Sakai Project Launches Groundbreaking Open Source Collaboration

January 22, 2004

Sakai Project Launches Groundbreaking Open Source Collaboration

ANN ARBOR—The Sakai Project, a landmark venture to create open-source course management tools and related software for the higher education community, is being launched with a $2.4 million grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, it was announced today.

Sakai’s four university partners, the University of Michigan, Indiana University, MIT and Stanford University, will contribute services worth at least an additional $4 million over the next two years. The participants will direct that amount of their individual annual investment in IT into a single, synchronized effort under the direction of a board that will direct Sakai activities. The Open Knowledge Initiative (O.K.I.) and the uPortal (JA-SIG) consortium round out the partners participating in Sakai. All participants have agreed to adopt for their individual institutions a common educational technology created to a Sakai standard.

"The Sakai Project represents significant innovation in software development for higher education, " said Joseph Hardin, director of the project, chairman of the Sakai board and director of the Collaborative Technologies Laboratory at the University of Michigan."The university partners have agreed to vest the Sakai board with decision-making authority over the substantial resources that they otherwise would direct to individual in-house efforts. The leadership position of these universities, the level of resources being pooled and the commitment to adopt a common set of tools within two years make this a landmark effort."

The Sakai Project

The Sakai Project will produce open source code, available for all users to study and modify freely, with no restrictions on commercial use or redistribution.

Sakai will make available a complete course management system that incorporates the best features of the participants’ existing systems and experiences. A course management system is a set of tools that faculty create and use to post course requirements, provide readings, give out assignments, carry out assessments and perform other classroom management functions. Students use the sites to read assignments, obtain their grades, communicate with professors and other students, etc.

Universities will access the Sakai software via an enhanced version of the popular UPortal system now in wide use by universities and businesses. Universities will have the ability to choose the course management components they wish to make available to their campuses and offer additional types of university services via the portal. Individual users will be able to configure the site to their own preferences.

A third Sakai product will consist of tools that support research by giving faculty colleagues the means to collaborate across the network, using many of the same functions offered by course management tools.

A Sakai Tool Portability Profile (TPP) will provide educational software developers with a clearly defined reference that gives the specifications for writing and implementing software that is Sakai-compatible. The open source nature of the project will give information technology professionals across the nation the ability to engage in continuous improvement and innovation for application software, such as that witnessed for Linux and Apache.

In a related development, Indiana University has announced a $518,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to lead development of ePortfolio software, based on Sakai and O.K.I. standards. EPortfolio software will allow a student to compile a digital collection of lifelong academic work, such as reports, projects, and recorded presentations, and easily tailor the material for different uses. Academic advisors will be able to view and comment on students’ work using ePortfolio. Such portfolios will provide potential employers, grant funders, academic advisors and others a much richer sense of a student’s work and skills.

IU is developing the ePortfolio software in partnership with the Open Source Portfolio Initiative (OSPI) and the r-smart group. The initial release of the software is targeted for summer 2004.

Sakai partners

Brad Wheeler, Associate Vice President for Research and Academic Computing at Indiana University, noted, "Code mobility is higher education’s best option for addressing the dual challenges of sustainable economics and innovation. Students, faculty, and staff require a good return on their IT dollars while supporting the frontiers of new forms of e-learning and e-service delivery at universities. This is the right time for a project like Sakai to make coordinated development feasible."

"This endeavor allows four institutions that have committed to software development to vet our ideas and implementations with each other, creating the opportunity for a best of breed to emerge," commented Lois Brooks , Director of Academic Computing, Stanford University. "By committing to work with each other and devote our resources to the common good, we are assuring that the collective value is returned to our own institutions, to our partners’ institutions, and to the community."

Amitava Babi Mitra, executive director of Academic Media Production Services (AMPS) at MIT, added: "Sakai is an ambitious project through which four institutions have synchronized their clocks in order to develop, deliver and implement an open source, component-based software system that works. This project made so much sense when we first started talking about it, that it has evolved very quickly: the commonality of purpose, the single-minded focus on tangible deliverables, and the chemistry and trust among the core partners bodes well for the future. More importantly, MIT faculty and faculty at other institutions stand to gain through a design approach that will allow efficient integration of innovative pedagogic tools developed by them, and students will stand to gain through being able to rely on a cohesive customizable learningsupport system."

Jeff Merriman, senior strategist for Academic Computing at MIT and project director of O.K.I, noted "Sakai will be one of the first projects to exercise and profile the use of O.K.I. OSIDs, JSR 168, and other related interoperability specifications and standards for broad adoption within higher education. In addition to the software that Sakai delivers we expect that the Tool Portability Profile will prove to be a critical instrument for integration between open-source educational tools and commercial eLearningproducts."

Carl Jacobson of the University of Delaware and the uPortal Consortium, said