Category Archives: Education

What Did iLearn Today? Sakai and the Net Generation

This presentation tells a compelling story of how some motivated Marist seniors applied their education to deliver some very real-world outcomes.

Watch the Screen-cast

Description:    This presentation explains how an innovative network of Sakai course and project sites form a collaborative community of students and faculty from different courses, sections, and semesters. This also demonstrates how students can help promote Sakai deployments from a communication perspective. Marist students and instructor will present.

Presenters:    Jaclyn Weiner, Marist College; Victoria Banks, Marist College; Jennifer Sussin, Marist College

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MIT to make all faculty publications open access

ars technica

If there were any doubt that open access publishing was setting off a bit of a power struggle, a decision made last week by the MIT faculty should put it to rest. Although most commercial academic publishers require that the authors of the works they publish sign all copyrights over to the journal, Congress recently mandated that all researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health retain the right to freely distribute their works one year after publication (several foundations have similar requirements). Since then, some publishers started fighting the trend, and a few members of Congress are reconsidering the mandate. Now, in a move that will undoubtedly redraw the battle lines, the faculty of MIT have unanimously voted to make any publications they produce open access.

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Local subversion practices SWOT analysis outcomes…

I thought I might take a few minutes to share with the community the outcomes of a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis of IU’s local practices around building and maintaining our customized build of Sakai: Oncourse. We gathered all of the developers in a room for 90 minutes and outlined three different methodologies for implementing local builds of Sakai:

  1. Traditional / Legacy Overlay – This is the model we have been using for thee+ years and involves a set of files which are copied over the top of Sakai generic files (i.e. overlayed). This process served us well when we had fewer customizations and we had a smaller development team.
  2. Vendor Drop – this method, I believe, is well known both within the subversion and Sakai communities. It is a complete source tree with both customizations and generic code; i.e. a complete build.
  3. Patch Overlay – this variation of #1 uses patch files instead of complete files to maintain customizations.

The team of developers were asked by the facilitator (i.e. me) to break into teams of two and produce strengths and weaknesses for each proposed solution. We chose not to focus on opportunities or threats given the short amount of time available for the session and the domain subject may not be the best for such categorizations. The teams spent fifteen minutes working through their strengths and weaknesses and then we started recording the outcomes on the white board. What happened next was interesting — there was very little disagreement about the particular strengths or weaknesses of a given solution — there was mostly consensus. I am including the outcomes for your review:

  1. Traditional / Legacy Overlay
    1. S+ Easy to identify changed files
    2. S+ Already exists – a norm
    3. S+ Supports smaller scope
    4. W- Version control is difficult (i.e. practice vs. staging)
    5. W- Maintenance (merges, regressions)
    6. W- Training
    7. W- Requires custom build script
    8. W- Hard to share and collaborate with Sakai community
    9. W- Overlay build script is not version controlled – cannot predictably produce previous builds.
  2. Vendor Drop
    1. S+ Simple check-in, check-out, commits
    2. S+ Community support, widely adopted
    3. S+ Easy to run on developer workstations, easier training
    4. S+ Innovation is occurring around this practice in the subversion community; more standardized solution.
    5. S+ Easier debugging of code
    6. S+ Maintains source history lineage
    7. S+ Can reliable build previous production builds from source
    8. W- More overhead to find changes
    9. W- Increased merge skills for developers
  3. Patch Overlay
    1. S+ Easy to find changes
    2. W- Readability of patch files
    3. W- Custom build script required
    4. W- Training / developer workflow difficulties
    5. W- Harder to share with Sakai community
    6. W- Patches are brittle

We talked through each strength and weakness so that there was consensus for each analysis of the solutions. When we had the board filled with all of the outcomes, I then asked the team if there were any high level patterns they could identify. Immediately, they asked for solution #3 to be removed from the list as it clearly had too many weaknesses and few strengths. The next ten minutes were spent reviewing the outcomes for solutions #1 and #2. We then went around the table and each individual declared which solution they preferred when presented with all of the facts. Surprisingly, we had a unanimous vote for solution #2, Vendor Drop.

After the vote I asked the team to provide feedback on the process. The following statements were made:

  1. W- More preparation time would have been nice – to better understand the intricacies of each solution before being asked to analyze them.
  2. W- More context provided by the facilitator for Opportunities and Threats (i.e. the “OT” in “SWOT”).
  3. S+ The amount of consensus achieved in a very short amount of time.
  4. S+ Separation of the emotions surrounding the various solutions; allowing the developers to be more objective in their analysis.
  5. S+ Avoided the expected 90 minutes of “tail chasing” with no particular outcomes.

So where do we go from here? Ryan Lowe volunteered to form and lead a group of developers that will present a migration plan at our team meeting in one week. In retrospect, my first “official” SWOT meeting was a success and very effective in achieving our goals of simplifying the the processes of managing our local build of Sakai. The developers made this decision on their own and now have complete ownership of it. I also pointed out to the team that the quality of the analysis was very high; i.e. even if they had four hours or an entire day, would depth or breadth of the analysis be fundamentally higher? If you have not read blink by Malcom Gladwell, I would highly recommend it. The trick is knowing what you know. 🙂 I look forward to my next SWOT analysis. 🙂 Best, L

White board contents

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The Tetra Collaboration

The Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Hull, and the UHI Millennium Institute announce the formation of the Tetra Collaboration, (1) the outcome of a series of meetings and a major summit held at the University of Oxford on the 25th-26th September 2006.

The goal of the Tetra Collaboration is to coordinate activities across the member organisations so as to more efficiently develop and deploy open source enterprise applications of use to UK and European universities and colleges. By working together we can share common solutions to better serve the needs of students and academics, and each of the institutions named is committed to making tangible contributions into the collaboration (2).

The Tetra Collaboration will work together on projects that address the needs of education, research, technical infrastructure, service oriented architectures (SOA), federated systems, and application frameworks.

Tetra will demonstrate the potential of the JISC’s e-Framework, will be built on open standards and IMS specifications, and is committed to developing sustainable community source solutions for education (3).

One of the first Tetra projects will be to continue the work of the Bodington (4) open source learning management system to produce Bodington – Next Generation or Bodington NG. This will combine elements of the Sakai open source framework with the pedagogically strong Bodington toolset. A major design goal of Bodington NG is to develop and implement an SOA enterprise e-framework.

It will provide a smooth transition for existing Bodington users to the Bodington NG platform, preserving and extending the trusted enterprise functionality used daily by these institutions. The Tetra Collaboration is open to working with other institutions who wish to join this exciting effort.

Tetra will both maintain and evolve the Bodington user interface as well as making the Bodington toolset available to Sakai users. The joint effort between Sakai and Tetra will then begin collaboratively to merge the Bodington toolset with the Sakai framework, as well as extend the latter to accommodate the full range of Tetra’s pedagogical and institutional requirements.

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Apple officially announces iTunes U

Apple announced Wednesday that iTunes U is now officially available. I know that a number of our institutions have been working with Apple to get our sites ready. I am glad to see that the new section of the store is now freely available to the public. Currently, the link is placed prominently in the upper left hand corner of the iTunes store under:

  1. Music
  2. Movies
  3. TV Shows
  4. Music Videos
  5. Audiobooks
  6. Podcasts
  7. iPod Games
  8. iTunes Latino
  9. iTunes U

I am sure some will try to read more into the placement…  I suspect that because it is new it went to the bottom of the list.  It will be interesting to see over time if or how the placement changes.

CUPERTINO, California—May 30, 2007—Apple® today announced the launch of iTunes® U, a dedicated area within the iTunes Store ( featuring free content such as course lectures, language lessons, lab demonstrations, sports highlights and campus tours provided by top US colleges and universities including Stanford University, UC Berkeley, Duke University and MIT.

“iTunes U makes it easy for anyone to access amazing educational material from many of the country’s most respected colleges and universities,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of iTunes. “Education is a lifelong pursuit and we’re pleased to give everyone the ability to download lectures, speeches and other academic content for free.”


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iQuiz – the next assessment innovation on iPods?

I was intrigued by an announcement today about a new free application dubbed iQuiz Maker by Aspyr Media. To understand the significance of this tool, you must first take a look at the recently released $0.99 iQuiz game for the Apple iPod:

Test your entertainment knowledge in iQuiz, the fast-paced trivia game for your iPod. Test your knowledge of the songs, albums, and artists you’ve got on your iPod, or try out trivia challenges for movies, music, and TV. Make your own custom trivia packs to share, or play trivia packs created by others.

When I first heard about this new games, I had no idea that “trivia packs” could be authored by mere mortals. When I read the description of iQuiz Maker, the wheels started turning:

iQuiz Maker is an easy way for you to create custom quizzes for the iQuiz game for the iPod. iQuiz Maker works seamlessly so you can write, create, package and test the smarts of people you know and even people you don’t know. Download the free application today to begin putting the world to the test.

I wonder if educators will view this as an opportunity to perform some light assessment on the iPod. Podcasting is a hot topic these days it seems like being able to use the same device for multiple purposes would be highly valuable. I cannot say whether iQuiz is the right vehicle for that or not, but it does make you start thinking about the iPod in new ways…

Updated 28 April 2007 – Two new sites of interest:

  1. Apple has provided a sample Biology quiz on their Learning Interchange web site:
  2. One of the commenters pointed me to their iQuiz Library site. There is not a lot of content available yet, but you will find a sample Spanish quiz linked.

Updated 21 May 2007 – Another new iQuiz content creation tool/site:


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Educational Gaming Observations

It was clear after last week’s Learning Impact Conference that the use of gaming for teaching and learning is a hot topic. Two of the areas of focus during the discussions were related to Second Life and content authoring. There have been two interesting recent developments related to these topics:

  1. After open-sourcing the Second Life client, Linden Lab has decide to open-source the server code as well. This now opens the door for some very interesting deep integration with other learning technologies. Will we embed the server in learning management systems like Sakai? This is fun to think about…
  2. We all agree that authoring engaging gaming content is a very difficult task. It will be a long time before instructors are building high quality games/simulations on their own. However, I do see some progress being made to make authoring easier and more ubiquitous: XNA Game Studio Express. This is a development environment for creating games that run on both Windows and the Xbox 360 console. The apparent goals of this project are to front load Xbox Live Arcade with a steady stream of innovative and independent arcade titles while lowering the bar to entry and making development fundamentally easier. However, I also see direct application to the educational space as well. Since this is all based on .NET, the code should be fairly portable.

What other interesting developments have you seen in gaming related to education?

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