Sakai Learning Capabilities Brainstorming

This is a guest post by David Goodrum. David is Director of Academic and Faculty Services at Indiana University and a member of the Sakai Foundation Product Council. I asked David to write a post about the process that he started to help ensure that Sakai 3 will be teacher- and student-centric in its design.

Over the last couple of months, the Sakai Teaching and Learning (T&L) group has been working on a loosely structured brainstorming activity focused around visioning teaching and learning needs for the next major version of the Sakai collaboration and learning system, often referred to as Sakai 3. There has also been excellent representation and participation from the Sakai User Experience (UX) and Open Source Portfolio (OSP) groups as well. A link to the spreadsheet can be found at

A quick side note about Sakai activities. In the Sakai community source effort, it is groups like T&L, UX, and OSP (and others involved in programming, quality assurance, and so on) which are the lifeblood of the Sakai effort: self-forming and self-regulating groups of people with common interests and expertise — volunteer groups mostly comprised of staff and faculty at partnering colleges and universities — that provide both resources and leadership regarding all aspects of Sakai efforts. For example, the T&L group, besides working on functional visioning, also coordinates the annual “Teaching with Sakai” awards and organizes the teaching and learning related presentation tracks at the annual conference.  Groups like these — which meet regularly by phone conference calls, communicate through email lists, and document ideas and progress on wiki pages — are what has turned Sakai into a successful and self-sustaining concern.

The Learning Capabilities spreadsheet originally evolved at the July Sakai conference in Boston from discussions around defining simple course needs along with challenges from folks like Josh Baron (Marist College) and Stephen Marquard (University of Cape Town) to imagine innovative and complex scenarios as well.

On weekly conference calls after a consensus was reached to pursue this activity, the T&L group has been discussing progress on the spreadsheet, pros and cons of the approach, groups that should be approached for contributions, and next steps. Participants on a recent T&L call agreed to begin filling in obvious gaps and doing additional categorizing of entries by theme and activity flow. And plans were made for some group work in the near future.

As Josh Baron explained in a recent email to several Sakai mailing lists, “Our plan is to convene a ‘virtual working session’ sometime towards the end of January or early February in which we hope to get as many [Sakai] community members as we can to work over a two-day period on this effort. We also plan to have some ‘pre-event’ activities to provide background for those who have not been engaged to date to help prepare for the work. We are also hoping to make this a global effort so we are actively encouraging groups outside the USA to participate and will work to accommodate time zones, etc. in our planning.”

It’s been interesting to see the level of collaboration the document has seen and how it has evolved because of that collaboration. According to Google docs, there’s been at least 25 collaborators on the document… likely more, since no login is required to edit it — it has been a totally open brainstorming document.

The spreadsheet is certainly not exhaustive nor complete, nor is that the intent for this phase. It currently does not necessarily reflect the best capabilities of Sakai 2.x; it does not reflect what all is missing or frustrating about Sakai 2.x; it does not reflect all of what Sakai 3 should aspire to; it doesn’t even fully represent what teaching and learning goals should be supported in Sakai 3. So what’s the point?

With 150+ rows right now, it begins to represent a fair cross section of the many ambitions Sakai 3 ought to have in the teaching and learning space. And it attempts to show how different levels of complexity and functional capabilities both link together and link back to a basic teaching and learning goal, hopefully expressed in everyday language.

Perhaps a bad analogy for the document would be the recent cell coverage maps…  Ideally, our teaching and learning map would look like Verizon’s 3G map… with nearly the whole map filled in.  This brainstorming document today is more like the AT&T 3G coverage map: a lot of white space still to be filled in, but there is coverage of many core areas and outlines of many others.

For now it’s a place to play out some teaching and learning ideas.

The T&L group has also been greatly encouraged by Clay Fenlason’s (the Sakai Product Manager) support and hope for the activity; he states in a recent blog post, “I see in it the potential for not only informing current design work, but also for laying out a framework for a community roadmap, as we come to a shared picture of what the fundamental building blocks are, how we can build upon and refine them, and ultimately how we expect Sakai can make a difference for those we’re trying to serve.”

I hope this gives a hint of how educational folks in the Sakai community are working together to get goals and design out ahead of technical work. Out of ad hoc discussion and roughly drafted initial examples has grown a considerable effort crafted by many hands. Below is an incomplete list of just some of the Sakai community folks who have participated in the T&L conference calls, contributed to the Learning Capabilities spreadsheet, and/or are planning to participate in the upcoming virtual working sessions:

  • Kirk Alexander (University of California – Davis)
  • Keli Amann (Stanford University)
  • Josh Baron (Marist College)
  • Janet de Vry (University of Delaware)
  • Kim Eke (University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill)
  • Kate Ellis (Indiana University)
  • Amber Evans (Virginia Tech)
  • Michael Feldstein (Oracle)
  • Clay Fenlason (Sakai Foundation; Georgia Tech)
  • Luke Fernandez (Weber State University)
  • Robert Gérin-Lajoie (Université de Montréal)
  • David Goodrum (Indiana University)
  • Roger Henry (Indiana University)
  • Robin Hill (University of Wyoming)
  • Carole Hunter (Charles Sturt University)
  • Sean Keesler (Three Canoes Consulting)
  • Beth Kirschner (University of Michigan)
  • Salwa Khan (Texas State University)
  • Barbara Mack (New York University)
  • Rita Pavolka (Indiana University)
  • Mathieu Plourde (University of Delaware)
  • Sue Roig (Claremont Graduate University)
  • Ken Romeo (Stanford University)
  • Pat Sine (University of Delaware)
  • Janice Smith (Three Canoes Consulting)
  • Teggin Summers (Virginia Tech)
  • Charmaine Thompson (Johns Hopkins University)
  • Philip Uys (Charles Sturt University)
  • Lynn Ward (Indiana University)
  • Eddie Watson (Virginia Tech)
  • Max Whitney (New York University)
  • Mark Zaldivar (Virginia Tech)
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One Response to Sakai Learning Capabilities Brainstorming

  1. Josh Baron says:

    Great posting David (and thanks to Michael for spotlighting this important topic). Six months ago when we started to discuss how we might proceed with something like this there were tons of questions and a lot of skepticism (I myself wasn’t sure where it would all lead). I am really excited about where this effort has gone over this time and although there are maybe even more questions about it then there were when we got started I have a lot of confidence that we’ll end up in a really good place.

    I’m also very interested in seeing this organic process become more mainstream over time…we’re pioneering a lot right now which is great and also exciting but we need to end up at a point where this type of initiative becomes part of the community culture. I see a role for the Product Council in helping achieve this through some of its work.

    Who knows…maybe those working on Sakai 4 will wonder who came up with this awesome process for mapping out learning capabilities! 🙂


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