Planet Sakai

April 23, 2014

Adam Marshall

Proposal: Automatic Generation Of A List Of WebLearn Coordinators

After positive feedback from consultations with our users, we are now pressing ahead with our plans to start publishing automatically-generated lists of ‘Local WebLearn Coordinators’ which are generated by processing the membership of Administration Sites.

This replaces our current approach of attempting to maintain a manual list which can be found at: We use this list when we need to liaise with a unit about WebLearn matters and we point users (staff/students) at this list when they need support from the WebLearn Coordinator of the unit in question.

It has always been difficult for us to keep this list up to date. In the last couple of months it has become apparent that it is way out of date which is not helpful to us, our users and the units who have no valid contacts.

We intend to solve this problem by auto-generating this list. What we plan to do is the following:

  1. Create a new role called “coordinator” for Administration Sites; this role would be identical in all but name to the current “admin” role – this has now been done.
  2. Manually assign this role to all Administration Site participants who we know to be Local WebLearn Coordinators.
  3. Request that each unit check and further update the membership and roles in their Administration Site.
  4. Add some programming logic so that every Administration Site must have at least one participant with the “coordinator” role.
  5. Form a list of WebLearn Coordinators by extracting members of each Administration site who have the “coordinator” role and use the names (not email addresses) and the associated Administration Site names as the basis of the new list. A web page containing this information would replace the current page and would be updated nightly.
  6. send system messages to this list instead of the manually maintained ‘wl-coordinators’ mail list.

What does this mean?

  1. The change implies that anybody with the “Coordinator” role in an Administration Site will now be viewed as a Local WebLearn Coordinator. We will update roles based on our records but units must take on the responsibility to assign this role to their preferred contacts in the future.
  2. Members of the ‘wl-coordinators’ mail list who do not have the “coordinator” role will stop receiving emails via this route. To mitigate, we will identify and add these people to the WebLearn User Group email list which receives the same messages.


A small number of units, specifically, Archaeology, OII, Medical Sciences and Exeter College supply a generic email address as a contact point, unfortunately these will cease to appear as WebLearn is unable to support generic accounts as site members.


  1. Can you please check we have the correct list of Local WebLearn Coordinators for your unit by looking at the following page:
  2. If our records are incorrect, can you send an update to remembering to state which unit you are referring to. There is no need to tell us if your unit has the correct details.

Please feel free to contact us with any other queries that you may have.

by Adam Marshall at April 23, 2014 12:50 PM

April 16, 2014

Adam Marshall

Designing accessible web pages

The next meeting of the WebLearn User Group (Monday 7 July 2014 - booking required) will focus on two issues:

  • Writing accessible web pages
  • Copyright of learning materials


The Disability Resources and Services (DRS) unit at Temple University in Philadelphia USA provides many resources, videos and additional helpful information about students with disabilities. Have a look at their website:

Did you know that “Careless use of HTML tables to provide a columnar page layout can result in confusing presentation of information in non-graphic browsers, where the effect might be of reading from left to right the first line of each column of a newspaper, then the second line of each column, and so on” (Sloan, 2002).

The attached guide from DRS (web-accessibility_Temple University USA) provides information and a collection of resources about Web Accessibilty, including how to check the accessibility of the web pages you want students to use.


Sloan, D. (2002). Creating accessible e-learning content. In L. Phipps, A. Sutherland & J. Seale, Access All Areas: disabilitly, technology and leanring. JISC TechDis Service and ALT. Available at

by Jill Fresen at April 16, 2014 11:22 AM

Michael Feldstein

Coursera CEO Interview: Mike Caulfield nailed it two months ago

Two months ago Mike Caulfield lamented the inability for many people in online education, especially massive online initiatives, to honestly learn from the past. In the post Mike referred to the failed AllLearn initiative and the seminal post-mortem written up in University Business.

How does that relate? A paragraph from the 2006 post-mortem of AllLearn really stuck out for me:

Oxford, Yale, and Stanford have kept quiet about the collapse of their joint e-learning venture…[h]owever, AllLearn’s closure could offer an unprecedented opportunity to step back and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the business model… Further research into the series of collapsed online ventures may shed some light on what makes a successful distance education program, and enable some of the surviving online providers to redefine their business models and marketing strategies accordingly

Of course they don’t delve into these things honestly, and as a result most people in these institutions are unaware of them. Like Leonard, the institutions alter the record of the past. They wake up the next day with amnesia, consult a set of dramatically altered notes, and wonder why no one has tried massive Ivy League courses yet. The PR push to cover one’s tracks ends up erasing the institutional knowledge that could build a better initiative.

Little did Mike realize that he was writing a script.

One month later Coursera hired Richard Levin as its new CEO. As president of Yale, Levin was one of the key figures in the creation of All Learn in 2000, and after the 2006 collapse of the initiative Levin was one of the key figures directly responsible for the Open Yale Courses initiative.

The consensus view is that AllLearn failed to generate enough interest in its non-credit elite courses, and subsequently the program closed due to economics (by Levin’s own previous admission). In 2005 AllLearn attempted to address this challenge by branching beyond alumni as related in this Yale Daily News post [emphasis added in all quotes below].

“I think we’ve learned a lot form the experiment,” Levin said. “While I believe we’ve produced some very high quality courses, we’ve learned that it’s hard to generate large audiences sufficiently from these courses from just the alumni of the three partner schools. So we’ve reached out to attract broader audiences through affiliating with universities and through finding other organizations that might have an interest in making courses available to members.”

Fast forward a year, and it is clear that the effort had failed economically despite the broadening of audiences, again from the Yale Daily News.

Yale President Richard Levin, who served as AllLearn’s chairman, said he thinks that while the participating institutions learned what is necessary to manage a successful distance learning program, they were unable to make the project financially viable.

“We are disappointed that we weren’t able to find a way to make this successful economically,” Levin said. “[But] we learned a lot, and I think it will serve us well in the future.”

Open Yale Courses also provides non-credit elite courses. The problem? You might have guessed it, as described by this 2012 report for the Committee on Online Education.

Open Yale Courses has been supported by generous grants from the Hewlett Foundation, but those grants are ending this semester; and there is no provision yet for the continuation of this program. There has been extensive planning, however, to keep the 42 existing courses on the Yale site as well as the iTunes U and YouTube platforms. All of the courses are being stored and preserved for future study. New visitors are discovering Open Yale Courses daily and global media coverage, which has been constant and enthusiastic since the start of the project, continues unabated.

The initiative is now attempting direct solicitation as a method of funding.

I don’t mean to question Levin’s good intentions nor his considerable support of the mission of making education more accessible through online technology. However, I find it disingenuous to try and alter history. This week the New York Times interviewed Levin about his new role as Coursera CEO, and the reporter asked some good questions but lacked follow-up.

Q. Yale has not exactly been a mass institution.

A. No, but we were early in the on-line arena, with a venture back in 2000 called All-Learn.

Q. How much did you lose, and why didn’t that spoil this for you?

A. It was too early. Bandwidth wasn’t adequate to support the video. But we gained a lot of experience of how to create courses, and then we used it starting in 2007 to create very high quality videos, now supported by adequate bandwidth in many parts of the world, with the Open Yale courses. We’ve released over 40 of them, and they gained a wide audience.

So here we have yet another initiative offering non-credit elite courses, and one of the biggest challenges that Coursera faces is that it has yet to find a viable business model. The company is living on $85 million in venture capital investment and has not yet found revenue sources that go beyond a few million dollars per year (Signature Track). Levin called out this challenge in the same NYT interview.

Q. Doesn’t edX have an advantage in being not-for-profit, meaning they don’t have to worry about returning on investment so soon? Yesterday Andrew Ng said, “We’ve raised $85 million, so we’ve got some runway.” How much runway?

A. I think the principal investors in Coursera understand that this is a long term play. We’re fortunate to have patient investors; and as Andrew said, we’re quite adequately capitalized. I think we can become financially viable certainly within that five-year framework.

Q. You’re an economist. How do you get from here to there?

A. Right now courses are free and we’re charging for certification. We think that as the idea of using Coursera courses for professional advancement grows, the numbers seeking certificates will grow. And the price we charge probably can grow, too. A move from $50 or $60 for Signature Track to $100 is certainly imaginable. At $100 a pop, if you had two or three, or five million people. …

I would suggest that Coursera will not “get from here to there” by altering the record of the past. AllLearn failed to generate sufficient interest in its courses, and the proximate cause was not “insufficient bandwidth”. AllLearn in fact had several approaches that alleviated bandwidth concerns, including CD-ROM delivery and the ability to turn off high-bandwidth features. AllLearn’s average learner was a 47-year-old Yale alumni – hardly a case of low-income lack of access to sufficient bandwidth. Plenty of online ventures started in 2000 or prior have succeeded – Penn State’s World Campus, UMUC, most large for-profits, UMassOnline, University of Central Florida, etc. This was not a case of being “too early”.

Read the University Business post-mortem and the Yale article. The issue involved economics and insufficient revenue to offset expenses.

Coursera and all the xMOOC providers have this same long-term challenge of adequate business models. I called out this challenge as one of the four key barriers that MOOcs faced, based on a July 2012 post. I speak as someone who would like to see MOOCs succeed – not in their current form, but in a form that evolves to better meet learner needs. This healthy evolution won’t happen, however, unless the providers honestly evaluate the lessons of the past.



Update (4/17): It appears that Levin is doubling down on his new theory about AllLearn. From the Yale Daily News today:

“I knew from the beginning that [online ed] had great potential,” Levin said.

In fact, Yale’s experiment with online education began under Levin’s presidency. In 2000, Yale launched AllLearn, a joint venture with Stanford and Oxford that faltered after four years due to insufficient technology at the time. The Internet bandwidth in most homes was inadequate for properly sharing course material, Levin admitted.

For the record, I can find no explanations from the time of AllLearn’s demise in 2006 that insufficient bandwidth was the problem. What we do have are statements including from Levin himself that insufficient demand leading to unsustainable revenue was the problem.

The post Coursera CEO Interview: Mike Caulfield nailed it two months ago appeared first on e-Literate.

by Phil Hill at April 16, 2014 02:03 AM

April 15, 2014

Michael Feldstein

Links to External Articles and Interviews

Last week I was off the grid (not just lack of Internet but also lack of electricity), but thanks to publishing cycles I managed to stay artificially productive: two blog posts and one interview for an article.

Last week brought news of a new study on textbooks for college students, this time from a research arm of the  National Association of College Stores. The report, “Student Watch: Attitudes and Behaviors toward Course Materials, Fall 2013″, seems to throw some cold water on the idea of digital textbooks based on the press release summary [snip]

While there is some useful information in this survey, I fear that the press release is missing some important context. Namely, how can students prefer something that is not really available?

March 28, 2014 may well go down as the turning point where Big Data lost its placement as a silver bullet and came down to earth in a more productive manner. Triggered by a March 14 article in Science Magazine that identified “big data hubris” as one of the sources of the well-known failures of Google Flu Trends,[1] there were five significant articles in one day on the disillusionment with Big Data. [snip]

Does this mean Big Data is over and that education will move past this over-hyped concept? Perhaps Mike Caulfield from the Hapgood Blog stated it best, including adding the education perspective . . .

This is the fun one for me, as I finally have my youngest daughter’s interest (you made Buzzfeed!). Buzzfeed has added a new education beat focusing on the business of education.

The public debut last week of education technology company 2U, which partners with nonprofit and public universities to offer online degree programs, may have looked like a harbinger of IPO riches to come for companies that, like 2U, promise to disrupt the traditional education industry. At least that’s what the investors and founders of these companies want to believe. [snip]

“We live in a post-Facebook area where startups have this idea that they can design a good product and then just grow, grow, grow,” said Phil Hill, an education technology consultant and analyst. “That’s not how it actually works in education.”


The post Links to External Articles and Interviews appeared first on e-Literate.

by Phil Hill at April 15, 2014 05:41 PM

Adam Marshall

WebLearn was upgraded on Tuesday 15th April 2014 to version 2.8-ox10

WebLearn was upgraded on Tuesday 15th April 2014 to version 2.8-ox10. For more detailed information and other minor changes, please looked at the detailed release notes.

If you would like to suggest further improvements then please do so by contributing to the WebLearn User Voice feedback service.

General Improvements

  • All pages created via the HTML WYSWIWG editor in Resources are now delivered in ‘standards mode’ – a blog post explains the rationale for this change
  • ‘Read resources’ permission can now not be removed from the ‘maintain’, ‘contribute’ and ‘access’ roles – a blog post explains the rationale for this change
  • The ‘Switch to access role’ option is now not shown for unpublished sites
  • The ‘Graduate Training Tool’ is now known as the ‘Researcher Training Tool’ – all documentation has been updated
  • The ‘Resources Browser’ in the HTML WYSIWYG Editor should now work with Internet Explorer 11

Bug Fixes

  • Editing an existing survey no longer loses  previously selected option
  • Replacing an existing file which is available to ‘All Oxford Users’ using WebDAV no longer modifies access rights

by Adam Marshall at April 15, 2014 04:26 PM

April 14, 2014

Michael Feldstein

Head in the Oven, Feet in the Freezer

Some days, the internet gods are kind. On April 9th, I wrote,

We want talking about educational efficacy to be like talking about the efficacy of Advil for treating arthritis. But it’s closer to talking about the efficacy of various chemotherapy drugs for treating a particular cancer. And we’re really really bad at talking about that kind of efficacy. I think we have our work cut out for us if we really want to be able to talk intelligently and intelligibly about the effectiveness of any particular educational intervention.

On the very same day, the estimable Larry Cuban blogged,

So it is hardly surprising, then, that many others, including myself, have been skeptical of the popular idea that evidence-based policymaking and evidence-based instruction can drive teaching practice. Those doubts have grown larger when one notes what has occurred in clinical medicine with its frequent U-turns in evidence-based “best practices.” Consider, for example, how new studies have often reversed prior “evidence-based” medical procedures. *Hormone therapy for post-menopausal women to reduce heart attacks wasfound to be more harmful than no intervention at all. *Getting a PSA test to determine whether the prostate gland showed signs of cancer for men over the age of 50 was “best practice” until 2012 when advisory panels of doctors recommended that no one under 55 should be tested and those older  might be tested if they had family histories of prostate cancer. And then there are new studies that recommend women to have annual mammograms, not at age  50 as recommended for decades, but at age 40. Or research syntheses (sometimes called “meta-analyses”) that showed anti-depressant pills worked no better than placebos. These large studies done with randomized clinical trials–the current gold standard for producing evidence-based medical practice–have, over time, produced reversals in practice. Such turnarounds, when popularized in the press (although media attention does not mean that practitioners actually change what they do with patients) often diminished faith in medical research leaving most of us–and I include myself–stuck as to which healthy practices we should continue and which we should drop. Should I, for example, eat butter or margarine to prevent a heart attack? In the 1980s, the answer was: Don’t eat butter, cheese, beef, and similar high-saturated fat products. Yet a recent meta-analysis of those and subsequent studies reached an opposite conclusion. Figuring out what to do is hard because I, as a researcher, teacher, and person who wants to maintain good health has to sort out what studies say and  how those studies were done from what the media report, and then how all of that applies to me. Should I take a PSA test? Should I switch from margarine to butter?

He put it much better than I did. While the gains in overall modern medicine have been amazing, anybody who has had even a moderately complex health issue (like back pain, for example) has had the frustrating experience of having a billion tests, being passed from specialist to specialist, and getting no clear answers.1 More on this point later. Larry’s next post—actually a guest post by Francis Schrag—is an imaginary argument between an evidence-based education proponent and a skeptic. I won’t quote it here, but it is well worth reading in full. My own position is somewhere between the proponent and the skeptic, though leaning more in the direction of the proponent. I don’t think we can measure everything that’s important about education, and it’s very clear that pretending that we can has caused serious damage to our educational system. But that doesn’t mean I think we should abandon all attempts to formulate a science of education. For me, it’s all about literacy. I want to give teachers and students skills to interpret the evidence for themselves and then empower them to use their own judgment. To that end, let’s look at the other half of Larry’s April 9 post, the title of which is “What’s The Evidence on School Devices and Software Improving Student Learning?”

Lies, Damned Lies, and…

The heart of the post is a study by John Hattie, a Professor at the University of Auckland (NZ). He’s done meta-analysis on an enormous number of education studies, looking at effect sizes, measured on a scale from 0.1, which is negligible, to 1.0, which is a full standard deviation.

He found that the “typical” effect size of an innovation was 0.4. To compare different classroom approaches shaped student learning, Hattie used the “typical” effect size (0.4) to mean that a practice reached the threshold of influence on student learning (p. 5). From his meta-analyses, he then found that class size had a .20 effect (slide 15) while direct instruction had a .59 effect (slide 21). Again and again, he found that teacher feedback had an effect size of .72 (slide 32). Moreover, teacher-directed strategies of increasing student verbalization (.67) and teaching meta-cognition strategies (.67) had substantial effects (slide 32). What about student use of computers (p. 7)? Hattie included many “effect sizes” of computer use from distance education (.09), multimedia methods (.15), programmed instruction (.24), and computer-assisted instruction (.37). Except for “hypermedia instruction” (.41), all fell below the “typical ” effect size (.40) of innovations improving student learning (slides 14-18). Across all studies of computers, then, Hattie found an overall effect size of .31 (p. 4).

The conclusion is that changing a classroom practice can often produce a significant effect size while adding a technology rarely does. But as my father likes to say, if you stick your head in the oven and your feet in the freezer, on average you’ll be comfortable. Let’s think about introducing clickers to a classroom, for example. What class are you using them in? How often do you use them? When do you use them? What do you use them for? Clickers in and of themselves change nothing. No intervention is going to be educationally effective unless it gets students to perceive, act, and think differently. There are lots of ways to use clickers in the classroom that have no such effect. My guess is that, most of the time, they are used for formative assessments. Those can be helpful or not, but generally when done in this way are more about informing the teacher than they are directly about helping the student. But there are other uses of clicker technologies. For example, University of Michigan professor Perry Samson recently blogged about using clickers to compare students’ sense of their physical and emotional well-being with their test performance:

Figure 2.  Example of results from a student wellness question for a specific class day.  Note the general collinearity of physical and emotional wellness.

I have observed over the last few years that a majority of the students who were withdrawing from my course in mid-semester commented on a crisis in health or emotion in their lives.  On a lark this semester I created an image-based question to ask students in LectureTools at the beginning of each class (example, Figure 2) that requested their self assessment of their current physical and emotional state. Clearly there is a wide variation in students’ perceptions of their physical and emotional state.  To analyze these data I performed cluster analysis on students’ reported emotional state prior to the first exam and found that temporal trends in this measure of emotional state could be clustered into six categories.

Figure 3.  Trends in students' self reported emotional state prior to the first exam in class are clustered into six categories.  The average emotional state for each cluster appears to be predictive of median first exam scores.

Perhaps not surprisingly Figure 3 shows that student outcomes on the first exam were very much related to the students’ self assessment of their emotional state prior to the exam.  This result is hard evidence for the intuitive, that students perform better when they are in a better emotional state.

I don’t know what Perry will end up doing with this information in terms of a classroom intervention. Nor do I know whether any such intervention will be effective. But it seems common sense not to lump it in with a million billion professors asking quiz questions on their clickers to aggregate it into an average of how effective clickers are. To be fair, that’s not Larry’s point for quoting the Hattie study. He’s arguing against the reductionist argument that technology fixes everything—an argument which seems obviously absurd to everybody except, sadly, the people who seem to have the power to make decisions. But my point is that it is equally absurd to use this study as evidence that technology is generally not helpful. What I think it suggests is that it makes little sense to study the efficacy of educational technologies or products outside the context of the efficacy of the practices that they enable. More importantly, it’s a good example of how we all need to get much more sophisticated about reading the studies so we can judge for ourselves what they do and do not prove.

Of Back Mice and Men

I have had moderate to severe back pain for the past seven years. I have been to see orthopedists, pain specialists, rheumatologists, urologists, chiropractors, physical therapists, acupuncturists, and massage therapists. In many cases, I have seen more than one in any given category. I had X-rays, CAT scans, MRIs, and electrical probes inserted into my abdomen and legs. I had many needles of widely varying gauges stuck in me, grown humans walking on my back, gallons of steroids injected into me. I had the protective sheathes of my nerves fried with electricity. If you’ve ever had chronic pain, you know that you would probably go to a voodoo priest and drink goat urine if you thought it might help. (Sadly, there are apparently no voodoo priests in my area of Massachusetts—or at least none who have a web page.) Nobody I went to could help me. Not too long ago, I had cause to visit my primary care physician, who is a good old country doctor. No specialist certificates, no Ivy League medical school degrees. Just a solid GP with some horse sense. In a state of despair, I explained my situation to him. He said, “Can I try something? Does it hurt when I touch you here?” OUCH!!!! It turns out that I have a condition called “back mice,” also called “episacral lipomas” when it is referred to in the medical literature, which, it turns out, happens rarely. I won’t go into the details of what they are, because that’s not important to the story. What’s important is what the doctor said next. “There’s hardly anything on them in the literature,” he said. “The thing is, they don’t show up on any scans. They’re impossible to diagnose unless you actually touch the patient’s back.” I thought back to all the specialists I had seen over the years. None of the doctors ever once touched my back. Not one. My massage therapist actually found the back mice, but she didn’t know what they were, and neither of us knew that they were significant. It turns out that once my GP discovered that these things exist, he started finding them everywhere. He told me a story of an eighty-year-old woman who had been hospitalized for “non-specific back pain.” They doped her up with opiates and the poor thing couldn’t stand up without falling over. He gave her a couple of shots in the right place, and a week later she was fine. He has changed my life as well. I am not yet all better—we just started treatment two weeks ago—but I am already dramatically better. The thing is, my doctor is an empiricist. In fact, he is one of the best diagnosticians I know. (And I have now met many.) He knew about back mice in the first place because he reads the literature avidly. But believing in the value of evidence and research is not the same thing as believing that only that which has been tested, measured, and statistically verified has value. Evidence should be a tool in the service of judgment, not a substitute for it. Isn’t that what we try to teach our students?

  1. But I’m not bitter.

The post Head in the Oven, Feet in the Freezer appeared first on e-Literate.

by Michael Feldstein at April 14, 2014 11:19 AM

April 09, 2014

Apereo OAE

Apereo OAE is now responsive!

The Apereo Open Academic Environment (OAE) project team is extremely proud to announce the next major release of the Apereo Open Academic Environment; OAE Emperor Penguin or OAE 6.

OAE Emperor Penguin brings a fully responsive UI, ensuring that OAE works seamlessly on mobile and tablet devices. OAE Emperor Penguin also adds a range of usability improvements and a full Brazilian Portuguese translation.


Responsive UI

An increasing number of people expect to be able to use applications on mobile and tablet devices, and Apereo OAE is not an exception. Usage statistics already show that many of our users are accessing OAE through these devices.

Apereo OAE uses Twitter Bootstrap as its CSS framework. When they released their latest version, introducing support for responsive applications, it seemed like an appropriate time to make the OAE UI fully responsive. Despite using this responsive CSS framework and the fact that OAE has been designed tablet first, making the UI fully responsive has been a massive undertaking that has ended up touching most of the application.

However, we are extremely pleased with the end result and OAE now works well on a wide range of mobile and tablet devices. Whilst all OAE functionality works seamlessly on these devices, it is especially pleasant to keep track of your user and group activity feeds.


Brazilian Portuguese translation

A complete Brazilian Portuguese translation is now available for the OAE UI. Many thanks to César Goudouris for providing this translation!

Try it out

OAE Emperor Penguin can be experienced on the project's QA server at It is worth noting that this server is actively used for testing and will be wiped and redeployed every night.

The source code has been tagged with version numbers 6.0.0 and can be downloaded from the following repositories:


Documentation on how to install the system can be found at

Instruction on how to upgrade an OAE installation from version 5.0 to version 6.0 can be found at

The repository containing all deployment scripts can be found at

Get in touch

The project website can be found at The project blog will be updated with the latest project news from time to time, and can be found at

The mailing list used for Apereo OAE is You can subscribe to this by sending an email to

Bugs and other issues can be reported in our issue tracker at

by Nicolaas Matthijs at April 09, 2014 06:24 PM

April 08, 2014

Dr. Chuck

Dear Google, Like You, I Just Don’t Care…

As many know, when Google App Engine came out I became immediately enamored with it. I saw it as a way to democratize access to server-hosted code. It meant everyone in the world could have server space at no charge and I hoped it would unleash creativity. I wrote the first book on App Engine (released through O’Reilly and Associates). I switched the course I was teaching from Ruby on Rails to use App Engine and it was taught that way for over 3 years. I started doing more and more server side development in Python. I started moving some of my production stuff from PHP to App Engine to show the faith.

But my enthusiasm and rush to embrace all things App Engine was not to last. I could write a book on went wrong with App Engine but here are a few of the high points. (1) They never would help you with performance problems unless your name is “Sal Khan” – they just were the Honey Badger. (2) Once they used us early adopters to Beta test their code by building free applications – the “free” resource levels went down to force more folks to the pay version. (3) They just decided to break working code as they went to Python 2.7 – no need to support legacy (say like Microsoft does) – again the cries of “foul” fell on the deaf Honey Badger ears.

That is not to say that App Engine had zero value. It motivated companies like Amazon to create truly useful services like EC2 that actually met user’s needs and let users do what they wanted and let users log in to diagnose why their code was running slowly. So App Engine was not quite a Google Wave that never took off. More like a Google Reader that told Yahoo that there was demand for such a service.

Google has done a lot of forcing innovation upon us – like the AJAX revolution through Google Maps and GMail. And I love Chrome (I am using it to write this post).

So I have been recently getting mail that my App Engine and Apps stuff that I built during my post-Google I/O (2008, 2009) high are not active so they will be deleted. I have many opportunities to simply “click this button” to extend the life of these things. But this time, it is my turn to be the Honey Badger. Because you see I simply do not care. I just cannot depend Google for anything other than AdSense, Search, Maps and Mail. You are good at supporting your applications and terrible at supporting my applications. Your developer stuff is so freakishly proprietary and you have no commitment to continuity. I like Amazon a lot – they “get” me – Amazon is my partner – they want me to succeed and get a cut of my success. Google makes me feel like a side of beef – an asset to be managed.

Here is the mail I just got. I am putting it into this blog post so I can gleefully delete it and ignore it – like the Honey Badger would.


There hasn’t been any activity on your Google Apps account for the domain since we sent your termination notice 30 days ago.

Your Google Apps account has been closed.

You can still check or save your data. Just sign in to as in the next 30 days and export your data. If you forgot your username or password, click the “Need help?” link, and we’ll help you access your account.

Your account will be automatically terminated on May 8th 2014. Once your account is terminated, you can no longer access any Google Apps services with this domain name. All of your account data, such as your Gmail messages and contacts, will be permanently deleted to protect your privacy. No one will be able to access your old data by creating a new Google Apps account with this domain name.

Visit the Google Apps Help Center to learn more about closing inactive accounts.

We hope you’ve enjoyed using Google Apps. If you would like to continue using these services, we invite you to create a new Google Apps for Business account.

The Google Apps Team

by Charles Severance at April 08, 2014 01:18 PM

April 07, 2014

Chris Coppola

Managing Climate Change in Higher Education

It seems that Arizona has been the beneficiary of climate change this winter. Friends and colleagues from across the eastern United States have experienced severe storms and frigid temperatures while our weather here in the desert southwest has been unusually pleasant. Don’t worry friends, we’ll get what’s coming to us when it’s 130 degrees this summer and we run out of water. But for now, I’m enjoying it and trying to be responsible about my water and energy use. In fact, every time I walk by one of my Nest thermostats it reminds me with a friendly little leaf icon that I’m contributing to the 1,774,469,650 kWh that nest users around the world have saved.

There’s another, mostly unrelated, climate change going on in higher education today and it’s causing clouds of a different sort. Colleges and universities, like many of their industry counterparts, are moving systems off campus into aggregated above campus services at an accelerated pace. These above campus or cloud services take advantage of great economies of scale so that computing capacity and application services like email, learning platforms, and even ERP systems can be quickly and easily scaled up and down to meet business demand.

I’m seeing evidence of the trend from several angles:

  • The Educause Core Data Survey (2013) found more than half of all institutions had at least one core information system in the cloud, half of those had two, and twenty-five percent had three.

  • The Campus Computing Project Survey (2013) reported that more than half of all institutions consider it strategic to move their ERP to the cloud. The survey also predicts thousands of instances of mission-critical applications like research administration, HR, student services, and financials will move to the cloud by 2018.

  • Eight of the Top Ten IT issues highlighted in the Educause Review for 2014 include some cloud angle.

Personally, I’m finding it increasingly common to hear that an institution’s strategy is to first look for new application services in the cloud. And, to only consider introducing new services in the campus data center after cloud options have been ruled out.

At rSmart, we’re both a provider and a consumer of cloud services. Strategically we look for services that increase our effectiveness as a team without taking focus away from delivering on the company’s mission. We want as much of our energy focused on helping colleges and universities keep their money in their mission, and as little as possible running our email, marketing, and finance systems. The same seems to be true for an increasing number of higher education institutions.

There are enormous benefits to treating computing and application services like an elastic commodity that can scale and adapt with an organization’s needs. There are also material risks that need to be thoughtfully addressed and managed. Mission-critical applications that are highly configured to the organizations business processes, and have hundreds or thousands of campus users, deserve particular consideration.

Brad Wheeler, CIO at Indiana University and Kelley Business School professor, recently recorded a guest lecture at Stellenbosch University in South Africa on the economics of open source. The full presentation is a good listen, but if you only have a few minutes, Brad touches on an important aspect of the trend toward cloud computing at about 28 minutes into the lecture

Rights and Provisioning Matrix

Rights and Provisioning Matrix

His focus is on two dimensions: Ownership (Y-axis) and Location (X-axis). Brad makes it clear that giving up control on both dimensions dramatically increases the risk. If you don’t own it and it’s off-site, you better hope that the vendor’s values and direction stay aligned with yours.

I use a lot of cloud-based services so I understand this risk well and have occasionally experienced the impact. One recent example happened when Beats Music acquired MOG. Many years ago I decided that there was no need to own physical media for music anymore. I could get the music I like streamed to me at home, in the car, at work, and on the road. My service of choice has been MOG. It is integrated with my Sonos at home and set up on all of my devces. I have all of my playlists there, etc. When they announced the acquisition I hoped that Beats would leverage MOG’s great platform and that I’d eventually move to Beats. Well, as it often happens, it didn’t work out that way and now I’m starting over with Spotify. So it goes.

Music playlists and personal entertainment are trivial examples compared to the disruption that occurs when mission-critical enterprise systems are used by hundreds or thousands of people in the organization. When the application is running in the cloud and the vendor owns the software, the vendor holds all the cards. And in a situation where the vendor goes in a direction that’s not aligned with your organization, you just don’t have many options.

Fortunately, there is another option. Kuali (the “K” in Brad’s slide) is a global collaboration of more than seventy colleges, universities, and companies working together to create an option that is “owned” by higher education. rSmart, a co-founder of Kuali, is one of those organizations and our unique role is to provide colleges and universities with a trusted cloud option for these mission-critical systems. With rSmart and Kuali in the cloud, institutions can leverage the economies of scale of the cloud and retain peace of mind. That’s because control of the software’s direction lies firmly in the hands of higher education.

Climate change in higher education is inevitable. As consumers of higher education continue to face soaring tuition costs, their expectations are rising accordingly. Now is the time for institutions to find ways to be more agile and leverage the benefits and economies of scale that come with the cloud.

With rSmart and Kuali, we can help you make sure your cloud resembles the kind that accent on a beautiful blue sky day. And, you won’t be put in a position to have to weather an untimely storm with ominous looking thunderheads.


Tagged: cloud, education, erp, kuali, open source, rSmart, SaaS

by Chris at April 07, 2014 08:10 PM

April 02, 2014

Dr. Chuck

Altering a UNIQUE Constraint in a MySQL Table

It took me a while to figure out how to drop and recreate a UNIQUE constraint on one of my tables. So I figured I would record the slick little sequence of commands here to help my memory and save me time next time:

CREATE TABLE `t_lti_link` (
`link_id` int(11) NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT,
`link_sha256` char(64) NOT NULL,
`link_key` varchar(4096) NOT NULL,
`context_id` int(11) NOT NULL,
`title` varchar(2048) DEFAULT NULL,
`json` text,
`created_at` datetime NOT NULL,
`updated_at` datetime NOT NULL,
PRIMARY KEY (`link_id`),
UNIQUE KEY `link_sha256` (`link_sha256`),
KEY `t_lti_link_ibfk_1` (`context_id`),
CONSTRAINT `t_lti_link_ibfk_1` FOREIGN KEY (`context_id`) REFERENCES `t_lti_context` (`context_id`) ON DELETE CASCADE ON UPDATE CASCADE
ALTER TABLE t_lti_link DROP INDEX link_sha256;
SHOW INDEX FROM t_lti_link;
ALTER TABLE t_lti_link ADD UNIQUE(link_sha256, context_id)
SHOW INDEX FROM t_lti_link;
CREATE TABLE `t_lti_link` (
`link_id` int(11) NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT,
`link_sha256` char(64) NOT NULL,
`link_key` varchar(4096) NOT NULL,
`context_id` int(11) NOT NULL,
`title` varchar(2048) DEFAULT NULL,
`json` text,
`created_at` datetime NOT NULL,
`updated_at` datetime NOT NULL,
PRIMARY KEY (`link_id`),
UNIQUE KEY `link_sha256` (`link_sha256`,`context_id`),
KEY `t_lti_link_ibfk_1` (`context_id`),
CONSTRAINT `t_lti_link_ibfk_1` FOREIGN KEY (`context_id`) REFERENCES `t_lti_context` (`context_id`) ON DELETE CASCADE ON UPDATE CASCADE

Sweet. I am loving that MySQL magic.

by Charles Severance at April 02, 2014 12:57 AM

March 28, 2014

Dr. Chuck

Learning Management System – March Madness 2014

I just produced a bracket for March Madness 2014 that breaks it down by which enterprise Learning Management System each campus is running.

LMS March Madness for 2014.

The Final-4 bis set:

Blackboard: 2
Sakai: 1
Desire2Learn: 1

The story line for the Final Four is almost perfect. In the first round it is Blackboard versus Sakai and Blackboard versus Desire2Learn. It could be an all-Blackboard final or Blackboard could have no teams in the final. This is unlike in 2013 where Blackboard was three of the four Final Four teams (Sakai was the fourth) and eventually won it all. If your team is no longer in the playoffs – simple switch to rooting for a team based on their enterprise LMS.

The Sweet-16 box score was:

Blackboard: 8
Sakai: 4
Desire2Learn: 3
Moodle: 1

Check out my blog post from last year!

We shall see who wins the overall LMS March Madness Challenge!

by Charles Severance at March 28, 2014 01:44 AM

March 17, 2014

Apereo OAE

Apereo OAE Desert Sparrow is now available!

The Apereo Open Academic Environment (OAE) project team is pleased to announce the fifth major release of the Apereo Open Academic Environment; OAE Desert Sparrow or OAE 5.

OAE Desert Sparrow is a mostly technical release, upgrading OAE from CQL2 to CQL3. Next to that, OAE Desert Sparrow also adds full-text search of content comments and discussion posts.


CQL3 Upgrade

Apereo OAE has been upgraded from CQL2 to CQL3. CQL2 has been deprecated in Cassandra 1.2 and will be removed in the next major Cassandra release. While CQL2 provides an SQL-like abstraction to Thrift in Cassandra, CQL3 goes a step further to provide a more natural row-column model. A detailed overview of the differences between CQL2 and CQL3 can be found on the Datastax website.

Whilst this upgrade is not a user-facing improvement, it still warrants a new major release because of the amount of underlying changes involved and the need to migrate any existing data. However, the migration can happen without requiring any downtime. 

Message searching

When searching for content items, the full text of all comments on those content items will now be included for searches. Similarly, the full text of all discussion posts will be considered when searching for discussions. This includes both global searches and searches within content and discussion libraries and should make it even more likely that relevant results will be returned.

Try it out

OAE Desert Sparrow can be experienced on the project's QA server at It is worth noting that this server is actively used for testing and will be wiped and redeployed every night.

The source code has been tagged with version numbers 5.0.0 and can be downloaded from the following repositories:


Documentation on how to install the system can be found at

Instruction on how to upgrade an OAE installation from version 4.4 to version 5.0 can be found at

The repository containing all deployment scripts can be found at

Get in touch

The project website can be found at The project blog will be updated with the latest project news from time to time, and can be found at

The mailing list used for Apereo OAE is You can subscribe to the mailing list at

Bugs and other issues can be reported in our issue tracker at

by Nicolaas Matthijs at March 17, 2014 06:37 PM

February 28, 2014

Teaching with Coursework

Teaching Award Opportunity for 2014

Instructors making innovative use of CourseWork are encouraged to apply for the 2014 Teaching With Sakai Innovation Award (TWSIA). This international award goes to an instructor making exceptional use of Sakai (the system upon which CourseWork is based on), recognizing innovation and excellence in technology-supported teaching, academic collaboration, and student engagement. (See winners from 2012 and 2013 )

Award categories include:

  • Higher Education: Face-to-Face
  • Higher Education: Fully Online or Hybrid Course
  • Project Sites & Other Uses of Sakai

Closing Deadline: April 4, 2014

Each applicant will submit an in-depth description of the innovative teaching method, practice or strategy submitted and how it addresses the award criteria.

Winners will be announced in May and recognized at the Apereo (previously Jasig-Sakai) Conference in Miami, Florida, June 1-4, 2014. Registration and travel expenses will be partially subsidized for award winners.

For more information, visit

by admin at February 28, 2014 05:49 PM

February 27, 2014

Apereo OAE

Apereo OAE Cardinal is now available!

The Apereo Open Academic Environment (OAE) project team is pleased to announce the fourth major release of the Apereo Open Academic Environment; OAE Cardinal or OAE 4. In fact, the team has been so busy that 9 different releases have already taken place under the Cardinal umbrella, which means that the latest version is 4.3.0.

OAE Cardinal's main new feature is push notifications, providing real-time UI updates for activity relevant to the user or activity happening in the context the user is currently looking at. Next to that, OAE Cardinal also adds OAuth support for the REST APIs, activity feed and caching improvements, new UI translations and much more.


Push notifications

Prior to OAE Cardinal, it was necessary to refresh the page to see any changes that have happened since the page was loaded, which caused people to not immediately notice changes or be able to react to new activity. User testing and user feedback also showed that people almost expected immediate updates to be part of a collaborative system like OAE.

The introduction of push notifications addresses this in a very seamless way, providing real-time UI updates for activity relevant to the user or activity happening in the context the user is currently looking at. Some examples of push notifications in action can be seen in the following screencast:

Push notifications use websockets under the hood to push updates to the browser, which is a technological foundation that will be useful for many other features to come. Performance testing these push notifications turned out to be quite a challenge because of the websocket readiness of performance testing tools, but we're pleased to say that we've been able to contribute significantly to the websocket support of Tsung, our performance testing tool of choice.


It is now possible to authenticate with the OAE APIs via OAuth 2's "Client Credentials Grant". This new authentication mechanism provides much easier programmatical access to the APIs without sacrificing security. After creating an OAuth Client, it can be used to interact with all the OAE APIs on behalf of the client's owner.

UI translations

OAE Cardinal now has complete translations for the following new languages:

  • Swedish (thanks to Måns Ramberg from Research Research)
  • Hindi (thanks to Udaya Ghattamaneni from Marist College)

Activity feed improvements

A number of activity feed improvements have been added to the OAE Cardinal release. Thanks to push notifications, activity feeds will now immediately reflect any actions taken by the current user. For example, files uploaded will be shown in the activity feed straight away, without having to refresh the page, dramatically improving the navigational experience.

Improvements have also been made to the number of activities that show in your activity feed from people you follow. Any private items that the current user is not involved in, will no longer be surfaced. Even though those items were correctly not accessible when clicking through, it removes the potential of exposing something and reduces the amount of activity updates received.

Email throttling

A number of precautions have been put in place to avoid people receiving too many email notifications for actions taking place in the system. This is only the first step in a number of improvements that will rationalise the OAE email notification behaviour further down the line, including the introduction of email notification preferences and aggregation.

Caching improvements

Improvements to the production build script have been made, ensuring that subsequent builds will not conflict with each other in terms of files cached in the browser. This will make sure that all files are correctly cached, but still correctly refreshed when necessary.

Try it out

OAE Cardinal can be experienced on the project's QA server at It is worth noting that this server is actively used for testing and will be wiped and redeployed every night.

The source code has been tagged with version numbers 4.0.0, 4.1.0, 4.1.1, 4.1.2, 4.1.3, 4.2.0, 4.2.1, 4.2.2 and 4.3.0. The latest version can be downloaded from the following repositories:


Documentation on how to install the system can be found at

The repository containing all deployment scripts can be found at

Get in touch

The project website can be found at The project blog will be updated with the latest project news from time to time, and can be found at

The mailing list used for Apereo OAE is You can subscribe to the mailing list at

Bugs and other issues can be reported in our issue tracker at

by Nicolaas Matthijs at February 27, 2014 06:18 PM

February 06, 2014


Sakai and Canvas Guest Accounts Web form released!

Information Technologies is happy to announce the launch of a Web form called Sakai and Canvas Guest Accounts. It is intended for faculty and staff to create and manage guest access to UD’s learning management systems. In addition to conforming to our integrated guest account service (which also includes the Parent/Guardian accounts), it will allow […] more >

by Mathieu Plourde at February 06, 2014 09:42 PM

February 03, 2014

Sakai Project

One Week Left! Open Apereo 2014 Call for Papers closes Feb. 7th


ONLY ONE WEEK LEFT! The call for proposals for Open Apereo 2014 in Miami, FL is still open and the final deadline of February 7 is quickly approaching!

Submit your proposal:

The Open Apereo annual conference is a global networking point for developers, faculty, administrators, advocates, support specialists, and others to gather, learn from one another, and create solutions together with open-source technologies. We need your voice, your lessons learned, and your ideas for creating the future of teaching and learning in higher education. You may submit a presentation session, birds of a feather discussion, showcase night demonstration, or "flipped" presentation.

Don't wait! Get those proposals in before Friday, February 7 by 11:59 PM Pacific.

We look forward to your proposal!


Ian Dolphin, Executive Director, Apereo Foundation
Laura McCord, Open Apereo 2014 Planning Committee Chair
Reba-Anna Lee, Open Apereo 2014 Program Committee Co-chair
Alan Regan, Open Apereo 2014 Program Committee Co-chair


* June 1: Pre-Conference Workshops and Welcome Reception

* June 2-4: Main Conference

* June 5: Post-Conference Project Collaboration Time

by brian at February 03, 2014 08:55 PM

Call for Entries for the 2014 Teaching with Sakai Innovation Award


The Sakai Teaching and Learning community is seeking entries for the annual Teaching With Sakai Innovation Award (TWSIA) competition. The award recognizes innovation and excellence in technology-supported teaching, academic collaboration, and student engagement. Since the first call for submissions in 2008, educators from institutions around the world have submitted their entries in the annual competition. Again this year, we look forward to entries from those using the Sakai CLE (Collaborative Learning Environment) and the Apereo OAE (Open Academic Environment).

Award categories include: “Higher Education: Face-to-Face,” “Higher Education: Fully Online or Hybrid Course,” “Primary and Secondary Education (K-12),” “Projects & Other Uses” and “Portfolios”

Entries are now being accepted on the Apereo Foundation site at: which provides information for applicants on how to enter the competition, including a description of the award categories, the rubrics, the definition of innovation that is used to judge entries, and downloadable entry forms.

The closing date for entries is April 4, 2014. Winners will be notified in early May 2014 and receive recognition at the Open Apereo Conference, June 1-4, 2014 in Miami, Florida, and in a wide variety of media. A limited amount of funding will be available to support a portion of each winner's travel to the conference.

We thank our sponsor Asahi Net International (ANI) for their continuing support of the Teaching With Sakai Innovation Award.

To apply for the award, and for more information, please go to

by brian at February 03, 2014 08:07 PM

January 12, 2014

Jason Shao

BDD as Finite-State-Machine (FSM)

Have been doing a lot of reading, playing, studying, experimenting around aligning specification and software recently.

(Some background: I recently accepted a new position running Engineering @ PlaceIQ – and so have a clean slate in a hyper-growth environment to think about the classic problem of “ahhh…. our users give us terrible requirements” – of course they do, they’re not trained/practiced in requirements analysis…)

BDD is something that on/off I’ve been watching/trying the last couple of years. TDD changed my life (as it may have changed yours) – but while it did a great job confirming “I built what I thought I should build”, it did a less great job confirming “I built what was needed to be built”.

(Another note: I distinguish “I built what was needed to be built” from “I built what I was asked to build”)

BDD though I think adds a critical layer of translation/transparency – it gives us a common check-point to agree on and review the *key* behaviors of the system – and provides a language in Given-When-Then that structures how we think about it’s behavior. I think has an awesome post where he sums up that:

Some of the brightest minds in our industry, people like Dan North, Dave Astels, David Chelimsky, Aslak Hellesoy, and a host of others, have been pursuing the notion that if we use a better language to describe automated requirements, we will improve the way we think about those requirements, and therefore write better requirements. The better language that they have chosen and used for the last several years uses the Given/When/Then form which, as we have seen, is a description of a finite state machine. And so it all comes back to Turing. It all comes back to marks on a tape. We’ve decided that the best way to describe the requirements of a system is to describe it as a turing machine.

Cucumber has been the latest tool I’ve been playing with to try to see where this takes us – and on the whole… I like where it’s going. is something I think I can take to my business users (we’ll see ;) ) and the harnesses let me hook into Maven and all my other tooling to then confirm that we’ve done X,Y,Z – and tie in regression results so they key in too. Also – creating a specification library gives me the other piece that I’ve always felt was missing in terms of issue-tracking – tracking the current-state of the system vs. just deltas.

Exciting enough to work on on a Sunday afternoon, anyway…

by jayshao at January 12, 2014 07:19 PM

December 12, 2013


Upcoming changes to the Sakai Guest Management System

Allowing external colleagues, experts, or students to use Sakai@UD has been and continues to be an important feature of our main learning management system. Since 2008, UD faculty and staff have created over 4,000 Sakai@UD guest accounts. Whether these guests are fellow researchers, job applicants, guest speakers, or students, they enrich our research and learning […] more >

by Mathieu Plourde at December 12, 2013 01:00 PM

December 10, 2013


Final Grades from Sakai to UDSIS

The Grade Submission from Sakai to UDSIS Web form allows instructors to transfer final letter grades from Sakai and automatically changes the status of the grades to Approved in UDSIS. It is important that instructors use this form only when all the grades have been assigned for the course section. You must add the Gradebook 2 tool to […] more >

by karenk at December 10, 2013 02:38 PM