Sakai 3: What It Is and When To Move To It

I have been getting a lot of questions from the Sakai-curious lately about the whole Sakai 2 vs. Sakai 3 question. When will Sakai 3 be “ready”? When is a good time to migrate? If I’m under pressure to migrate in the short term, what should I do? Should I go to Sakai 2 and migrate later? Or is that like trying to leap the Grand Canyon in two hops? These are tough questions, in large part because they depend a lot on the specifics of your institution. I’m going to do my best to provide some guidelines here and, in the process, provide some context about what Sakai 3 is as well as how the Sakai community is working together on it.

Let’s start with the “what”. Sakai 3 is a re-imagination and re-architecture of the Sakai platform. It’s a pretty significant change all around. Sakai Foundation Executive Director Michael Korcuska has a pretty good overview presentation of the project’s goals:

There are some good slides toward the end of the deck that address questions about timelines and migration, too. If you want to get a rich, nuanced, and unapologetically academic discussion of Sakai 3’s goals and motivations, you’ll want to watch Sakai Foundation Product Manager Clay Fenlason’s thoughtful presentation from the recent Australian Sakai conference:

It’s worth taking a moment to talk a bit about who Clay is. Clay is actually the Director of Educational Technology at Georgia Tech and is on loan to the Sakai Foundation. After serving some time as a member of the Foundation Board, he stepped down so that he could take up a role as a temporary Foundation employee, focused on helping the Sakai community refine its vision and process for the Sakai platform. You can find Clay’s Product Manager blog here.

One more bit about the “what” before I get to the “how and when.” The Sakai community has gotten grief in the past from a number of people (including me) for having its design led by technical folks rather than educational folks. I think that has been less and less true in Sakai over the past few years, and its certainly not true of the way the community is approaching Sakai 3 design. To the contrary, there has been a great effort made to strip away all talk of tools and start by figuring out what educational affordances the platform ought to have. For a sense of what that looks like, you might want to look at this spreadsheet, which has been championed by David Goodrum and has gained a great deal of momentum as the basis of defining the capabilities of Sakai 3. (David is a Director of Academic and Faculty Services at Indiana University and a fellow volunteer member of the Sakai Product Council.)

So, OK, maybe this Sakai 3 thingie sounds really cool and all, but when will it be real? Well, in addition to the guidance on the slides above, let me offer a few points of reference:

  • Right Now: Cambridge University (and possibly other schools) will be going live with a version of Sakai 3 very shortly. You can think of the current state of Sakai 3 as being roughly analogous to something like Drupal or Joomla! in the sense that it’s currently a general-purpose collaboration tool. It is suited for non-course collaboration sites, which is how it is likely to be used by early adopters. It also, ironically enough, might be an interesting platform for edupunks to experiment with.
  • Summer 2010: The 2010 release aspires to support simple course creation and delivery. If you generally kick it old school Sloan-C style, if you lean on announcements, discussion boards, and file storage, maybe you use an LMS grade book lightly to share grades with students but don’t load it up with your crazy assignment weighting scheme, then this release may suit your purposes just fine.
  • Winter 2010: There will likely be an interim milestone release that begins to show off the potential of Sakai 3 as a full-blown LMS. I’m not sure that it would be ready for a pilot test as a full LMS replacement, but you could kick the tires and get a pretty good sense of what the full version is going to look like.
  • Summer 2011: The Sakai Foundation is wisely giving the conservative guidance that 2012 will be the year that Sakai 3 will be ready for full adoption. But that recommendation is conservative, and it’s also more Sakai community-focused rather than Sakai curious-focused. As anyone who has ever migrated from one LMS to another knows, you can migrate to a perfectly good platform that has lots of features but is missing two or three of the features in your old platform that you really relied on. If you’re on Sakai 2.x, then the 2011 Sakai 3 milestone may not yet have all the particular features (quirks?) of Sakai 2, and the migration path from one platform to the other may not be 100% worked out yet. But that doesn’t mean that the Summer 2011 milestone won’t be perfectly usable as an LMS. All that said, if you want to go through a significant pilot period before making an adoption decision, Summer 2011 is probably the earliest milestone that will give you enough of the details of what full Sakai 3 will be like for you to make a decision in a head-to-head RFP. So 2012 may be a sensible adoption target anyway.
  • Summer 2012: The goal is for Sakai 3 to be ready to go for all reasonable uses.

Unfortunately, for contractual or other reasons, some schools don’t have the luxury of waiting until 2012. Does it make sense to migrate to Sakai 2.x now and then move again to Sakai 3.x later? Depending on your circumstances, it may. Consider:

  • Whatever LMS you are using now, chances are good that migration path to Sakai 2.x has already been blazed by current Sakai community members.
  • Once you are on Sakai 2.x nobody is going to end-of-life the platform and force you to move over to Sakai 3.x in any particular time frame. You can go as slowly as you want. If you want to stay on Sakai 2.x until 2014, nobody is going to stop you.
  • The schools already on Sakai 2.x—and the commercial affiliates supporting schools that are on Sakai 2.x—have a lot invested in making the migration from 2.x to 3.x be as smooth as possible. And while migration is never trivial, they will do everything possible to make it as easy as possible.

This last point is critical. Case in point, Lance Speelmon, Indiana University’s Manager of Course Management Systems, has been loaned out to the Sakai Foundation for the next year to work full-time on developing a 2.x to 3.x migration path. (Lance’s blog is here.)

Update: I’m told that Lance’s current title at Indiana University is actually “Scholarly Technologist.” I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds cool.

Here’s a very early demonstration of the direction that his work is taking:

You can see that this strategy bears some resemblance to the WebCT/Blackboard migration strategy. The old system and the new can be joined by something analogous to Blackboard’s Learning Environment Connector, and they can be run in tandem for a while, blending pieces of the old into the new.

So that’s the basic deal. If you have questions, feel free to ask in comments, email me privately, or to just jump in on the Sakai listservs!

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About Michael Feldstein

Michael Feldstein is co-Publisher of e-Literate, co-Producer of e-Literate TV, and Partner in MindWires Consulting. For more information, see his profile page.
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6 Responses to Sakai 3: What It Is and When To Move To It

  1. Josh Baron says:

    Thanks, once again, for a timely and most helpful posting!

  2. Martin Smith says:

    Thanks for the helpful update. I’d love to see more of these posts that focus on the technical differences (being that I’m on the tech side of things), and perhaps even some disambiguation about K1 vs. K2, what those are, how they related to Sakai releases of non-kernel code.

  3. Martin, I’m probably not going to get down to that level of technical detail, since (a) I’m not qualified to speak to it and (b) a large portion of my readers are non-technical, but you might want to read Ian Boston’s blog at if you want to follow that sort of thing.

  4. Bo says:


    I’m looking in to Sakai 3 as a, as you say, “general-purpose collaboration tool”. I think Sakai in version 3 has a great potential for use also outside the learning environment. My client is a regular company looking for collaboration tool and sakai looks very interesting. So I’m wondering, will there be usable releases based on when certain functionality is ready or in beta, or realeases based on the state of the whole product?
    Thank You, Bo

    You can think of the current state of Sakai 3 as being roughly analogous to something like Drupal or Joomla! in the sense that it’s currently a general-purpose collaboration tool. It is suited for non-course collaboration sites, which is how it is likely to be used by early adopters. It also, ironically enough, might be an interesting platform for edupunks to experiment with.

  5. Pingback: Update to the Sakai 3 Timeline

  6. Pingback: darcusblog » Blog Archive » Moodle vs. Sakai: Future Directions - geek tools and the scholar

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