wirklich funktioniert." This is the beginning of the latest post on a German weblog that has existed now for some months, where Andreas Wittke is the leading figure. I am going to do a little promotion here for this weblog... So, if you are interested in news about Sakai in the German language, then go the weblog of our collegues from Lübeck.

donderdag, december 07, 2006

On usability evalation of Sakai

Jonathan Howarth is graduate student and has done research on usability of the course management features of Sakai. At Virginia Tech they also use Blackboard, which is quite good in usability.
Jonathan gave an excellent presentation. He started with some fine examples of (un)usability. And then went along with a little theory (just right!): Usability is characteristic of an interactive system that indicates ease of use and usefullness. It is not 'user friendliness' only. The system should help you accomplish something.
Then Jonathan talked about the goals of the usability testing he carried out. The setup of the testing was that of a walkthrough. The 5 participants involved had to do 17 tasks within Sakai 2.2 (they call it Scholar) and had to articulate what they were doing.
The positive feedback that came back from the users: variety of tools is great, thorough Help system, mechanisms for supporting collaboration (although the test was on the course management features of Sakai).
There was a series of usability problems, that some of us are all too familiar with. One of my collegues, Allard Strijker, came to same sort of conclusions after using Sakai 2.2 in his course. The biggest issues that Jonathan has found: terminology, consistency, sections and groups. In the presentation the problems were shown with video's that were recorded. These video's were very informative (you could see the screen and hear the user talking). Some examples: (terminology) The use of the word Roster is different in the Site Info and Gradebook, (consistency) Removing students or removing sections works completely different.
There were much more video-examples in the presentation. They are not on Confluence, because of privacy regulations. You missed something very illustrative, if you weren't there.

User Experience: the theme so far

I am just sitting in on the presentation of the featured speaker of today, Briant Cantwell Smith. He is talking quite philosophical, so far. It should get interesting, I hear from someone who has listened to Brian before. And after some more minutes, it becomes indeed interesting. Briant asserts that people are very capable of swichting their attention (they go up and down the 'attention stack'). After this we heard some interesting implications for software, and specifically Sakai.

Think about this one: "Systems themselves should not occupy our attention - except in times of failure." Most of the times this is not the case in our current systems. One other implication: "Interface should not (in the first instance) provide transparant access to the system". Another implication is that we should pay attention to holism, the overall structure. This is available by thumbing through a book, but not really in software most of the times.

Brian concluded with a conclusion for Sakai: "the experience of the Sakai user should be a) building a research station in Antarctica, or b) participating in philosophy master classes". To put it another way around: the Sakai experience should be anything from a learning system.

Earlier this morning the partner representatives came together and had their 'private' discussion with the Board in the so-called Sakai Foundation Retreat. I won't dwell too much because of the 'privateness' of the discussion. I will leave it that we discussed different subjects. One of them certainly was the room for improvement for the user interface (or the user experience). We also talked about improving our internal communications and external communications. You will see the actions coming sometime near you.

woensdag, december 06, 2006

Realtime collaboration in Sakai: it gets better

Today,Miguel Gonzalez Losa from Lancaster University presented a new set of collaboration tools that they have developed to enhance the collaboration experience within Sakai. They have been funded by JISC in the area of e-Science (or e-Research).

The aim of the project was to create software that was useful, simple and extendable. They didn't want to create 'the most powerful' or 'the most complete' solution.

Features available in Agora are audio/video conferencing, whiteboard, shared desktop and chat. With a very simple PC, of a few years old, you can still have a conference room with 4 to 6 participants. They found a very simple solution for the desktop sharing application: they are only transmitting an image of the screen from person 1 to the rest of the persons. This seems to be enough for most use cases. The same goes for the chat tool: it is geared of sharing simple information like URL's of email-adresses. Everything that is done in the conference room is recorded for later viewing, which is strong feature! This recording is done a the client PC, so that you can (re)view it offline.

Agora can be used with no problem on Windows and Linux computers. For Apple the problem lies in the video and audio conferencing, which is a pity. There is a Agora server needed to make use of Agora.

There are lots of thing still to be done, as Miguel pointed out at the end of his presentation, e.g. whispering mode, full Mac support, encryption and SIP compliancy. They also want to make it available for more opensource projects, like Moodle. That would be a good approach for sustainability of this nice toolset.

Oracle and Sakai: next steps

Linda Feng had an interesting presentation on what Oracle is contributing to the Sakai community. The efforts of Oracle are in the area of exchanging information between Enterprise Campus Solutions and Sakai for course,
person, and enrollment information.

It got interesting when Linda started to talk about standards. So far IMS Enterprise Services v1.0 was not really a standard, as was concluded by their market investigation (every vendor had their own somewhat different implementation) that they have done. Linda and a collegue from Desire2Learn are heading the effort to create the IMS Enterprise Services v.2.0. The scope of this specification was decided on in Heerlen.

Also interesting to see was that they did some mapping between objects between Campus Solution and Sakai. This seems to work out fine, as far as I could see.

Some interesting questions by Linda, that Oracle wants answered by us, the users of Sakai and/or Campus Solutions:

  • Do we expect real-time interaction between Sakai and Campus Solutions?
  • What will be the volume of transactions?
  • How many enrollment transactions occur on average per hour? (during peak enrollment periods, during peak add/drop periods)
I spoke earlier with Cary Brown (also from Oracle) about the fact that they need the European input. So we will stay in touch.
Actually, in this arena there are (in general) 2 possibilities, according to another Dutch collegue in the session: you either go for the combination Blackboard/SAP or you go for Sakai/Oracle. All the rest (he means the local players in The Netherlands) is just 'spielerei'. What do you think?
btw: this is post # 100 on this weblog! hurrah!

We have got a structure!

Charles Severance just started his overview of the Sakai Foundation. His main message was that we are not sprinting anymore, we are at a slower pace, but with much more quality and much more people involved. There were some other interesting messages from his talk:

  1. We now have a sort of organisation chart for the Sakai Foundation, which is good (this says that the Foundation is maturing). The Requirements process is one part of the Foundation, where users have their influence. Software coordination (including QA) and community communication are the other two parts of the Foundation organisation.
  2. Adoption of Sakai is still growing.
  3. There are some working principles, such as Public discourse as much as possible, meritocracy, distributed decision making. The essential principle is that there are no 'bosses' who make the decisions. There are project coordinators (and not managers!), which concept is stolen from the Apache Foundation.

  4. Because of the Requirements process (Mark Norton is coordinator), we don't have to burden the developers with these kind of stuff. They can develop!
  5. There is a community requirements summary for every release, so that there is a short document for everyone to read.
  6. Quality Assurance (coordinator is Megan May) is making more waves. QA makes the final call for a releases. QA broadens the community involvement, because not only nerdy people are involved here.
  7. Anthony Whyte is the coördinator for community communication.
  8. The only thing we are non-transparent about, is security. This is only communicated to people we know (which is also copied from the Apache Foundation) before we inform the public.
  9. Communication should be better :-). We are going to redesign the website and all that stuff that is behind it (seamlessly integrate confluence, jira and collab). One improvement that Chuck kept repeating: we need a document library. I cannot agree more.
  10. One important document in this document library should be a Roadmap.
I will leave it here. The complete presentation is available on Dr Chuck's website.

dinsdag, december 05, 2006

U-Camp: a day well spent

Most of my day I was attending the U-Camp. The morning was spent with some pretty nifty presentations by different presenters. The presentations are(/will) be on the wiki page soon.
The afternoon was more interactive. We had some very interesting discussions on design and user interface issues regarding Sakai. Here are some current and future challenges for Sakai I would like to mention here, that came up during the afternoon.

  1. We have, what was called the Microsoft Office effect: there is a proliferation of functionality within a tool (e.g. Resources tool) and therefore tool get less and less usable, certainly for the first-time user of a tool.
  2. There are tool-silo's. Newcomers are asking questions like "Why is it that I should put all stuff into the Resources tool?" Wouldn't it be great that we would have Flickr Uploadr tool (a litte desktop application), with the same user friendliness, to upload stuff into Sakai?
  3. Sakai technology is complex. Sometimes small changes seem to take forever. For example the Schedule: why is it so hard to display the title of the Month in the right place. Or another big user (support) issue: why are we still having the problem of the Back button, that doesn't behave as expected?
  4. Shouldn't user interface issues be part of QA?
  5. We should focus more on user scenario's (what does the user want to accomplish?) if we (re)build Tools
  6. Sakai as a product is mirroring the community, maybe... It is very difficult for different (working) groups to come to terms with other groups, and that is what you see reflected in the tool-silo's.
More to come.... We still have to start talking about 'real UI delight': how much better will we make Sakai in the future!

Evaluating Sakai after some months

Early this morning, just before the conference really started, I was interviewed by a Sakai board director. The board is in the process of talking with member institutions of the Sakai Foundation, to evaluate and steer the strategic directions of the Sakai Foundation for 2007 and beyond.
I really like the fact that the Board is doing this. The Foundation should know what the individual institutions are working on and where their issues lie. So that's what we talked about. We also talked a little bit about my role as the community manager for Sakai within The Netherlands.
My biggest issue with Sakai, for 2007 (and beyond) is what I would call 'marketing'. This is where our biggest challenge lies for the coming years. And marketing is not a BAD word for me. You might call it 'decent communication', if you like that better. Here are some examples of things I am thinking of.
I am thinking about the teacher, the director, the CIO or the educational designer that has heard of Sakai. I think we should provide them with some whitepapers (shall we call them "sakaipapers"?) that answers their specific questions. These sakaipapers should be easily available from our website.
I think we also need pertinent information regarding features of Sakai. And we really need information about features in future releases. I have not been able, so far, when asked questions, to direct an 'outsider' within The Netherlands to this kind of pertinent information to be found on the Sakai website. My belief is that this kind of information is what could convince someone of going to use Sakai. And if this information is not readily available, they will revert to whatever they are using right now. And ultimately that is NOT what we want, do we?

maandag, december 04, 2006

We are in Atlanta!

Photo taken by wytze.
So, we are here in Atlanta. We, that is Allard Strijker and myself. We had some problems with synchronizing our train schedules, but finally we met at Schiphol airport right on time. After that we had a smooth flight to Atlanta. The biggest hassle (if you can put it that way) was the very strict security measures at the airport.
But once you are through that (no pictures!) security, you can hop right on the MARTA, which brings you almost straight to the conference hotel. Which is HUGE, btw!
Here you see Allard studying the map of MARTA.
Our collegues from Amsterdam should be here already. But haven't seen yet. I have seen Steve Githens already!

vrijdag, december 01, 2006

Critical Sakai review by Allard Strijker

My colleague Allard Strijker will give a presentation at the Atlanta Sakai Conference next week. Within a pilot of Sakai at the University of Twente in the study year 2006/2007 Allard used Sakai within an international master course on knowledge management systems. Together we collected the user experiences which are given from a teacher and student perspective. It's especially interesting to hear about Allard's experiences because he was closely involved with the design and development of TeleTOP, which is currently still the standard virtual learning environment for the University of Twente. Besides being a teacher at the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, Allard may be considered an expert in the field of e-learning. At this moment I will not give away too much information about the presentation, you should hear it for yourself. But be sure there will be some critical remarks. However, I think we shouldn't react too defensive about that, referring to Chuck Severance's statement in Luebeck that the focus should now shift towards the user perspective. This is the only way we can learn from our users and it will help to improve Sakai into a better system. So for those who attend the Atlanta Conference: visit Allard's presentation in the Pedagogy track on Dec. 6th (10.30-11.30 INTL 1).

Busy schedule for Atlanta

Finally I had some time to take a look at the schedule of the Atlanta conference. The schedule is pretty dense and impressive. There really is a lot of good stuff! What strikes me (still!) is that almost all sessions in Atlanta are done by our fellow Americans.... I hope this has changed a bit when we are in Amsterdam. To have at least one genuine 'european' session in Amsterdam, we will have a Birds of the Feather (BOF) meeting for all fellow Europeans in Atlanta.
Besides this BOF, there are some other session that I most certainly will blog about on this weblog.
On Tuesday, Dec 5 (Sinterklaas!), I will be spending my day in the U-Camp: "(..) will provide an opportunity for those interested in the design and support of Sakai to meet, learn, and contribute to the future of the Sakai user experience." The University of Twente already did some preparation for this, which can be found here.
On Wednesday, Dec 6, the day will start of with a keynote by Eben Moglen. This talk will certainly deal with the Blackboard patent. Right after that (at 10.30 AM) my collegue Allard Strijker will present his first experiences with Sakai. At the same time, I might also go to a lecture on "Supporting a Sakai Roll-out". This might provide us with some valuable info on a possible roll-out at our campus some time next year.
At 11.20 AM on this same Wednesday, there is a session on the subject of bridging the gap between Sakai and a Student Information System. Sakai 2.3 has some new services and utilities to make bridging this gap easier. Later on that day (2.20 PM) there is another interesting session on this same theme. This session, from Oracle, is called Sakai Course Mgmt API and Oracle Enterprise Campus Solutions: Oracle will share strategy and architecture to support out-of-the-box integration between Enterprise Campus Solutions and Sakai for course, person, and enrollment information. We will also present analysis and prototyping results of course management integration based on the proposed Sakai Course Management API.

Patent should be reexamined!

Official press release on "November 30, 2006 - The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) today announced that it has formally asked the Patent Office to reexamine and ultimately cancel all 44 claims of Blackboard's patent on e-learning systems (SFLC Press Release). The SFLC filed the request for reexamination on behalf of the Sakai Foundation (, the Moodle Community (, and the ATutor Community (, three open source software projects which develop online educational systems."
There is also a Patent FAQ available.