woensdag, juni 27, 2007

Agenda for next meeting (July 4)

The last meeting of the Sakai Special Interest Group The Netherlands of the current academic year is scheduled for July 4 (next Wednesday). Main agenda item is the evaluation of the University of Twente of Sakai. The complete agenda of this meeting is available for you to read (in Dutch).
In case you are planning to attend, a little note by email would be appreciated.

dinsdag, juni 26, 2007

Final reports of University of Twente

Today we have formally finished our evaluation of Sakai (regarding community, functionality of Sakai, technical aspects and financial aspects). You will find all information and our reports on our website, http://www.utwente.nl/elo. The reports are all in the Dutch language, but they all have an extensive summary in English. The final report ("Eindadvies") is being translated in English in full as we speak.
To summarize our work: we are quite happy with Sakai (version 2.3 that is), but some functionalities should be worked on before we would go into full production. Furthermore we will need to look into MS Sharepoint regarding possible components that could fulfill some of our needs. So, all in all this boils down to a final decision that will be made in the spring of next year (2008).
Our reports now go into the formal decision process. We will keep you posted.

vrijdag, juni 22, 2007

Let's talk pedagogy?

For those who are a member of the pedagogy discussion group may have witnessed a very lively discussion going on on all matters around pedagogy (or didactics as the colleagues from Norway would say) (pedagogy@collab.sakaiproject.org). To me this is an immediate effect of the Amsterdam conference. I can't remember that the discussion has been so intensive as it is right now. That's the good thing about it. I've tried to keep up with the discussion for a few days, and also replied with some posts, but simply don't have enough time right now. Because there are so many contributions (already 35 today, and the Americans are still working at this time...) it becomes difficult to keep track of all the discussion threads that are going on. You have to read every mail to see who is replying to who, and if anyone has replied to your own contribution. I noticed one remarkable post by Clay Fenlason saying that "Just as developers can get preoccupied with the cool next thing and leave the user behind, so also can pedagogists get swept up by the vision of the big rethink". It took about some 20 further posts before someone replied to this... Hopefully things will get organised soon into relatively small working packages in which the requirements are fullfilled, instead of loosing ourselves into extensive discussions that sometimes don't have a clear focus.

donderdag, juni 21, 2007

Some news from last week on film :-)

Last week, www.edusite.nl, the website with lots of elearning coverage in The Netherlands, was present at our conference. They released some video-interviews on Sakai yesterday.
Check it out (in WMV format): Chuck (in English), Michael (in English) and, well, yes, and me (in Dutch).... When I was interviewed the camera was so close to my head (!), but the end-result is quite OK, don't you think?
For those who read Dutch, you can also read on Edusite the summary of the Q&A session with the Board.

woensdag, juni 20, 2007

Executive dinner - part 2

This is a second post on the executive dinner last week in Amsterdam. There are three more things that are worth mentioning here and are fit for publication. Some other things are also really worth mentioning, but are not fit for publication yet. Please keep coming back and you might find out!
First of all there was a quite interesting point that was made by John Norman, the chair of the Sakai Board of Directors. He told us that for them, at the University of Cambridge, one of the big benefits of joining Sakai is what he calls 'staff development'. Because you are engaged in a worldwide, very fast-moving community, your staff gets much more opportunities to develop themselves. And you also can attract more easily the people that you need, because of the Sakai work that you need to do. This is really true for Cambridge. They have indeed attracted at least two sofware engineers from outside the UK to work for them.
Another interesting discussion we had was about software licensing. Well, actually it was about freedom of choice ofcourse! Most (commercial) software licencing schemes are based on 'seats' or 'users' or 'accounts', or maybe 'campus' or 'location'. This is very confining to the way we operate as educational institutions. This will simply not hold true in our sector. Think about all the collaboration we do, within our country, or even within the EU. Or what about the guest lecturers that we invite to our campuses. Officially they most likely are not allowed to use your VLE. There was given an example of a portofolio system in the UK that caused these kind of headaches to the ones involved. Because of the Educational Community License of Sakai, I can give away as many accounts and access rights to our Sakai system as needed. And we have done that already, and we will. There is one account underway right now!
One other interesting aspect of Sakai that we discussed is that a 'surprising' amount of Sakai installations are not physically based at a educational institution. Someone said that maybe about 50% of Sakai use is through intermediaries. So, in case you feel that your institution is not capable of hosting and servicing Sakai (which is indeed not that easy), you can rely on a service provider. This is true in the US, but also in The Netherlands. Go talk to Stoas, Portfolio4u, A New Spring, Omix or Edia! They will be more than happy to assist you. And if you want more 'independent' advice, please feel free to contact me.

zaterdag, juni 16, 2007

Executive dinner - part 1

Wednesday, June 13, was the 2nd day of the latest Sakai conference. It was a busy day, as I mentioned earlier. I had been looking forward to this day for quite some time. Mainly because Frank Benneker and myself organized a dinner meeting on behalf of SURFfoundation between the Sakai Board and representatives of SURFfoundation, plus executives from Higher Education instituions in The Netherlands. The exchange of ideas during the meeting was very open and honest. Charles Severance had prepared a very thorough, but concise, walkthrough of what Sakai is, why Sakai exists, and who is part of it. This laid the foundation for some thorough discussions that we had.
Let me just give some highlights:
  1. The relation with Oracle, more specifically regarding Peoplesoft Campus Solutions, was asked for. Apparantly this good news had not travelled in the right directions: that the integrations between Campus Solutions and Sakai is being worked on quite extensively and that some results should be expected by the end of the year. The University of Amsterdam is closely involved in this effort.
  2. Security and reliability of Sakai. I could say the same thing ('news has not travelled yet'). Twofold answer: there is very effective security procedure in place, headed by Anthony Whyte, but secondly there has not been any major breakdown of a Sakai installation due to hackers and/or very clever students. In a sense this was the question if open source software is enterprise ready, scalable and secure. We answered this very effectively, I think.
Some more highlights in a later post....

vrijdag, juni 15, 2007

UX stands for "User Experience"

Originally uploaded by wytze
Already in Atlanta I heard about the Fluid Project. At that time I didn't really understand the possible impact, ambitions and scope of this endeavour. Ofcourse not everything could have been clear at that time either, because the project team was still working ong the proposal. Eventually the project received funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in April 2007 for a 2-year timeframe. The Fluid project is led by the University of Toronto, with core participation from the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Cambridge, the University of British Columbia and York University..
This Amsterdam Sakai conference was the second encounter I had with the project. And I am impressed and I am really looking forward to the results.
Friday morning, while the official conference was already over, I attended an extensive session on the project and its goals. I am not even going to try to sum up all the good things I heard, also because some things are fairly technical. I will just give you my summary here.
First of all this is not just a project within the Sakai context. It is a project that actually all open source software projects should benefit from. The closest relations right now are with Sakai, Moodle, Kuali Student and uPortal. IBM and Sun Microsystems are also partners in the project. The project will provide common tools, as well as guidelines and software components for improving the usability and the accessibility of software. The goals of the project are very ambitious and are described as flexible user interfaces (what do you think of 'swappable interfaces at runtime'!). The project will also explicitly build a community around the efforts, so that it will be sustainable after the funding period. Every contribution is appreciated.
If one wants to put it a little bit differently, one could say that this project will infuse Sakai and other systems with those Web 2.0 features that everyone has come to love, combined with complete accessability, through keyboards and screenreaders. There is already (and we are only two months in the project) a very nice demonstration of what is possible, which is called Lightbox.
The first thing that will be done next, is what is called UX walktroughs. This will mean very detailed analysis of usage of the system right now. Sakai will be one of the systems that will be analysed like this. Signup for this effort is possible; I am seriously thinking about doing this. Go to www.fluidproject.org (website and wiki are being organized while you read) if you also want to give your contributions to this great project.

The countries we came from

Originally uploaded by wytze
Yesterday at the closing sesssion, there were some interesting numbers. The total number of participants was almost 400. This is the splitup of the numbers. There were 89 people from The Netherlands, which is a big succes in my opinion!

Impressions on June 14th

June 14th was for me the third and last conference day. First I joined a session by Angelica Risquez from the University of Limerick. They use the rSmart hosted CLE solution. Despite the fact that rSmart did a thorough re-design of the Sakau GUI and combined functional components based on processes from the end user perspective there are still some problems. There seems to be a new version of the rSmart solution, but I don't have the details yet. Baiscally the end user requires too much navigation to get to the point where he wants to. The combination of functional components ('Learn', 'Inform', etc.) is not always logical and inflexible. Moreover, instructors tend to use it in different ways. It would be a good thing if an institute could make adaptations to the default settings that rSmart has chosen.
After that I went to a track of three sessions on the use of OSP. For me it was the first time to get some in-depth information on how OSP is used in daily practice. I saw some nice examples being presented. Marij Veugelers (University of Amsterdam) stressed that you have to organize your projects very well to be successful. Project manager, educational technology consultants, support, community of practice, communications are important components. Natasa Brouwer showed an interesting example in a 3yrs. chemist Bachelor program. The next presentation by Sara Hill adds some additional pedagogical issues to this like the issue that students have to get used to reflect on their work. Reflection should be carefully integrated into the curriculum. One of her lessons learned was the reflection intervals have to be planned in order to keep the process going one. Furthermore, it is a good thing to include peers into the reflection process. The third OSP presentation by Bergman & Poklop introduced a portfolio review tool. At Northeastern University (Boston, MA) the instructors experienced problems with finding the right portfolio in order to give their feedback/review. The Education technology department developed a PHP application that includes a reporting system. It can query the database, send alerts to the reviewer and delivers automated review reporting. All reviews are gathered in an overview matrix. One can click on every review to see what the specific details are. There was a lot of interest from the audience for this tool.
Finally I joined the presentation by Andreas Wittke from Lubeck. Although it was one of the last sessions, the title of the presentation did it's work: Zurich 2 was almost full (about 100 people)! For those who consider Sakai as a sort of religion, this presentation might have put them with both feet on the ground again. In a clear and sometimes humoristic style Andreas argued that the end users (in most cases he deals with instructors/teachers) don't care so much about architecture. That's something they can't see. They look at the front-end. The Moodle interface is much more what the teachers like and is easy to work with. So they prefer to use Moodle. Sakai also suffers from a communication (or marketing) problem, and I agree with that. The amount of people that know Moodle is much higher than those who know Sakai. In his conclusions Andreas mentioned that we might look into joining forces: Sakai has the better technical points (database, architecture), Moodle is superior from the usability perspective. Why not work together, instead of being competitors? Come together and discuss! The problem might be that the Moodle community is not as clear as the Sakai community. The people in the Sakai Foundation are easily recognized, but to whom should they talk in the Moodle community? You may want to keep posted by reading Andreas' weblog (in German).

donderdag, juni 14, 2007

The second day

Unfortunately I was only able to attend the morning sessions, since I had to join an important executive board meeting from the 3 technical universities in the Netherlands. The morning started with an interesting breakfast talk with Prof. Rolf Granow from Lubeck. I met him the first time during the Lubeck conference, and it was good to talk to him again. One of the things that came out was a further exploration concerning the possibility of developing a joint studyprogram on industrial engineering. This can be well related and embedded into initiaves that fit the Bologna process. After that I joined a presentation on Learning styles and the online environment by Susan Roig and Melissa Zhou (click here). On the one hand the presenters explained about the eight types of intellingence by Gardner and how that could reflect onto the instructional design of a course. They showed a nice example of a biology course, which was originally developed with another tool however. The course was presented in Sakai, but it could also have been another system. I was hoping to hear more specifically about how Sakai functionality was used in relation to specific learning styles. Maybe in terms of predefined sets of functionality that is required for a typical learning style (e.g. verbally oriented). On the other hand Zhou presented about a functional evaluation of Sakai. This was interesting, especially in relation with our own pilot project. It turned out to be a very critical analysis, although some of the points were more related to organisation instead of Sakai. I think it proves that the Sakai still has to deal with a major challenge from the end user perspective. Roig and Zhou argued that the emphasis is still too much on the development perspective and not on pedagogical issues. They hope that activities on pedagogy issues will increase further on Confluence.
After the coffee break I joined the session of Wytze Koopal. Obviously I was already well informed about the contents of his presentation, but was interested to hear from other experiences. The tips and tricks offered are already listed on Confluence, so I won't list them here again, but I think there are some quite useful issues among them. Today (Thursday, June 14) will be my third and last conference day. I will probably join some more sessions in the teaching and learning track, and of course Andreas Wittke's presentation, which has the challenging title "Why German Universities Choose Moodle instead of Sakai". Tommorow I will work in the quiet surroundings of my home office, trying to finalize on of our Sakai reports and prepare an internal Sakai presentation for next Monday morning.

woensdag, juni 13, 2007

Photo of today

Harriet and the Sqkaiger
Originally uploaded by dr-chuck
Harriet Truscott and the Sakaiger. I am wondering when and where the Sakaiger was invented. Was it in Cambridge (where Harriet is from)? And was it during QA for Sakai 2.2? Any answers would be appreciated...

It has been a busy day

Today was a very busy day, just as I already had foreseen that it would be. Last night I had dinner with the colleagues from the University of Amsterdam, which was time well spent (thanks guys!). I was back in my hotelroom at around 10 PM. Then I needed to upload my photos and wrote a post on Stanley's presentation on this weblog, as well as a warm welcome in the Sakai blogworld for Mara and Chris.
I went to bed well after 1 AM, and stood up at 7.30 AM. Took a shower (woow, that felt good!) and then went straight to my laptop finishing up my presentation. Then phone home and some 10 minutes left for the breakfast, before the sessions would start.
I had an interesting chat with Marc Brierley and missed the first batch of sessions. Marc was curious if and when we would be choosing Sakai. This seemed a returning theme today. I had many people ask me this question. And I just don't know. But we will keep you posted on this weblog as well as on our website, http://www.utwente.nl/elo.
After my chat with Marc, I was introduced to John van Dongen, who works at KPC Groep (website only in Dutch). We talked about barriers to blogging and barriers in general in education in The Netherlands for making innovative use of ICT in education. In his work, he more than once found that schools are blocking all sorts of IP traffic and ports, just because their IT department or external IT consultant says that it is much safer then.... How bad is that for innovation, you would say?
So, then my own moment of truth was there. I will let others blog about that :-)
Finally, in the afternoon we had organized an important meeting. More on that in a next posting....

Sakai on a Stick

Sakai on a Stick
Originally uploaded by dr-chuck
Edia, a small company here in The Netherlands, have produced a great gadget. It is called Sakai on a stick. This is Jaeques Koeman showing it to Charles Severance.
Check out Edia's services around Sakai at their website, www.edia.nl.

Some first day impressions

The impression of the first day is rather good. More than 300 people were present and showed to be very much engaged with the Sakai community. I had two short meetings with the new Sakai executive director Michael Korcuska. One right at the registration desk and the second one after my presentation late in the afternoon. Although I reported some critism from the end user perspective, he thought it is very valuable that this kind of feedback is brought into the community. Another example of how the community is focused on helping each other on a variety of issues was my talk with John Norman. The was also present at my presentation and thought that the improvement issues we have identified in our pilot projects can be overcome. He did a direct offer that the Cambridge people are most happy to support our development staff and help to solve the issues we are dealing with. An open invitation to come over to Cambridge and work together on a number of issues: great!

A last impression I'd like to share here was a morning session I attended which was presented by Paul Warwick (University of Cambridge) together with one of his students. This presentation was very much of interest to me, because of the student view that was presented here. It was a nice and clear presentation, and what is more important a lot of issues correspond with our own experiences. The Cambrigde guys explicitly mentioned the need for consistency of the user interface and the lack of usability. This is assumed to be a barrier especially in a situation of distance education, i.e. where you have limited access to your instructor or mentor to help you in case of a problem. A rather surprising remark I heard was that students (considering themselves as a member of the net generation) still require some student training in Sakai. Maybe this is related to the usability issue? Sakai should be further improved to help 'searchability'. Students consider themselves also a search generation: just type in a word or (part of) a phrase and receive all relevant results. Some other issues are primarily related to the organisation of Sakai sites. Beware of consistency in the use of tools. E.g. teacher A sends e-mails outside Sakai, teacher B sends e-mail with attachments insided Sakai, teacher C sends e-mail but refers to a resources folder for finding the 'attachment'. This can make it very confusing for a student. A nice suggestion is to use specific site templates (depending on a pedagogical scenario) which created a pre-defined site structure.

Preview of our evaluation of Sakai

Originally uploaded by wytze
Yesterday, my colleague Stanley Portier delivered a 30 minute overview of what we did in the last 16 months with Sakai. He presented our (almost) final evaluation results based on our three criteria, which were technical, functional and sustainability.
For all the details you can download his presentation and audio. In a few weeks you will find all our reports (in Dutch, but with English summaries) on our website, which is at http://www.utwente.nl/elo.

dinsdag, juni 12, 2007

Some new blogs on the block

Through the latest newsflash I found out that there are two new blogs within the Sakai community. Incidently both blogs are maintained by Sakai Board members. So for some more news on the current Sakai conference and related stuff, you could go to Mara Hancock or Chris Coppola.
Both blogs are not (yet) on planetsakai, where ofcourse this blog and numerous other already are aggregated.

Pedagogy is key!

This afternoon I sat in a very interesting session here at the Amsterdam conference. It was titled “Practical Pedagogy - Using Sakai Tools in Diverse Teaching Scenarios”. Session leaders were Hannah Reeves and Joshua Pacifici. See http://confluence.sakaiproject.org/confluence/x/hqc for more details. What was nice is that we were asked to split up in groups and to think about Sakai from a teacher perspective. Some very nice suggestions came out of different groups regarding tools to use. What was fascinating to hear is that Agora is considered a tool that is very much usable for different teaching situations.
Agora is a contrib tool, that is in development at Lancaster University in the UK.
You can still go to a presentation on Agora here in Amsterdam, if you are interested (Wednesday, 14:05 - 14:35, Matterhorn 3, Setting up the Agora Online Meeting Tool for Sakai by Adrian Fish, Miguel Gonzalez Losa). Agora will let you do synchronous audio/video conferencing within the Sakai framework. It also lets you archive the session, for later use.

Not busy yet at registration desk

Originally uploaded by wytze
This pictures the registration desk this afternoon. Not so busy, but I am sure it will be tomorrow morning! I heard that there will be 30 nationalities at this conference. The total number of registered participants is also above the expectations of many: more than 375 and still counting!
After taking this picture we went to the Blackboard reception at their offices on Dam Square. Jan Day welcomed us (that is, me and Jan van den Berge of Portfolio4U) and almost immediately we got presented our first 'bitterbal'. We enjoyed some beer with some Blackboard employees. I also had a chat with Chuck, as well as with Michael Korcuska, the new executive director. This was a very interesting conversation. Michael was very interested in the situation regarding Sakai in The Netherlands, as well as the results of our pilots with Sakai at the University of Twente. He wasn't surprised that in our evaluation the most critical factor was the functionality and usability of Sakai.
Furthermore Michael invited me to give my opinions on different things regarding Sakai. I emphasized that, in my opinion, our marketing and communication should be better. And furthermore that it is important that the number of production deployments within Europe should get higher.
After thatI had a great dinner at De Waag, together with the guys from Portfolio4U (thanks Jim and Jan!). And now it is time for me to go to bed!

maandag, juni 11, 2007


I just arrived in the Mövenpick hotel. First impression: great hotel! The wireless internet in the room works perfectly (well.... not so, it is getting slower now). My view is facing West: the IJ with the ferries going up and down.
I have just uploaded a few pictures to Flickr, tagged "sakaiamsterdam07". You will find them (and other pictures from other users with the same tag) in the sidebar. Or go directly to http://www.flickr.com/tags/sakaiamsterdam07.

vrijdag, juni 08, 2007

Reception at Blackboard offices in Amsterdam

Just a copy of a message that just came in from Jan Day.
From: Jan Day
Subject: Sakai Conference Amsterdam: Reception Monday, June 11
Date: 2007-06-07 19:36:19 GMT (12 hours and 28 minutes ago)
Dear fellow Sakai Conference attendees,
Allow me to welcome you to Amsterdam with a reception at
Blackboard's European headquarters located in the heart
of Amsterdam. Please join me on Monday, June 11 from
5:30 - 7:30. Come and enjoy drinks and light fare
in the heart of one of my favorite cities.

Complete message, including route description.

donderdag, juni 07, 2007

Interesting presentations, part 3

Today the last recommendations for the upcoming conference. I will point to three sessions that promise to be interesting. I must admit that I am really really looking forward to our next conference. I hope to see people I already know, but I also hope to see and meet people that don't have familiar faces. YES, I really expect and hope to see lots of people that are not part of the Sakai community (yet). I hope that the experience of the conference will make them feel at home too.
My first recommendation, mainly also as a note for myself, is a panel discussion called "Models for Project Teams" (Peter Knoop and others) where several recent examples of how project teams have expanded their membership and adjusted their structure, will be shared. (June 12, Zurich 2, 12.oo hrs)
The second recommendation is a presentation by Jim Farmer, who always has interesting angles to his subject, based on facts and figures. He will present The Public Face of eLearning. Jim will 'prove' that "eLearning does improve retention and completion--two goals of U.S. and U.K. government". (June 12, Zurich 2, 2.40 PM).
And the last recommendation is the public Q&A with the Sakai Board. This is your chance to ask your question that you always wanted to ask. (June 14, 11.30 AM, Zurich 2)

dinsdag, juni 05, 2007

New Executive Director for Sakai Foundation

John Norman, chairman of the Sakai Foundation Board of Directors, has announced today that we have a new Executive Director: "After a thorough search I am pleased to announce, on behalf of the Board of Directors, that Michael Korcuska has been named Executive Director of the Sakai Foundation, effective July 23, 2007. In this role, he will lead the Foundation's activities in developing technology, sharing best practices, and fostering collaboration on behalf of the Sakai community."
Michael (link to this current position, including picture) will be present in Amsterdam, so that he can meet with the community.
See sakaiproject.org for the complete announcement.

maandag, juni 04, 2007

Interesting presentations, part 2

Registration for the Amsterdam conference is still possible. In case you haven't decided yet, let me put the spotlight on two more presentations (well actually 3) that seem very interesting. And these presentations are just a few of the many non-technical presentations that will be available in Amsterdam:
1/ James Dalziel will be doing two presentations. But he will not be in Amsterdam! He will be presenting new developments around LAMS (Learning Activity Management System), but also RAMS (Research Activity Management) through a live videolink. I think that RAMS is a very interesting development in itself. RAMS builds on the LAMS V2 architecture for sequencing of collaborative activities and applies it to eResearch processes such as team meetings, peer review and research lifecycle management. RAMS integrates with Sakai.
2/ In the Teaching and Learning track there is some very interesting stuff. For example a presentation by Paul Turner (School of Information Science & Learning Technologies at University of Missouri-Columbia, USA). Paul will share his latest findings from research on how Sakai can be made more ‘sociable’ to enhance formal and informal social interaction and collaborative learning experiences.
I have linked in this post to the respective pages on Confluence (the wiki of the Sakai commmunity), where the session presenters will post their stuff. If you want to have a complete overview of the day-to-day conference schedule, you should go to https://sakaiproject.org/conference/admin/schedule.php.