Planet Sakai

September 29, 2016

Michael Feldstein

PEARSONalized Learning

I have been pretty relentless in mocking Knewton CEO Jose Ferriera for his “robot tutor in the sky” description of the company’s adaptive learning product. And I pledge to continue this proud tradition. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

But the truth is that most of the vendors in this space, both startups and traditional textbook vendors, are not doing a whole lot better than Knewton. The reason the “robot tutors” quote remains so useful is that it is a beautifully compact and self-explanatory illustration of the same symptom that shows up throughout the industry. Vendors struggle find ways to pitch their products that educators won’t find both offensive and ridiculous. In today’s episode of the evergreen marketing sitcom, we’ll see examples of Pearson making analogies or prominent references to Netflix, Google Ads, and one other surprise tech hype guest. (You don’t expect me to give you all the spoilers up front, do you?)

For the most part, it’s not that these companies are conspiring against educators (although we do get periodic outbreaks of “disrupting education” talk driven by Silicon Valley bros who are want to make a virtue out of the fact that they don’t know how to sell to schools). Nor is it that the people in these companies are stupid, or that they don’t understand their own products. Rather, it’s a manifestation of a larger problem of our culture. Most people who are not teachers, whether they work for education vendors or not, don’t understand what teaching is. They have a very rough Gradgrindian sense of it. Learning, in this view, is not an activity undertaken by learners but something that is done to them. You screw off the tops of the students heads, pour the knowledge in, and voila! They have been learned! Learning can be done to students equally well by a person or a machine, since it is not “personal” in any way that relates to normal understanding of the word, and it certainly is not interpersonal.

The people inside education companies that work with customers closely in designing the products often (though not always) have a more sophisticated understanding of teaching than this. But the further away the employees are from product development, the less likely they are to understand how teaching really works. The inner workings of the classroom are just not part of their daily lives. As I wrote in my review of InstructureCon, it’s very hard and rare for any company of over, say, 100 employees to be strongly aligned and consistent across its culture. This is doubly (or even trebly) true when the alignment you’re trying to get cuts against the grain of strongly held cultural notions like the ones we have of teaching. So there are a lot of employees inside most of these companies that don’t get it. Some of them are decision-makers. Some of them are allowed to speak in public. Some of them are both. The result is generally…not good.

It’s probably worth providing a more detailed version of the full disclosure thing than usual for this particular post. Pearson is a client of MindWires, the consulting company that Phil and I run together. When we do consult for vendors (as opposed to universities, which is the other half of our main business), our focus is on helping them understand the needs of students, educators, and schools. We don’t take money to advise them on marketing except in the narrow sense that we try to help them understand the kinds of educational problems that their customers want to hear (and talk) about how to solve. One of the reasons we try to be meticulous about drawing this line is that it leaves our hands clean to write the kind of public critique that I am about to offer here. We always tell this to our corporate clients and let them know that we could write a critical piece about them at any time without warning or editorial review, as long as we are not writing about proprietary information that is part of our consulting work with them.

So here goes….

A good education is not like a good mix tape

The first examples of the problem come from a pair of interviews of Pearson CIO Albert Hitchcock in a UK tech publication called V3. The first is entitled “Pearson aims to become the ‘Netflix of education’“.

A vendor is already in deep trouble when that’s the headline. The piece contains gems like

“The analogy I use is to be the Netflix for education. We want to create a single platform to deliver all educational content and services, irrespective of the age and stage of the pupil,” said Hitchcock.


“Much as you would consume movies through Netflix, or buy services through Amazon, we want education to be delivered through this single, quality user experience, but available to all ages and stages of learners.”

Given his profile on LinkedIn, Mr. Hitchcock appears to be new to education except for whatever memories he has of his own days as a student. Let me offer a couple of suggestions on how to get along in education for him and the many vendor employees who are in a similar situation:

  1. Never, ever, say that you want your company to be the Uber of education, the Airbnb of education, the Pokemon GO of education, or the [insert name of tech darling] of education unless you really enjoy being a recluse (or you are secretly a double agent for your employer’s direct competitor).
  2. If you absolutely must say something like the above, then do not say you are the Netflix of education. Honestly, Netflix isn’t even great at being the Netflix of movies. The last time they recommended a movie that I actually wanted to watch was…uh…never.

There is a recurring cultural fantasy that “solving” the education “problem” consists of creating a customized playlist of little content bits. So really, more like the Spotify of education, if you want to play that game. This idea enrages educators because it trivializes what they do. Nobody who has taught believes that proper sequencing of content chunks is the hard part. (For a fully fleshed out prior example—or a “worked example” in teaching parlance—of how the sorts of comments Mr. Hitchcock have made typically play out in educational corporate branding over time, see my post-mortem on Udacity’s pivot away from higher education.)

The second noteworthy quote from Mr. Hitchcock came in the article, “Struggling to find a data scientist? Use machine learning instead“:

“We’re starting to meta-tag all the content so it can be chopped up into component parts and reassembled on the fly [for each user],” explained Hitchcock.

He likened it to the techniques used by firms such as Google in selecting which ad to display online based on its understanding of each user.

“But our use case is much richer. We’re changing the nature of the content, so we need deeper analytics, and we use Pearson’s unique intellectual property to modify that learning content on the fly,” he said.

We’ve gone from Netflix to Google Ads. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. Can we get a spamming algorithm analogy just for good measure?

PR disaster aside, the day that Pearson fires all its data scientists is the day they should go back to selling paper trade books. First, educational contexts for machine learning are not just “much richer” than serving ads. They are orders of magnitude more complex. If Mr. Hitchcock wants to get a sense of what that means, he need look no further than Pearson’s own breadth and depth of published research. Like this paper on assessing case analyses in bioengineering ethics, to pick the one that happened to be first on a list of publications on Pearson’s research web site.

Second, many of the most interesting and valuable patterns that need to be spotted in any class that has a human teacher are the ones that happen at least partly outside of the digital content. No amount of rich metatagging will solve that problem. You will always need human scientists to make sense of what’s happening in the digital part of the education by looking at the analog part. Most publishers (though not Pearson, ironically enough) have been very slow to understand that this kind of anthropological data science work is a core competency for their business now. Mr. Hitchcock’s comments strongly suggest a basic lack of understanding of teaching, which is deeply worrying given his senior role in the company and apparent ability to get press access.

Serving our robot overlords

The next gem comes in the form of a sponsored article at Education Dive written by Christa Ehmann, Senior Vice President and Chief Education Officer at Smarthinking, Inc. – a Pearson Company (quoted from her LinkedIn profile). It’s not Gradgrindian in the classic sense but there is definitely a grinder in here somewhere. The article is called “A vision for PERSONalized learning.” OK, so we know from the start that the piece isn’t going to be subtle, but at least the emphasis is promising. There’s a lot of the standard quoting of definitions and citing of trends in the beginning that you can frankly skim or skip. The nub of the piece starts here, in the seventh paragraph:

The discussions are vibrant, and the technical developments are rapid. Unfortunately, the heart of any successful personalized learning system is often neglected: the human teacher, tutor, coach, or mentor. [Emphasis in original.] While these indispensable people are indeed recognized as working in conjunction with and alongside personalized learning elements, they are typically positioned as distinctly separate.

Personalized learning vision, research, and development will be far more transformative if it focuses on opportunities to strategically interject human-delivered instruction of all types throughout its technology and content. By positioning human teachers at the center of these systems, we can create truly transformative and seamless learning environments that are both scalable and economically viable.

Now we’re getting somewhere. There’s some language in there that troubles me. But I’ll give you a pass for now since at least we’re talking about humans in general and teachers in particular. Tell me more about this vision…

To understand what this might mean in practice, imagine a scenario like this:

  1. A content author melds text with media drawn from news reports, factually represented fictional scenes, lab settings, and verified social media content.
  2. Using Virtual or Augmented Reality devices such as Microsoft’s Hololens®, the learner is then placed within the content as a participant.
  3. A human teacher or tutor is then seamlessly interjected into the learner’s experience, walking through key processes (e.g., demonstrating a chemical engineering process or helping a nursing student calculate dosages for a life-or-death injection).
  4. While text and other content remain accessible in the background…

Stop. Just stop. Don’t go any further. Please.

So step one for bringing “the human teacher, tutor, coach, or mentor” into “the heart” of “PERSONalized learning” starts with a content author. Who, in fairness, is a person, at least until Mr. Hitchock figures out how to replace content authors with algorithms. Step 2 is Microsoft’s Hololens®.

Let me say that again. Step 2 is Microsoft’s Hololens®.

Finally, in Step 3, a human teacher or tutor is “seamlessly interjected into the learner’s experience.”


The use of passive voice alone should have been enough to set off alarm bells. Microsoft’s Hololens® coming before the teacher who is the PERSON headlining the piece should have been a five-alarm fire for whichever PR PERSON approved (and paid for!) this article. Most disturbing of all, though, is that unlike Mr. Hitchcock, Ms. Ehmann has the title “Chief Education Officer” and has a PhD in Education from Oxford. She should know better.

I know from my public work as an analyst, our consulting work representing schools when we have dealt with Pearson on their behalf, and our consulting work directly with them that these examples do not represent the monolithic views of the company. Pearson has historically been the antithesis of Instructure in terms of internal alignment. Asking what Pearson thinks about education has only been slightly less complex and semantically indeterminate than asking what America thinks about the 2016 Presidential election.

Update: Case in point: Here’s an article in EdSurge by a Pearson employee entitled “Why We Don’t Need a ‘Netflix for Education‘.”

Despite recent efforts to reduce their alignment problem (including their massive effort around “efficacy”), these articles suggest the problem is stubbornly persistent. The fact that two senior executives were allowed to make these kinds of egregious statements in public does not inspire confidence that folks inside the company who really do understand teaching and learning are the ones who are driving the bus (assuming the bus has a driver).

But the larger point is that Pearson is no more unique than Knewton in being unable to stop itself from putting its foot in its mouth on topics related to digital education. The shift to digital requires these companies to understand much more about teaching than they did when they were just shipping books off and letting teachers do what they like with them (which sometimes was almost nothing). And by “companies,” I mean all the employees in the company, and certainly all employees who are allowed to make strategic decisions or speak in public. Because these examples of Pearson’s public statements are really, really bad. If you look around at the other textbook and adaptive learning vendors, both large and small, most of them are not doing much better, either.

Going back to the point I made early on about where we draw the line between our consultant and analyst roles, Phil sometimes jokingly calls posts like this one “free consulting.” In that spirit, we offer these gifts to our colleagues in Pearson and the rest of the ed tech industry:



We made these for you. Use them directly or just use them as models. Use them in your external communications and, more importantly, in your internal communications.

Or you can just keep letting Netflix, Google Ads, and Microsoft’s Hololens® be your dominant themes when you talk about the future of education. That could work.

The post PEARSONalized Learning appeared first on e-Literate.

by Michael Feldstein at September 29, 2016 04:18 PM

Adam Marshall

Sakai Virtual Conference 2016 The Future of the Learning Online: Beyond the Walled Garden November 2, 2016 – Online

332px-Sakai_Logo.svgTweet, tweet: #SakaiVC16

Registration is open for the Sakai Virtual Conference. Registration is $50 per person, with all proceeds going toward Sakai feature development. Attendees will have the opportunity to provide input on the enhancements they would like to see in Sakai. (Sakai is the software upon which WebLearn is based.)

The Sakai Virtual Conference will take place entirely online on Wednesday, November 2, 2016.  You’ll attend presentations in concurrent session webinar rooms, ask the presenters live questions, and get the conference experience without the expense of travel. There will be opportunities for networking, informal discussions, and back by popular demand, enter our Rogues Gallery ( contest to win a prize. The “conference location” will be in Sakai, and we will be using Sakai tools such as Lessons, Forums, etc. to facilitate interaction among attendees. If you are comfortable in Sakai, you will easily engage in this virtual experience.

Find out how your peers are using Sakai at their institutions! Learn from early adopters of Sakai 11. Presentations will focus on effective teaching and learning practices, online pedagogy, and engaging students using technology.

The Sakai Virtual Conference is a unique opportunity to network with your peers and share stories and best practices in an online venue.

Register today and stay tuned for publication of the full program! For more information, see:

Neal Caidin, Sakai Community Coordinator, Apereo Foundation

Wilma Hodges, Sakai Virtual Conference 2016 Planning Committee Chair

Ian Dolphin, Executive Director, Apereo Foundation

by Adam Marshall at September 29, 2016 03:45 PM

September 28, 2016

Michael Feldstein

Educational Software Patents: A Call to Vendors

A number of people responding to the Chronicle’s article on the Elsevier patent asked me to write something about it. For those of you who haven’t been following ed tech for at least a decade or just haven’t been following e-Literate for that long, the main reason that people who weren’t my mom started reading this blog in significant numbers was the work I did explaining the patent that Blackboard was asserting against D2L, the mechanics and progress of the lawsuit and, more generally, how software patents work and why they are bad for ed tech. So I felt obliged to respond to requests for my thoughts regarding the Elsevier patent. I published them in my reaction in our column at the Chronicle. Since it’s behind their pay wall, I’ll briefly summarize the points here:

  • For a variety of reasons related to the legal complexities of software patents, we can’t really know the legal scope of Elsevier’s patent unless and until it goes to trial.
  • Trying to figure out what the patent means before is not only hard but could put you and your employer at increased legal risk, so read it at your own peril. Seriously.
  • Elsevier’s public statements indicate that they might be willing to assert it (i.e., sue somebody for infringement of it).
  • Whatever your general opinion of software patents may be, offensive use of them in education is really bad because the companies are too small and the profit margins too thin to support that kind of legal activity (in contrast to, say, the mobile phone and pharmaceutical industries). Offensive use of software patents could destroy progress and innovation in educational software.
  • Inevitably, more and more leaders of education-related companies—including Elsevier’s current CEO—were not around during the Blackboard patent suit and have not seen the massive brand damage that Blackboard did to itself in the process. The danger of patent assertion is increasing because the deterrent is fading.
  • There are few legal tools available to deter patent assertion. The best tool universities have is economic.

I ended by calling for leaders of educational institutions to gather together and sign a pledge that they would not procure products from companies that assert education-related software patents. But I don’t have a lot of hope that it will happen. After all, if they weren’t sufficiently motivated to take collective action during and immediately after the Blackboard suit, why would they be now? This doesn’t mean that they will fail to act in the face of an actual patent suit. Schools voted with their feet in response to Blackboard. In fact, the brand damage was so profound that I believe it is impacting the company’s sales to this day, even though the CEO during the suit left a long time ago and the legal architect of the suit has left the company as well. There will be consequences for companies that assert educational software patents. But there is no visible deterrent for companies that do not remember Blackboard v. Desire2Learn. Blackboard spent a lot of money and retarded the LMS market for a long time before they finally admitted defeat.

This is an area where vendors could show leadership. As I mentioned in the piece, the fact that educational software patents exist means that there is strong motivation for companies to file for patents that they can use in defensive counter-suits, even if they have no plans to ever use them offensively. D2L didn’t have any patents at the time of the lawsuit, but I would be shocked if they didn’t have any today for exactly this reason.

The right thing for vendors to do here is to create what’s known as a patent pool. Any patent owner who contributes to the pool pledges to only use that patent for defensive counter-suits. In return, the owner also gets to use any other patents in the pool for defensive purposes. The rules would be a little more complex to work out than a typical patent pool because there is no single well-defined software category or product that they are protecting (like Linux or video streaming technologies, for example). But it could be done. And it would only take two or three players to get it rolling. The most obvious candidate to lead this is Blackboard. They have a strong need to define themselves as “not your father’s Blackboard” and probably still have patents. If they could get Pearson, McGraw Hill Education, or D2L at the table and hammer out the structure for a patent pool, then they could begin to invite other players in.

In an era where algorithms are increasingly important differentiators in educational software, we can expect patents to proliferate and the temptation to assert them to grow accordingly. We really need corporate leaders to step up and demonstrate their moral commitment to protecting education from this growing threat. I’d love to see this happen and would love to help make it happen.

Any takers?

The post Educational Software Patents: A Call to Vendors appeared first on e-Literate.

by Michael Feldstein at September 28, 2016 01:40 PM

September 27, 2016

Adam Marshall

How to upload files into WebLearn using WebDAV

cyberduck-icon-384You will need to use WebDAV when uploading multiple files, or a large file (> 60MB) into WebLearn. However, we have had reports of users experiencing problems with Microsoft Windows when trying to connect to WebLearn via WebDAV; people are seeing reports of a “Network Error”. Most of these reports seem to be with Windows 10 but we’ve also heard the same complaint about Windows 7.

Because of this, we strongly recommend that staff and students use a dedicated third-party WebDAV client such as Cyberduck. Cyberduck is available for free download from and is also available for a Mac. We have not heard of any connection problems when using Cyberduck.

Here’s a 35sec video that explains how to use Cyberduck with Sakai (WebLearn) – with WebLearn you should use your Oxford Single Sign On (SSO) username and password.

Here’s a slightly more comprehensive video that also shows the installation process.

by Adam Marshall at September 27, 2016 10:13 AM

September 25, 2016

Dr. Chuck

October 1: Moving the Tsugi GitHub Repositories

I am just back from a successful trip to South Korea where I talked a lot about the NGDLE, Sakai, and Tsugi:

I focused a lot on the new Tsugi use case of being a single-course LMS that is integrated into a single-site OER materials / course site.

There was a good bit of interest from technically minded teachers and folks from educational technology centers. I made it clear that Tsugi was not trivial to install and run yet – but on a good path to be ready for teachers to to build web sites in 2017.

But some want to get started now. And so on October 1, I will be moving the main Tsugi repositories from


The core bits (PHP, Node, and Java) will all move into the “tsugiproject” and tools will move into “tsugitools”.

For folks who have been using the “csev” repositories, GitHub is good about forwarding requests when repositories are renamed or moved.

I am sure this will be a bit of a disruption – but probably better now than later.

If you have any issues with this or suggestions as to how to best do it, let me know.

by Charles Severance at September 25, 2016 07:10 PM

September 21, 2016

Apereo Foundation

Karuta Portfolio Ready To Replace OSP in Sakai 11

Karuta Portfolio Ready To Replace OSP in Sakai 11

The Karuta Open Source Portfolio 2.0 stands ready to replace (and upgrade!) your OSP implementation -- now that OSP is not included in Sakai 11.

by Michelle Hall at September 21, 2016 06:00 PM

September 19, 2016

Michael Feldstein

Explainer Video on Flipped Class, Learning Analytics, and Adaptive Learning

We now have the second of our personalized learning explainer videos out. As a reminder, here’s the first one, which reframes personalized learning as a set of approaches for addressing the teaching problems of reaching hard-to-reach students:


The new one starts to talk about the how, giving flipped class, learning analytics, and adaptive learning as examples of tools or approaches that can help teachers reach those hard-to-reach students:


Some folks continue to be confused about just how these things are supposed to help. We described some of our thinking in our original post on the first explainer and our recent piece in Inside Higher Ed. We are well aware of a number of hard limits on what we can accomplish, including but not limited to the following:

  • A couple of 3-minute videos are not going to change the world all by themselves.
  • The levers and barriers for change are different at different institutions.
  • Vendors are going to be out selling, the press is going to be out hyping, and institutional stakeholders are going to be looking for silver bullets no matter what.

But we also find ourselves in the fortunate position of having some credibility with academic administrators, ed tech advocates, and vendors. If we can help our readers to nudge the inevitable and already ongoing conversations about courseware products in a more healthy direction, away from robot tutors in the sky and toward enabling teaching practices that reach more students, that would be a good thing. We’re creating these explainers as tools that can be used by any of the parties to those conversations to reframe the discussion. If we’re lucky, we’ll influence the ways in which the vendors pitch these products in the first place while also preparing educators to take advantage of the different pitch to ask more educationally relevant questions and nudge the procurement process in a healthier direction. We won’t always be so lucky. But we won’t always be unlucky either. A lot comes down to each of you and what you can accomplish in your respective contexts. We’re just trying to give you a few more tools to work with. You’re the change agents.

The post Explainer Video on Flipped Class, Learning Analytics, and Adaptive Learning appeared first on e-Literate.

by Michael Feldstein at September 19, 2016 03:36 PM

September 16, 2016

Adam Marshall

WebLearn upgraded to v11-ox1.1 on 15/16 September 2016

wl-11-new-front-pageWebLearn was upgraded  to version 11-ox1.1 on 15/16th September 2016. This release addresses most of the known major issues with WebLearn 11. Please accept our apologies for the inconvenience that these problems may have caused.

The 11-ox1.1 release has addressed a number of issues with the Lessons tool, introduced wider LHS buttons so that labels are no longer truncated, and fixed issues with adding multiple IMS LTI tools, uploading to Resources, Chat and Sign-up. We have also updated WebLearn’s content filters so audio and video from can be embedded on pages.

Some users may experience display issues which can be cured by forcing a page refresh.  For Windows press Ctrl & F5; for Mac/Apple press Apple + R or cmd + R; for Linux press F5. This website will explain in more detail:

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

Known Issues

The following are still known to be causing minor problems. We will be addressing these as a matter of urgency and hope to have fixes in place by the start of term.

  • the Contact Us tool is missing from most sites
  • the Site Icon is now a little oversized
  • images, tables and iframes when added via the HTML WYSIWYG editor are non-responsive, i.e. they do not shrink when viewed on a mobile
  • some HTML tables ignore the ‘cellpadding’ and ‘cellspacing’ attributes – we will address this as soon as possible
  • some pages, for example, Choose Login Route and Validate Your Account, do not yet display the WebLearn logo

There are also some known issues that only affect WebLearn when used on a mobile phone and these will take slightly longer to fix, one example is that some of the less well-used tools (for example, Tests and the Researcher Training Tool) are not yet optimised for small-screen usage.

In addition, Windows 10 seems to have a problem with its WebDAV implementation. When trying to map a network drive to a WebLearn site, it occasionally reports a “Network Error”. The problem is not apparent when using a dedicated WebDAV client such as Cyberduck (which can be downloaded free of charge) so we would recommend this approach to all Windows 10 users. All other versions of Windows seem to work without issue.

Full List of Changes

If you would like more details about these changes then please contact the Service Desk.

  • Lessons Tool
    • images and videos are now responsive when added to a Lessons page using the “Embed” option – note that images inserted via the WYSIWYG HTML editor do not yet shrink on a mobile phone
    • the problems with content not being saved to a page have been fixed
    • version information has been added to all JavaScript and CSS references which should stop problems with cached pages
    • it is now possible to embed a Resources folder listing
    • embedded Announcement and Forums summaries now display better
    • the “back” and “next” buttons are now present
  • Navigation
    • tool and sub-site labels are no longer truncated in the LHS menu and display better on a mobile phone
    • the LHS sub-site labels are now removed when the menu is collapsed and fly out upon mouse-over
  • Others
    • the Site Members tool now has the correct name and doesn’t give an error if you are not logged in
    • service-wide announcements no longer obscure the screen on a mobile
    • chat now displays correctly when the transcript contains a hyperlink
    • the problems which prevented participants with the ‘access’ role from uploading into Resources have been fixed

by Adam Marshall at September 16, 2016 02:13 PM

September 02, 2016

Sakai Project

Celebrate Sakai 11 on Twitter #turnitupto11

Between the dates of September 12 - 21, tweet away on Twitter with the hashtags #sakaiproject and #turnitupto11 to enter a fun contest. 

by NealC at September 02, 2016 07:16 PM

August 30, 2016

Sakai Project

Announcing the release of Sakai 11 !

Sakai 11 has had a facelift! The new version of Sakai supports a responsive design meaning that it can be used on any device with any screen size, any place, anytime, anywhere! The new release represents one of the biggest, if not the biggest, improvement in Sakai in years. Sakai 11 is, of course, still 100% open source and its redesign was informed by UX testing with real users and delivered by the worldwide Sakai community.  


by NealC at August 30, 2016 12:24 PM

August 29, 2016

Dr. Chuck

Abstract: Building the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment using Tsugi

This presentation will give an overview of the Tsugi project and applications of the Tsugi software in building a distributed approach to teaching and learning tools and content. One company involved in the Internet of Things claims that “The next big thing will be a lot of small things”. If we apply this logic to the educational technology marketplace, an essential element needed to achieve the NGDLE is to reduce the granularity of the learning content and applications to the individual teacher or even individual student. Tsugi is a 100% open source effort that is part of the Apereo Foundation.

It is not sufficient to simply make a bunch of small web-hosted things and claim we have “implemented” the NGDLE. We must be able to coherently search, find, re-construct and re-combine those “small pieces” in a way that allows teaching and learning to happen. To do this, each of the learning application and content providers must master detailed interoperability standards to allow us “mash up” and bring those distributed and disparate elements back together. While there has been much said about the ultimate shape and structure of the NGDLE, and there are many current and emerging interoperability standards, there is little effort to build and train providers with usable technology that will empower thousands or hundreds of thousands of people to build and share applications and content that will populate the new learning ecosystem.

In effect, we need to build the educational equivalent of the Apple App Store. Except that it needs to be open and extensible and not depend on a single vendor intent on maximizing shareholder value. This presentation will show how the Tsugi project is doing research into how this works in actual practice. Tsugi is a 100% open source production-ready application and content hosting system that is simple enough to use to allow interoperable and pluggable learning applications or learning content to be built, hosted, deployed and shared by individuals or various-sized organizations.

by Charles Severance at August 29, 2016 01:54 PM

August 27, 2016

Dr. Chuck

Dynamic .htaccess to deal with Url Rewriting mod_rewrite.c, and FallbackResource

As I built Tsugi, I want to ship with a decent, working .htaccess in folders that need it. My most typical use case is that I want to map all the URLs in a folder into a file like index.php.

There are two good ways to do this. The old standby is a long set of mod_rewrite rules. The new, much more elegant trick is to use FallbackResource in mod_dir in later versions of Apache 2.2.

The problem is that clever hosting providers upgrade to the new Apache and then figure they can remove mod_rewrite so you know how to do it in either case but don’t have a good way to trigger when to use what approach.

This is my approach that I use in Tsugi when I want to map all URLs to one file:

    <IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
        RewriteEngine on
        RewriteRule ^ - [E=protossl]
        RewriteCond %{HTTPS} on
        RewriteRule ^ - [E=protossl:s]
        RewriteRule "(^|/)\." - [F]
        RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
        RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
        RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !=/favicon.ico
        RewriteRule ^ index.php [L]
    <IfModule !mod_rewrite.c>
        FallbackResource index.php

It is not perfect but kind of deals with things as the move forward. If mod_rewrite is there – use it – it works in later Apache versions as well but if mod_rewrite is there, use it and if not, hope that FallbackResource is there.

Now of course there are some Apache versions / setups where this fails – but on average, over time as Apache’s get upgraded, things get simpler and over time the mod_rewrite code just will stop activating.

I also added this information to a Stack Overflow question.

by Charles Severance at August 27, 2016 02:00 PM

August 25, 2016

Steve Swinsburg

Migrating to GradebookNG?

GradebookNG is now included in the recently released Sakai 11!

If you want to use the Import From Site feature to migrate content from previous sites to new sites, you need to have GradebookNG in the previous site.

You can do this in two ways:

  1. Add GradebookNG to the sites you are migrating FROM. You can do this manually, or via a database script or a web service.
  2. Convert all of the Gradebook Classic tools in the existing sites to GradebookNG.
    In the upgrade from Sakai 10 to Sakai 11 there is an optional database conversion that you can run that will do this:

    UPDATE SAKAI_SITE_TOOL SET REGISTRATION='sakai.gradebookng' WHERE REGISTRATION='sakai.gradebook.tool';

Note: If you don’t have GradebookNG in the site you are migrating content TO, you can add this to to have it added automatically when you use Import From Site.


by steveswinsburg at August 25, 2016 10:02 PM

August 24, 2016

Steve Swinsburg

Oracle 12c via Vagrant

I’ve just finished building a new Vagrant box for Oracle 12c. This one uses only Vagrant and a shell script.

Grab it from github:

During the course of this install I came up against several issues with the Oracle silent installer itself. There were files missing, an incomplete compilation of binaries (but Oracle reports a successful install!) and then problems running scripts that ship with the installer. The issues were buried in log files, and sometimes those log files pointed at other log files!

Oracle, if you are listening, you really need to work on your installer…

Check it out, I would love to know what you think.

N.B. For reference, the problems I encountered are here and here.


by steveswinsburg at August 24, 2016 11:59 AM

August 22, 2016

Sakai Project

Sakai Accessibility Ra11y Plan update

Phase 1 of the Ra11y plan [1] is complete!  We are one (big) step closer to WCAG2 Certification. 
What does this mean? It means that we completed a substantive review of the accessibility of the Sakai system by contracting out the assessment
to a reputable 3rd party, SSB Bart [2]. Improving Sakai's accessibility means making it easier for people of all abilities to use our system. Our aim, as it always has been, is to make the system genuinely as accessible as possible, which directly impacts students, instructors, and other users in a positive way with a better user experience. We also wish to achieve WCAG 2 certification, which validates the community's hard work in this area. A double win!
The good news is that Sakai, as it stands now, is assessed at 74% compliant, which is not a bad starting point. Also we have gone painstakingly through the 453 identified issues and consolidated them into 51 Jiras [3] .  We are off to a great start and we don't want to lose the momentum!

by NealC at August 22, 2016 02:04 PM

June 28, 2016

Ian Boston

Referendums are binary so should be advisory

If you ask the for the solution to the multi faceted question with a binary question you will get the wrong answer with a probability of 50%. Like a quantum bit, the general population can be in any state based on the last input or observation, and so a Referendum, like the EU Referendum just held in the UK should only ever be advisory.  In that Referendum there were several themes. Immigration, the economy and UK Sovereignty. The inputs the general population were given, by various politicians on both sides of the argument, were exaggerated or untrue. It was no real surprise to hear some promises retracted once the winning side had to commit to deliver on them. No £350m per week for the NHS. No free trade deal with the EU without the same rights for EU workers as before. Migration unchanged. The Economy was hit, we don’t know how much it will be hit over the coming years and we are all, globally, hoping that in spite of a shock more severe than Lehman Brothers in 2008, the central banks, have quietly taken their own experts advice and put in place sufficient plans to deal with the situation. Had the Bank of England not intervened on Friday morning, the sheer cliff the FTSE100 was falling off, would have continued to near 0.  When it did, the index did an impression of a base jumper, parachute open drifting gently upwards.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 20.08.07

The remaining theme is UK Sovereignty. Geoffrey Robertson QC  makes an interesting argument in the Guardian Newspaper, that in order to exit the EU, the UK must under its unwritten constitution vote in parliament to enact Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. He argues that the Referendum was always advisory. It will be interesting, given that many of those who have voted now regret their decision, if they try and abandon the last theme that caused so many to want to leave. The one remaining thing so close to their heart that they were prepared to ignore all the experts, believe the most charismatic individuals willing to tell them what they wanted to hear. UK Sovereignty, enacted by parliament by grant of the Sovereign. I watched with interest not least because the characters involved have many of the characteristics of one of the US presidential candidates.

If you live in the UK, and have time to read the opinion, please make your own mind up how you will ask your MP to vote on your behalf. That is democracy and sovereignty in action. Something we all hold dear.

by Ian at June 28, 2016 07:09 PM

June 21, 2016


Upgrade Date Announced

Sakai has been scheduled to be upgraded on:

August 5, 2016 from 6am to 10am EST.

The upgrade should take about 4 hours. During this time Sakai will be completely inaccessible to you and to students.

A confirmation email will be sent following the upgrade, letting you know that you can again login to Sakai.

The upgrade will take Sakai from version 10 to version 11, and includes updates some new features and most of all a new look that’s meant to make accessing Sakai on mobile and tablet devices much easier. See this list for a full list of the new features and changes. You can track availability of Sakai using the Johnson University Internet Services page. Login credentials will not be affected.

The User Guide is a good place to start when you have immediate questions.

Contact the Help Desk if you have issues following the upgrade.

Why isn’t the upgrade happening sooner?

by Dave E. at June 21, 2016 03:36 PM

Upgrade Schedule Rationale

The most important aspect of the upgrade is to make it as smooth as possible and minimize frustration and headache for both faculty and students.

Sakai is a world class, open source learning management system providing a platform for tens of thousands of students in various educational settings and used by the likes of Duke, Standford, Oxford and others.  The global Sakai community is currently in the process of field testing Sakai 11 and making sure it’s ready for ‘prime time’.  This testing is critical to put Sakai 11 through it’s paces to insure quality assurance for every adopting institution and organization.

The Quality Assurance testing is done by faculty, students and administrators in institutions who are using Sakai currently.  This QA process in collaboration with Sakai Developers helps insure Sakai 11 is ready.

In order to insure a smooth upgrade and provide ample time for instructors to prepare for their upcoming fall courses, course sites for the Fall 2016 term will be made available July 5, 2016.  This provides faculty with course sites a full month prior to the upgrade and about three weeks of lead time before fall term courses begin on August 22, 2016. This is a change from the plan to wait until the after the Sakai upgrade to create fall term course sites.

Contact the Department of Online Education with questions.

by Dave E. at June 21, 2016 03:35 PM