The University of North Carolina, a current Blackboard customer that is evaluating Sakai, just published a very interesting report of their findings so far. Among other things, it’s a good model for schools that want to do a thorough evaluation of a platform and have the resources (i.e., staff and time) to do it right. Here’s the excerpt of it that UNC chose to publish in their blog post announcing its release:
The ﬁndings of the pilot are positive, leading the Sakai Action Group to recommend ITS continue to fund Sakai for the 2009-2010 academic year, implement student information system (SIS) integration, when possible, expand the number of participants using Sakai, and research a possible future migration path.
The whole report is worth reading, but here are some of the highlights from my perspective:
- There are relatively few comments from faculty or students about functionality gaps in one direction or the other. To the contrary, the platforms were seen by many as being functionally equivalent. LMS’s have reached that “good enough” stage where they are starting to commoditize.
- There were two exceptions to the “equivalent functionality” rule. First, a number of users seemed to appreciate Sakai’s more flexible permissions structure. I have written about the under-appreciated importance of groups and permissions on many occasions. The second was the ability to use Sakai for non-course work groups, projects, communities, etc. Blackboard has this capability, but you have to pay extra and license it separately. Frankly, I don’t know how they get away with it. No other LMS that I know of charges you twice for what is 95% the same functionality.
- There were lots of comments on usability, and almost all of them broke in Sakai’s favor. First of all, this confirms the point that I’ve made a few times here that usability is often more important than functionality. From UNC’s data, it looks like faculty and students were able to do more with Sakai while making fewer calls to the help desk. Which brings me to the other part of this. Three years ago, Sakai’s usability was bad to the point of being embarrassing. But it absolutely kicked Blackboard’s butt in UNC’s review. This is strong affirmation of the huge strides the Sakai community has made in usability.