Sakai Board Platform — Josh Baron

This is a guest post by Josh Baron, a nominee in the 2010 Sakai Foundation Board of Directors election. His bio and platform are available here.

Challenges and Opportunities

As I look toward the horizon I see challenges, but believe that these also represent opportunities for Sakai, both the product and community, if the right strategic path it charted.

The Challenge and Opportunities of a Two Product Community: The Sakai Open Academic Environment or OAE (the system previously known as Sakai 3) represents a bold step towards evolving not just Sakai but more fundamentally the LMS/VLE as we know it today. At the same time, thanks to the work of many dedicated community members, we are ever increasing (to barrow a phase from Dr. Chuck) the “awesomeness” of the Sakai CLE (2.x). This parallel effort are both evidence of our community’s core value to seek out and drive towards innovation, but also poses challenges with regards to resources, communication and governance. How do we (the community) organize the resources to maintain two products over the long term? How do we talk about our two products to those considering adoption? How do we move the “managed” project that the Sakai OAE represents today to a more “organic” development model over time? Although these parallel efforts raise challenging questions, they also represent a tremendous opportunity to affect not only change in the LMS/VLE market space but to fundamentally transform teaching, learning and research in ways that help academia meet the many challenges confronting it over the coming decades.

The Challenge and Opportunities of Sustainability: Like many of our institutions, Sakai is now operating in the “New Normal” of shrinking budgets and rising expectations. Whereas institutions 3-4 years ago, some who had not even adopted Sakai, became members of the Foundation as means to demonstrate support for the concept of open-source, few have this luxury of resources today and as a result we have seen revenues decline. We, as a community must now justify the “value proposition” for becoming a member of the Foundation which is a challenge to an organization that is based on principles of openness and inclusion. At the same time, the realities of the “New Normal” hold the potential to drive us and our colleagues in other open-source higher education communities to consider new alliance that a few years ago may have not been considered priorities. A tangible example of this opportunity is the Sakai-Jasig alliance that was recently announced, which- I believe, will lead to a more sustainable future for both organizations.

The Challenges and Opportunities of OER: I believe that the Open Educational Resource (OER) movement represents the next “grand experiment” in open-source development and will bring both tremendous opportunity as well as challenges to Sakai, as well as academia as a whole. The ability to share, remix and redistribute open educational content (e.g. courseware, journals, instructional software, etc.) within Sakai could transform education as we know it; freeing instructors from endlessly re-venting content, dramatically reducing costs of instructional materials and facilitating self-directed learning that could empower a new generation of students. Achieving this will require addressing technical, coordination and adoption challenges related to bringing OER materials into the Learning Management System. Although these challenges are far from trivial, the values we hold as a community position Sakai well to play a leadership role in making this opportunity a reality.

Sakai in Three Years

As I look to the horizon, I see a new era in the history of the higher education open- and community-source movement; an era in which a suite of innovative and mature software “built by education, foreducation”, encompassing everything from infrastructure to application, will exist. This mature “open”software stack will allow us to leverage and support the Open Educational Resource movement instrategic ways; providing our users with robust, rich and re-mixable content and an infrastructure tocreate powerful new learning experiences with it. The benefits, if realized, could go well beyond Sakaiand become a global transformative force in education.

More specifically, over the next three years I believe Sakai will have demonstrated a new approach toproduct transition with institutions introducing, through “hybrid mode”, the new capabilities found inthe Sakai OAE gradually and based on user needs and desires. This model will be in stark contrast tothe traditional vendor “big bang” approach of “sun-setting” a product on their terms rather than thoseof their clients. I firmly believe that the Sakai CLE will continue to mature and compete strongly in thetraditional LMS space while at the same time we will see the maturing of the Sakai OAE and the initialrealization of its potential to transform teaching, learning and research. The Sakai OAE’s transformativepowers will be derived from the core design values it has embraced, many of which are outlined in the Learning Capabilities Design Lenses. These include its support for “openness” in all of its forms, supportfor academic networking, and rich collaborative content authoring capabilities.

Beyond the future of our products, I believe our community will continue to grow and mature, boththrough our internal processes as well as through our plans to merge with Jasig. Today we have severalemerging new governance structures, including the “managed project” model being used by the SakaiOAE Steering Committee and the newly formed Technical Coordination Committee (TCC). Theseapproaches to self-governance will mature to become established community practices that will help us manage the development challenges that we will face as a multi-product community.

Steps That We Must Take

As I’ve outlined above, the road ahead is filled with both challenges and opportunities. To realize ourpotential over the next three years our community, with strategic leadership from the Foundation and Board, will have to address a number of key issues.

Foremost for the Board is the need to ensure that we have a long-term sustainable financial modelfor the Foundation and our products. On a strategic level, I believe this will include the need to formalliances across other open-source initiatives. Whereas some alliances may be along the lines of thework going on to merge with Jasig, others may be lighter weight and more focused on shared servicesand/or alignment of missions. For example, forming an overarching alliance among the majority ofopen-source communities could create a single point of contact and reference for institutional decisionmakers and allow us to speak with one voice with regards to the value of open source. Such an alliance would not, in my mind, involve a merging of projects/initiatives nor an effort to bundle our products “ala” a proprietary vendor model, but instead simply represent an aligning of our message and missionsacross projects.

On a more operational front, which is the clear domain of the Executive Director and Foundation staff,we will need to seek new models for membership. This may include, for example, approaches whichencourage membership among those institutions hosted by Sakai Commercial Affiliates as means tomaintain and possibly grow the revenue stream for the Foundation. In addition, we need to work toreposition the “value proposition” for institutions on the benefits of becoming members. This mightinclude the introduction of things such as new awards programs, (e.g. best new implementation thisyear,) for which only member institutions and commercial providers are eligible.

Last but not least, the Board and Foundation must work to facilitate the maturing of community-drivengovernance models. We have learned from the past few years that the introduction of governancestructures from the “top down” have not been successful, yet expecting the community to self-organizewithout support or encouragement has also been an issue. I would like to see a new approach in whichgovernance issues are identified by the community with the Foundation staff then providing necessarysupports to help the community move to address them. The Sakai OAE’s “managed project” model maybe a good example of how this might happen as the Foundation Executive Director is now serving asco-chair of the Steering Committee with the Foundation helping to facilitate certain financial and legal tasks.

Final Thought

As we travel the road ahead we will be faced with major challenges including how to sustain, govern andcoordinate our community efforts. We will need to seek new solutions, from alternative funding modelsto alliances with other communities around shared services, values and common needs. I believe thatmy experience and passion for Sakai strongly positions me to help chart the course toward a futurewhere Sakai transcends our software and community; a future in which our efforts have revolutionizedacademia as we know it today. Though this task is a tremendous challenge, it is one I am prepared forand confident I can contribute to through my dedication, knowledge and leadership.

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