Sakai 19 And 20 Upgraded: What You Need To Know About The Open Source LMS

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Wilma Hodges, Community Coordinator and Director of Training Initiatives at Sakai’s commercial partner Longsight, presented the US-based open source LMS latest features in an open webinar.

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19? 20? What is Sakai?

Sakai is the most popular US-based open source LMS, part of the Apereo Foundation which supports several open source initiatives. Compared with Moodle, it has a smaller user base focused on Higher Ed organizations, which is currently shrinking.

Unlike Moodle, however, it sustainability is not directly related to market share, and in fact its development roadmap is much more directly related to the experiences and feedback taking place by the institutions that use it and support it. Apereo’s vision, which is scheduled for a community-led revamp in 2020, focuses on inclusion, affordability, flexibility and student-focused innovation.

Since 2019, the versioning jumped from 12 to 19 to match the current year. Important and ongoing efforts should make of Sakai 20 a noticeable version among current and potential new users.

Sakai 19: Breaking down what’s new


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Sakai 19 has been released on a semi-bimonthly basis, the latest of which was October’s Sakai 19.3.

The team measures the development output in “Jiras,” which refers to the name of the project management software the team uses. Jira is in fact the most popular issue tracker out there, with a 31% market share claimed. It is a commercial software but it is provided for free to open source project, which might explain why Moodle and H5P are some of its users.

Hodges reports that up to date 1,886 “Jiras” or community submitted issues have been built, including 247 feature requests. Hodges focuses on the most notable, some of which are explicit part of Sakai’s future roadmap.

‘Bittersweet’ drop of LTI 2.0 (in favor of LTI Advantage 1.3)

Sakai 20 will no longer support the LTI 2.0 compatibility standard, a well-intended specification but one that did not catch on among educational apps as was expected. The efforts, however, have not been in vain, as it set the basis for the LTI Advantage program, which all major LMS have signed on to, Sakai included.

Charles “Dr. Chuck” Severance, the closest you would get to a “Sakai Celebrity,” and arguably the best Python teacher on the internet, shared his thoughts on another episode documenting the relentless pace of software development:

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It is kind of bittersweet in that it took me three years of almost 100% of my Sakai effort to develop the LTI 2.0 spec and build the Sakai implementation and less than six hours to remove it. But it is always good to remove complex and unused code from production software. Dr. Chuck

Rubrics reimagined

Another key development priority, Sakai’s Rubrics capabilities have been reimagined and expanded across course activities.

Editing Rubrics and applying them to Assignments is a pleasing experience that might even help instructors make sense of activities and how they are measured. Rubrics also have the potential to expand the opportunities for students to show their skills through mediums at which they excel or where they feel more comfortable.

Sakai’s ‘Rubrics’ dashboard makes it dead easy to attach an available rubric to an activity, simplifies dimensional grading and encourages more quality and consistent feedback from the teacher.

New Dashboards

A series of tools will enhance several areas of the site, courses and content.

The Overview tool allows teachers to edit the appearance of a course, as it appears for students. Columns, widgets and positions can be easily arranged.

The Resources tool makes it easy to upload files to include on a course. It now features a “Custom Copyright” option, with status, versioning and copyright information fields. It can keep track of changes for the same files.

The Roster tool can now show users pictures in tiles, in addition to the previous list and card views. Search and export options are now available.

The Test & Quizzes is streamlined, includes better filtering, search and pagination. It is also now fully responsive. Assignment restore is now available.

JSF Upgrade

Sakai is built using the Java programming language. JavaServer Faces (JSF) is a framework to develop User Interface (UI) elements, also known as “Front End” web development.

Sakai has upgraded to the latest version of the framework, which will have implications on several activities including the Chat, Test & Quizzes and the Forum. The upgrade is also expected to make it easier to maintain, support and build new features and functionality.

Smaller, yet noteworthy ‘Jiras’

  • 24-hour reminder. Students can let Sakai remind them of assignments due 24 hours in advance via email.
  • Improved UI for group and section selection. A search bar helps to find items on long lists quicker.
  • Assignment lists and Removed Assignments lets you view all assignments on one page. Removed assignments can be restored from the dashboard.
  • Empty state indicators. Just a quick UX enhancement.
  • Create another Gradebook item at the end of the Gradebook item creation menu.
  • Exclude or include specific Gradebook items into students final grade.

Sakai 20 scheduled the night before Christmas

The first Release Candidate of Sakai 20 is scheduled for December 23 and will follow a monthly schedule, aiming for Sakai 20.0 by March 3. This way most of the users would have their systems fully tested and ready for production by fall.

Up to date 1,181 “Jiras” have been completed, including 171 feature requests.

Some of the new features coming up include:

The User Activity tab in the Statistics tool can now show a fully granular breakdown of a user’s activity, including specific information of pages and activities accessed and interacted. The Statistics tool is also extended for students, who can see a visual breakdown of their own numbers.

The default text editor, CKEditor comes with some content templates, such as “Syllabus,” Instructor Insight “Panel,” “Conversation” and “Reply.” Organizations will also be able to create their own templates.

The Gradebook comes supercharged. Full Screen Mode. Resizable students. In-page student messaging. Pop-up Rubric grading. An Instructor Feedback tool allows to give feedback to all students from the same page; and when writing new feedback, the tool will suggest previous inputs with the same text.

UI upgrades covering Profile creation tool (for admins), Podcast page and date management in the Calendar. And now there’s now a bottom right-side “Back to top” button on all pages.

Other goodies will include:

  • Cleaner “Default Gateway” interface out of the gate. Hodges notes that most Sakai users customize their Gateways, meaning this new look’s goal would me more on the side of showcasing Sakai to prospective institutional users.
  • New default avatars based on initials, a la Google. It is replaced with user photos once uploaded.
  • Messages include instant search which highlight text matches on the body.
  • Name pronunciation feature on user profiles, which allow them to include phonetic descriptions and a short recording. People won’t have an excuse to mispronounce your name! (Totally off-topic: Which reminds me of this.)
  • Student profile pic (or avatar) will appear next to assignment, unless anonymity is enabled.
  • Assignments come with a progress bar once they are started, highlighting its current stage, from “Draft” to “Returned.”
  • Google Drive integration.

Learn more and engage with the community at Open Apereo 2020

From June 15 to 19, the University of Michigan School of Technology, Ann Arbor, Michigan will host Open Apereo 2020. The “networking, knowledge sharing and transfer, and peer-to-peer learning opportunities” event will debut a brand new format, mixing keynote talks showcasing Sakai and new features from the near dozen Open EdTech initiatives, plus projects currently in incubation; a “Design Challenge Day” and a “conference-unconference” activity mix. Presentation topics will include:

  • Strategy and leadership
  • Open Source Software success stories from students and faculty
  • Technical deep dives
  • “Facing the future: Innovation Supporting Change”

Real-world stories of open source success remain a vital component of the program.

NOW OPEN! CFP for Open Apereo 2020

Fun fact: Apero supports POET, an initiative most recognized by the development of plugins for Moodle-based LMS including Questionnaire and Metadata; and Moodler at its helm Mike Churchward.

While Open Apereo 2020 promises to drift from previous editions, you can still get an idea of the vibe from the last edition.

Learn more, sign up and submit a presentation proposal here. Call deadline is December 20, 2019. For participants, Apereo Diversity Scholarships are on the works (and open to sponsors).

Resources & References


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