Planet Sakai

January 16, 2019

Michael Feldstein

Reliability as a Service: How Cloud Computing is Behind Instructure’s Early Success, Blackboard’s Hopes, and Moodle’s Challenges

Our favorite technology industry blog—Ben Thompson's Stratechery—has a great piece up about Amazon's relationship to open source that also explains a lot about the tectonic shifts in the LMS market. The story he's interested in telling is about the dynamics behind Amazon's move to essentially copy and abandon a popular open source database called Mongo DB. His introductory analogy to the music business is revealing and worth quoting at length:

In 1999, music industry revenue in the United States peaked at $14.6 billion (all numbers are from the RIAA). It is important to be precise, though, about what was being sold:

  • $12.8 billion was from the sale of CDs
  • $1.1 billion was from the sale of cassettes
  • $378 million was from the sale of music videos on physical media
  • $222.4 million was from the sale of CD singles

In short, the music industry was primarily selling plastic discs in jewel cases; the music encoded on those discs was a means of differentiating those pieces of plastic from other ones, but music itself was not being sold.

This may sounds like a stupid distinction, but it explains what happened after that peak:

U.S. music industry sales over time

Music industry revenue plummeted, even as the distribution and availability of music skyrocketed: the issue is that people were no longer buying plastic discs, which is what the music industry was selling; they were simply downloading music directly.

Selling Convenience

The problem is that recorded music has always been worthless: once a recording is made, it can be copied endlessly, which means the supply is effectively infinite; it follows that to capture value from a recording depends on the imposition of scarcity. That is exactly what plastic discs were: a finite supply of a physical good differentiated by their being the most convenient way to get music. Pirating MP3s from sites like Napster or its descendants, though, was even more convenient — and cheaper.

As you can see from the chart, the industry started to stabilize in 2010, and in 2016 returned to growth; 2018 looks to be up around 10% from 2017’s $8.7 billion number, and it seems likely the industry will pass that 1999 peak in the not-too-distant future.

What happened is that the music industry — prodded in large part by Spotify, and then Apple — found something new to sell. No, they are still not selling music; in fact, they are beating piracy at its own game: the music industry is selling convenience. Get nearly any piece of recorded music ever made, for a mere $10/month.

I don't agree with some aspects of his analysis of open source in the rest of the article, but Thompson's introductory framing is brilliant. Sometimes we get hung up on the thing that we think is the product in way that blinds us to the critical aspects that are valuable to the customer. These blind spots can cause us to miss potential points of instability in a seemingly stable market landscape. And cloud computing is a classic example of a thoroughly unsexy idea that can sneak into one of those blind spots. It certainly did in the LMS market.

The Instructure surprise

Instructure's rise is a perfect example of one of those surprises. Let's think back to the late Noughties, when the company was founded. This predates Phil's coming to blog on e-Literate, so we'll have to look at a 2009 version of his famous squid chart that he posted on the blog of his former employer:

2009 Squid Chart

Instructure, having been founded the year before this version of the chart was made, had not yet scored its first big deal with the Utah Education Network. They were literally not on the map. Blackboard was a juggernaut, having successfully swallowed two of their most formidable North American competitors, WebCT and ANGEL. Blackboard was also in the midst of a patent infringement case with Desire2Learn (now known as D2L), having won their case in 2008, only to lose upon appeal in mid-2009. Even after the suit was over, nobody knew how well Desire2Learn would bounce back after seeing their sales largely freeze during the year when it looked like Blackboard would win. eCollege was doing...fine, but it was serving the niches of for-profits and small schools, and there was no real sign that it was going to break out into the general market.

The real action in 2009 appeared to be in open source. Moodle, having picked up the smaller customers that Blackboard had deliberately driven away because of their low profitability, was beginning to score bigger wins. The change was most visible in the Cal State system, where Moodle was spreading there like a virus. Sakai's growth by institutional adoption numbers was not nearly as dramatic, but in contrast to Moodle, they were rich in prestigious R1 university adopters. In 2005, when I was working at SUNY, I remember my boss at the time telling me, "They have MIT, Stanford, Michigan, Indiana...they can't fail!" There was a widespread feeling among academics that the only way to escape being a Blackboard was to run an open source LMS that the company couldn't buy. (Blackboard didn't acquire the largest Moodle hosting provider in the United States until 2012.) It felt like the battle was going to be between Blackboard and open source.

Two years later, Phil's squid diagram in his inaugural e-Literate post wasn't much different:

2011 Squid Diagram

You can see at the top of the diagram that there was increasing speculation about whether other companies—mostly big, established ones—might enter the market. There were, as always, a few startups that popped up in that time period, only to fade away, either by dying or by pivoting. (Remember Epsilen?) But by and large, the fight continued to be perceived as Blackboard vs. Open Source, with D2L and eCollege—by then rebranded by Pearson as LearningStudio—doing fine but not setting the world on fire. Instructure is still not yet on Phil's map. We had noticed Instructure and written a few posts about them, but honestly, neither of us thought that a new proprietary entrant could break its way into the market, particularly if it lacked the muscle of a big player like a major SIS vendor or textbook publisher.

But by 2013, the picture had changed:

2013 squid diagram

Canvas was growing. Fast. Here's the squid diagram a year later:

2014 squid diagram

Look at that Canvas line.


It was really only in 2013 and 2014 that most of us started to realize that Canvas was not only going to survive but might provide significant competition to the incumbents. Why did it take us so long to see it coming?

I would argue that we undervalued three of Instructure's core strengths: usability, customer service, and reliability. We've written here before about how Instructure's usability was a step function better than its competitors at the time. The early but seminal example was Speed Grader, Canvas' grading app that greatly increased ease of use of the grading function and was the first mobile LMS app that demonstrated the potential of tablet computing. Blogs and wikis, which LMS providers had begun to add, only to find them barely used, were not considered valuable by most faculty. Giving them back hours of their time that they would have spent entering grades, on the other hand.... Likewise, we've written about how Instructure quickly established itself as the "uncola" of LMS companies by providing excellent customer service that was inextricably tied with their "not-Blackboard, not-Oracle" brand identity. Both of these non-features turned out to be more valuable to many customers than the bazillion features that were beginning to encrust the older, more "mature" LMSs.

But at least usability, customer service, and branding are all visible to end users in some tangible sense. In contrast, cloud computing was most valuable for something that it made invisible. Specifically, downtime. By 2012, the LMS had become a mission-critical application. Online learning was in full swing. For-profit universities like the University of Phoenix as well as public (mostly Sloan Consortium-funded) public universities like University of Maryland, University College (UMUC) had reached impressive scale in around 2008, right when Instructure was being born. In the intervening four-year period, many colleges and universities were chasing that scale. In 2010, Western Governors University founded its first offshoot campus in Indiana. The Online Program Management (OPM) business was hitting its stride. Academic Partnerships and 2U, two of the most successful OPM companies, were both founded the same year as Instructure. By 2012, both were surging. (Forbes named 2U one of the "10 startups changing the world" that year.)

And online usage in general was surging. Gmail exited beta in 2009. The two remarkable aspects about Gmail were that it provided full, intuitive functionality in any browser and it never went down. Not for crashes, and not for upgrades. It was just always there. Occasionally you would log in and there would be a new feature. But most of those upgrades were invisible to the user. A friend of mine used to love to ask a question during this period to make this exact point: "What version of Google are you using?" Not having to know your version number, having the software be always there and always up-to-date, turned out to be a killer capability. The most important feature turned out to be the one that you never noticed, because it turned your app into something that end users could come to take for granted. As more people were using rich web-based applications—remember "Web 2.0"?—they started having higher expectations for online usage in general. If buying stuff online became a normal, everyday thing, then why wouldn't checking your course grades online? Even in a traditional, face-to-face classroom, students were starting to expect the convenience of the web to just be there for them in their classes. Documents should be there. Announcements should be there. Schedules should be there. Grades should be there. All the time. Increasingly, when the LMS went down, it was like the ATM machines going down. Before ATMs existed, life went on. Nobody died without them. Nobody noticed the lack of convenience. But afterward, since people have grown to take them for granted, any outage is an outrage.

I honestly didn't understand why Instructure was making such a big deal about the cloud when they first launched. Neither did their competitors. And it took them quite a long time to figure it out.

Blackboard's Hopes

Let's fast-forward now to the relatively recent 2017 version of the squid diagram:1


2017 squid diagram

It's a different world. Sakai and Moodle, having peaked at slightly different points, are in decline in US and Canadian higher education. Canvas' growth has been off the charts, and has only really slowed down in the year since this chart was made, as LMS adoptions in general have slowed in this market. D2L's Brightspace bounced back after the patent suit and is holding their own.

But the biggest change is that Blackboard, far from being dominant, is a shadow of its former self in terms of its share of this market. These days, their press releases about customer "wins" in the United States are about Blackboard customers who decide not to leave after conducting an evaluation. We're not seeing new customer wins in this market.

One of the reasons that we've been arguing that SaaS adoption is more important to Blackboard than adoption of its new(er) Ultra user experience right now is for the same reason that SaaS was so important to Instructure. The most important feature for Blackboard right now is the one that the end user doesn't see. LMS migrations may be easier than they used to be, but they still require significant time and, often, pain on the part of the users who experience the transition. Most of Blackboard's most risk-tolerant customers have already migrated to a newer, shinier alternative. The company's remaining North American customer base is heavily risk-averse. It's exactly that risk aversion that makes SaaS attractive. Blackboard is saying to these customers, essentially,

Hey, migrating is hard. Why don't you just switch to SaaS? It can be invisible to your end users if you want it to be, but you won't be in the firing line anymore with the painful downtime that you always get blamed for. And once you're on SaaS, you can try out Ultra at your own pace. If the change is too scary, then don't worry. You don't have to make it. If you want to try it, slow or fast, with a few classes or with all of them, you're in control. But let's get rid of that pesky downtime for you. And let's make upgrades less painful too. Just sign here to extend your contract for a few years and we'll make those nasty surprises go away for your stakeholders.

It's the SaaS, rather than Ultra, that is the primary driver for contract extensions. Which is likely why the company's latest "Hey, we're doing great!" press release was entitled "SaaS Deployment of Blackboard Learn Continues to Gain Momentum Around the World" rather than "Ultra Deployment of Blackboard Learn Continues to Gain Momentum Around the World" even though both headlines could equally fit the text of the press release. If Ultra adoption creeps along for another couple of years, it probably wouldn't hurt Blackboard too badly. But if SaaS adoption creeps along, that would be a lot more serious.

Moodle's worries

The SaaS shoe is on the other foot for Blackboard when it comes to Moodle. While the company has been playing catch-up to Instructure with their 3-year-old SaaS Learn offering, they are doing to Moodle something like what Instructure did to them with their Blackboard Open LMS offering. When Moodlerooms, which was the largest Moodle hosting provider in the US, was acquired by Blackboard in 2012, they had already built out a highly scalable SaaS version of Moodle. (In fact, Blackboard Learn's SaaS architecture is based on lessons the company learned from studying the Moodlerooms SaaS architecture.) In global higher education markets outside of North America, Moodle is still a formidable player. In fact, it is the dominant player in many places. But the core open source Moodle project has been slow to roll out true multi-tenant SaaS capabilities. This has created an opportunity for Blackboard to roll into markets that are heavily saturated with self-hosted Moodle and say, essentially,

Hey, moving is hard. Why don't you just switch to our Moodle-based SaaS LMS? It can be invisible to your end users if you want it to be, but you won't be in the firing line anymore with the painful downtime that you always get blamed for. And once you're on SaaS, you can try out our enhancements at your own pace. If the change is too scary, then don't worry. You don't have to make it. But if you want to try it, slow or fast, with a few classes or with all of them, you're in control. But let's get rid of that pesky downtime for you. And the upgrade cycles. Just sign here to have us get you on an Open LMS contract and we'll make those nasty surprises go away for your stakeholders.

Those self-hosted Moodle customers that aren't moving to Blackboard's Open LMS are generally moving to...wait for it...the SaaS versions of Blackboard Learn, Instructure Canvas, or D2L Brightspace. Self-hosting as an option is fading away in the LMS market, for the same reason that fewer and fewer organizations are hosting their own email servers. The market has apparently decided that self-hosting these applications brings them a lot of pain without a lot of gain. And they may be willing to trade off functionality and autonomy in return for the perceived reliability that comes with SaaS.

This brings us full circle to Ben Thompson's blog post about Amazon and Mongo DB. Amazon basically built its own database that runs natively on the company's cloud platform and implements an older version of Mongo's APIs. The threat to Mongo is that customers will find Amazon's hey-it-just-works offering to be more attractive than Mongo's more up-to-date APIs or than any benefits, either ideological or practical, that come from adopting open source. We don't know how this will play out with Amazon and Mongo yet, but we've certainly seen how it has played out (and continues to play out) in the LMS market. It's easy to get distracted by shiny feature-driven trends like competency-based learning, adaptive learning, or learning relationship management. These may or may not turn out to be important. But if you undervalue the boring and often invisible product attributes of "easy" and "reliable," you can easily miss a sharp turn in the road.

  1. It's worth remembering that these diagrams are of market share for the US and Canada only.

The post Reliability as a Service: How Cloud Computing is Behind Instructure’s Early Success, Blackboard’s Hopes, and Moodle’s Challenges appeared first on e-Literate.

by Michael Feldstein at January 16, 2019 06:25 PM

January 14, 2019

Apereo Foundation

The Open Apereo 2019 Call for Proposals is open NOW!

The Open Apereo 2019 Call for Proposals is open NOW!

Open Apereo 2019: Affordability and Innovation for Higher Ed
Proposal Deadline is JANUARY 25th!

by Michelle Hall at January 14, 2019 05:18 PM

Adam Marshall

WebLearn and Turnitin Courses and User Group meetings: Hilary Term 2019

IT Services offers a variety of taught courses to support the use of WebLearn and the plagiarism awareness software Turnitin. Course books for the WebLearn Fundamentals course (3 hours) can be downloaded for self study. Places are limited and bookings are required. All courses are free of charge and are presented at IT Services, 13 Banbury Road.

Click on the links provided for further information and to book a place.

WebLearn 3-hour course:

Plagiarism awareness courses (Turnitin):

User Group meetings:

by Jill Fresen at January 14, 2019 04:54 PM

Michael Feldstein

MOOCs in Decline: Insights into multi-year data from MIT and Harvard

It is no secret that the commercial Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) launched by Coursera, Udacity, and edX in 2011/12 are a different beast from the majority of for-credit online education offerings. One such difference is the pattern of quick drop-off of students within each course, particularly in the first 2 - 3 weeks, which we documented in 2013.

We also know that the original disruption vision for these large MOOCs has not come to pass, with many MOOC providers moving into Online Program Management (OPM) business models and shutting off many of the free and open access that made MOOCs in the first place.

Late last week two researchers at MIT, Justin Reich and José A. Ruipérez-Valiente, published an article in Science titled "The MOOC Pivot" that provides new multi-year insight into the trends based on edX usage at MIT and Harvard, the two founding schools for edX. In a nutshell, MOOC activity peaked in 2016 based on new individual learners, based on a dataset of "565 course iterations from 261 different courses, with a combined 12.67 million course registrations from 5.63 million learners", leading the MOOC providers to look to the OPM market as a more-realistic method of sustainability. The researchers identify three insights from their data [emphasis added].

To better understand the reasons for this shift, we highlight three patterns emerging from data on MOOCs provided by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) via the edX platform: The vast majority of MOOC learners never return after their first year, the growth in MOOC participation has been concentrated almost entirely in the world's most affluent countries, and the bane of MOOCs—low completion rates—has not improved over 6 years.

The highlighted conclusion makes sense, but to my knowledge we have previously not had any solid data to back this point up. The following chart in the article shows annual cohorts of learners and tracks them over time, showing that the decrease per year largely mirrors the course-level situation.

MIT Harvard multi-year research on MOOCs

Thus 38% of 2012-13 cohort enrolled in at least one course in year 2, and 24% of 2012-13 cohort enrolled in any course in year 3, etc. Over time, these year 2 / year 3 / year 4 retention numbers reduce significantly. Thankfully, Justin and José provided a GitHub repository of the data, and perhaps a transposition of Table S1 can make these trends more obvious.

It took nearly six years for 10% or fewer of the 2012-13 cohort to remain active (enrolled in any courses), but just two years for 2016-17. And note that the cohort size has been dropping since 2015-16. Keep in mind that the MOOC providers counteract these institution-level trends by increasing the number of institutions that they partner with over time.

There is more analysis in the full article at Science - it's worth reading the whole thing.

The post MOOCs in Decline: Insights into multi-year data from MIT and Harvard appeared first on e-Literate.

by Phil Hill at January 14, 2019 04:12 PM

January 06, 2019

Michael Feldstein

Fate of EDU For-Profits: A look into recent enrollment changes and shut downs

One month ago the Education Corporation of America (ECA) was the latest for-profit system to shut down, as described by Inside Higher Ed:

Education Corporation of America owns more than 75 campuses and enrolls at least 20,000 students in mostly certificate-granting professional disciplines such as cosmetology, culinary arts and medical and dental assistant programs. It operates chains including Virginia College and Brightwood College.

A week later Adtalem Global Education completed their sale of for-profit systems:

Adtalem Global Education (NYSE: ATGE), a leading global education provider, today announced the completion of the transfer of ownership of DeVry University (DVU) and its Keller Graduate School of Management to Cogswell Education LLC. Today’s announcement closely follows Adtalem’s disclosure of the transfer of ownership of Carrington College to San Joaquin Valley College, Inc. (SJVC Inc.) which was completed on Dec. 4, 2018. Post divestitures, Adtalem Global Education’s U.S. postsecondary degree-granting institutions serve the high-demand, rapidly growing medical and healthcare markets.

The centerpiece of Adtalem's remaining portfolio1 is Chamberlain University, a growing system of nursing-based programs, and a look at the underlying data reveals that Chamberlain is one of only two large for-profit systems with significant growth.

Given all the changes in for-profits, we tend to see either anecdotes about specific institutions or aggregate data on all for-profits combined. What is missing, though, is a view in between, showing enrollments and changes to a select group of for-profit schools, to help understand the different fates of different institutions.

Why does this matter? For one, many for-profit chains are accredited as a number of different institutions, and they need to be combined to understand overall company strength. Second, following Tolstoy's idea that "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way", the decline of for-profit institutions has a number of unhappy families with different lessons. In the case of ECA there is something unseen in other cases - ECA abruptly shut down despite growing enrollment by 32% year-over-year across Virginia College and Brightwood Colleges in the most recent IPEDS.

The chart below shows differences from the Fall 2012 IPEDS enrollment report (grad + undergrad) for the 13 largest degree-granting systems as of that date, running through the Fall 2017 report (the most recent data available). I've added notes to show the various changes in ownership, control, and status for these systems - converting to non-profit status with a for-profit operating entity, merging of institutions, sale of institutions as with DeVry, going bankrupt withy full shut-down of systems, or taking the company private as with the U of Phoenix. Click on image for full size version.

Largest for-profits - changes from 2012

Some notes:

  • To read the chart properly, note that Chamberlain University had almost 20,000 more students in Fall 2017 than they had in Fall 2012, while DeVry University had roughly 50,000 fewer students in that same time period;
  • Seen together, it is startling the extent of changes in ownership, control and status among these former high-flying for-profit systems;
  • The only significant growth for these large systems came from Grand Canyon University and Chamberlain;
  • The changes to Virginia College and Brightwood College are not that significant; and
  • By far the largest decrease in enrollment has been the University of Phoenix.

While that view shows enrollment changes in total numbers, it is also useful to see relative changes for these same systems since 2012 to take into account the different enrollment sizes of the systems.

Some notes:

  • To read the chart properly, note that Chamberlain University grew roughly 120% from Fall 2012 to Fall 2017, while DeVry University shrank more than 60% in that same time period;
  • In percentage terms, Chamberlain's growth exceeds Grand Canyon University's, which surprised me, but it seems to be leveling off;
  • Likewise, in percentage terms, DeVry University's decline is roughly the same as the University of Phoenix's;
  • Virginia College and Brightwood College actually grew from Fall 2016 - Fall 2017; and
  • We can see the shutdown of Corinthian Colleges (Everest) and ITT with 100% declines (ITT reported data in 2016 and 2017 even with no students).

Let's focus on just the four brands mentioned in last month's stories - DeVry University & Chamberlain University for Adtalem, and Virginia College and Brightwood College for ECA.

With this view, Adtalem's strategy of selling DeVry while keeping Chamberlain makes a lot of sense, even if several years late and if they essentially gave away DeVry.

ECA's shut down, however, is not easily explained by the data. Unlike ITT and Everest, Virginia College and Brightwood College were not in enrollment free fall, and in fact there was instead recent enrollment gains getting them roughly back to 2012 levels. So why such an abrupt shutdown of ECA? The answer seems to lie with how the Department of Education and its accreditor handled recent troubles, based on IHE reporting.

The shutdown follows years of declining enrollment for the chain. More recently, the privately held company scrambled to turn around its troubled finances by closing about a third of its campuses and pursuing a corporate overhaul through a court-approved receivership. But ECA continued to be dogged by creditors after falling behind on payments and rent for many campus locations. In October the company filed a lawsuit, which was later dismissed, against the U.S. Department of Education in an attempt to maintain its access to federal student aid.

In an email to campus employees Wednesday morning, ECA CEO Stu Reed said that the Department of Education had added new restrictions on its access to Title IV student aid. And on Tuesday night, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools suspended the colleges' accreditation. Those steps meant the company couldn't secure the additional capital needed to operate its campuses, he said.

I do not have enough knowledge to judge whether the ED should have shut off access to financial aid at the time that they did, but it does appear that students are paying the price despite signs that the schools were making significant enrollment gains. From the news coverage, there were significant outcomes issues beyond financial health of the parent company, but to my knowledge, this is a new situation among for-profit colleges in having a shut down despite very recent enrollment gains.

  1. Disclosure: Adtalem is a former client of MindWires and past subscriber of our LMS Market Analysis service.

The post Fate of EDU For-Profits: A look into recent enrollment changes and shut downs appeared first on e-Literate.

by Phil Hill at January 06, 2019 05:07 PM

January 05, 2019

Dr. Chuck

Which Programming Languages will Still Exist in 2030?

This is a panel discussion that I am proposing.  I am hoping not to be the only panelist :)  I bet we will find plenty of people to talk about this.  I for one will be advocating for the position that Python is starting to be more than just one of the alternatives.   I think that with the Python 2 to Python 3 transition completed, we are beginning to see a world where, if some library can work in Python – ultimately it will work in Python and Python will be the preferred way to do something.  Of course this is just to get people fired up :)

Abstract for Pengiucon 2019.

by Charles Severance at January 05, 2019 08:11 PM

January 04, 2019

Dr. Chuck

Marketing Open Source – Why We Need a Race Car

This will talk about the challenges and ideas around marketing an open source Learning Management System (Sakai) when faced with  well-financed commercial market players.   The 100% open source Sakai Project was founded in 2004 and has maintained a 5% market share for over a decade.  The LMS marketplace has a lot of churn and new entrants attack the established products and take away their market share until the new entrants become the “old guard” or get absorbed and the cycle repeats.   The presentation will look at the challenges of marketing open source projects in the face of the strong competition.  We will look at how a race car (@SakaiCar) that runs in a low-cost endurance racing series (@24hoursoflemons) is an interesting strategy in this environment.  If all goes well, we will also bring the race car and racing gear to the event.

Abstract for 2019 Penguicon

by Charles Severance at January 04, 2019 06:45 AM

January 03, 2019

Adam Marshall

Free interactive webinar series on Web Accessibility

IT Services is offering a number of free webinars about different aspects of web accessibility so I thought it may be useful to forward the details. You may also be interested in a previous blog post about WebLearn and Accessibility.

We are pleased to announce a FREE interactive webinar series on Web Accessibility available to all members of the University.

Accessibility is about enabling any user to access content, however they choose, and it is vital that the University of Oxford continues to work to ensure equal access and opportunities.

The series will include seven webinars, aimed at website owners, managers, content editors, designers, web developers and testers. Delegates will be free to watch as many sessions as they feel are relevant to them.  The webinars will be available at your own desk through a standard internet browser. Anyone with a keen interest in accessibility is encouraged to participate.

All webinars will be held from 15:00-17:00 on the dates shown below. To book and find further information, please visit the online booking system and search for ‘Web Accessibility’, or follow the below links:

The webinars will be provided by the charity AbilityNet who have experience providing accessibility consultancy services to Barclays, Microsoft and many other blue-chip companies. They are experts in providing information relating to assistive technology and digital accessibility whilst striving to promote digital inclusion, and are also involved in a number of research projects.

For any further queries relating to the content of the webinars please contact the IT Services Testing Team ( and for booking enquiries please contact the IT Learning Centre (

Please review the IT Learning Centre’s privacy policy which can be found on the Help website


by Adam Marshall at January 03, 2019 11:19 AM

December 22, 2018

Dr. Chuck

Abstract: Building Learning Tools for Brightspace using the Tsugi Application Environment

Tsugi is a free and open source framework that makes developing applications to for integration into Brightspace using standards like LTI 1.1, LTI 1.3, ContentItem, DeepLinking and LTI Advantage.  Tsugi allows developers to invest effort in improving learning instead of integration details.

This presentation will introduce users to the free and open source Learning Application development environment available at Brightspace supports the IMS Learning Tools Interoperability to allow external tools to be easily integrated into Brightspace and used to increase the richness and diversity of the course experience.   External tools can provide functionality not present in Brightspace like a course map tool, or social grading system, a prompted writing tool, or a YouTube viewer with Caliper analytics.   External tools can also be rich auto-graders that make online classes both more interesting and more effective.  Imagine if you could easily develop an interactive system like Pearson’s MyMathLab for *your* course and topic.  Tsugi provides a set of libraries that allow you to write learning applications without any need to read an LMS integration specification.  Tsugi’s run-time environment takes care of complying with the necessary standards to make plugging Tsugi tools into Brightspace, or any other LMS.  Building tools using Tsugi will will allow you to simultaneously support LTI 1.1, 2.0 and LTI 1.3 with no code changes to your applications.  Tsugi also takes care of supporting IMS Content Item, Deep Linking, and the new services available in LTI Advantage for your application.  Tsugi also provides a scalable hosting environment that is as easy to deploy as WordPress and allows institutions to host tools and provide an “App Store” of available tools to their users.  There is also a free cloud-based Tsugi App Store that provides scalable hosting for open source Tsugi applications at  It is easy to learn to write Tsugi applications using the online materials at

by Charles Severance at December 22, 2018 03:02 PM

December 11, 2018

Adam Marshall

Turnitin will be unavailable on Saturday Jan 5th 2019 from 16:00 – 00:00

Turnitin will be unavailable between 4pm and 12am on Saturday 5th January. All submissions made through WebLearn during this period will be queued and processed once the maintenance is complete. It will not be possible to create a new assignment which routes essays via Turnitin during the maintenance window but it will be possible to retrospectively enable Turnitin once the window has closed.

It will not be possible to submit directly to Turnitin during the maintenance period.

Here’s the original note from Turnitin.

Scheduled Maintenance

We’re just dropping you a note to inform you that the following Turnitin services will be unavailable on January 5th, 2019:

  • Turnitin and TurnitinUK (including all integrations and Turnitin Early Adopter Program)
  • SimCheckOEM (TCA API)
  • Feedback Studio for iOS
  • iThenticate
  • WriteCheck

To ensure that services remain stable, particularly during high submission periods, this maintenance will include several hardware updates and performance improvements.

When will services be unavailable?

  • PST January 5 08:00 – 16:00
  • GMT January 5 16:00 – 00:00 (January 6)
  • AEST January 6 02:00 – 10:00

Is your time zone not listed? Click here to find out when you’ll be affected.

How will you be affected?

While we’d love to provide an uninterrupted service, our machines require a health check every now and again…

Users will be unable to submit and grade during this maintenance window, so please ensure that any grading or submission deadlines are adjusted to fall outside of the window.

Thanks for your patience!

Stay up to date with Turnitin system status by following @TurnitinStatus on Twitter.

Follow @TurnitinStatus

Turnitin, LLC, 2101 Webster St. Suite 1800, Oakland, California 94612

by Adam Marshall at December 11, 2018 10:23 AM

November 23, 2018

Matthew Buckett

Firewalling IPs on macOS

I needed to selectively block some IPs from macOS and this is how I did it. First create a new anchor for the rules to go in. The file to create is:/etc/pf.anchors/org.user.block.out and it should contain:

table <blocked-hosts> persist
block in quick from <blocked-hosts>

Then edit: /etc/pf.conf and append the lines:

anchor "org.user.block.out"
load anchor "org.user.block.out" from "/etc/pf.anchors/org.user.block.out"

Then to reload the firewalling rules run:

$ sudo pfctl -f /etc/pf.conf

and if you haven't got pf enabled you also need to enable it with:

$ sudo pfctl -e

Then you can manage the blocked IPs with these commands:

# Block some IPs
$ sudo pfctl -a org.user.block.out -t blocked-hosts -T add
# Remove all the blocked IPs
$ sudo pfctl -a org.user.block.out -t blocked-hosts -T flush
# Remove a single IP
$ sudo pfctl -a org.user.block.out -t blocked-hosts -T delete

by Matthew Buckett ( at November 23, 2018 12:41 PM

November 09, 2018

Apereo OAE

Apereo OAE Snowy Owl is now available!

The latest version of Apereo's Open Academic Environment (OAE) project has just been released! Version 15.0.0 is codenamed Snowy Owl and it includes some changes (mostly under the hood) in order to pave the way for what's to come. Read the full changelog at Github

Image taken from bird eden.

November 09, 2018 06:50 PM

September 27, 2018

Sakai Project

Sakai 12.4 maintenance is released!

Dear Community,

I'm pleased to announce on behalf of the worldwide community that Sakai 12.4 is released and available for downloading! 

Sakai 12.4 has 88 improvements including: 

  • 22 fixes in Assignments
  • 14 fixes in Gradebook
  • 9 fixes in Tests & Quizzes (Samigo)
  • 7 fixes in Lessons
  • 6 fixes in Roster
  • 5 fixes in Portal

For more information, visit 12.4 Fixes by Tool

by WHodges at September 27, 2018 06:11 PM

August 15, 2018

Sakai Project

Now Open! Call for Proposals for the Sakai Virtual Conference 2018

Sakai Project Logo

We are actively seeking presenters who are knowledgeable about teaching with Sakai. You don’t need to be a technical expert to share your experiences! Submit your proposal today! The deadline for submissions is September 21st, 2018.

Save the Date: The Sakai Virtual Conference will take place entirely online on Wednesday, November 7th.

by MHall at August 15, 2018 06:58 PM

August 13, 2018

Sakai Project

Sakai Community Survey - Number of Users at Your Institution

We would like your help in tallying up the total number of Sakai users worldwide.

by MHall at August 13, 2018 04:33 PM

July 04, 2018


F2F Course Site Content Import

If you’re tasked with teaching an upcoming course that you’ve taught in the past with the University – there’s no need to rebuild everything from scratch – unless you want to.

Faculty teaching face to face (F2F) courses can benefit from the course content import process in Site Info. This process allows you to pull in all your assignments, syllabus, gradebook, handouts and other files associated with the course – as used in a previous offering of the course.

To do this, you need to be an instructor in both course sites (the former and the upcoming). Go to the upcoming course site, and select Site Info>Import from Site:


Next, select the kind of import you wish to perform. I typically suggest using the replacement option “I would like to replace my data”. On the next screen select which course you’d like to pull content in FROM.  Be careful here making sure you select the SOURCE of the content you’ll import. Next click Continue.

On the next screen select the tools/areas of content you wish to import. Keep in mind it’s always a good idea to import the Resources, because files referred to in Assignments, Quizzes, Lessons or Announcements could refer to those files, and in order for those links to work properly the corresponding resources must be likewise imported.

Finally complete the import process and watch for the email to be sent to you – notifying you of the import process being completed. You can find out more information about the process here.

Want to watch the whole process in real time? Take a gander here:

by Dave E. at July 04, 2018 06:56 PM

June 11, 2018

Apereo OAE

Strategic re-positioning: OAE in the world of NGDLE

The experience of the Open Academic Environment Project (OAE) forms a significant practical contribution to the emerging vision of the ‘Next Generation Digital Learning Environment’, or NGDLE. Specifically, OAE contributes core collaboration tools and services that can be used in the context of a class, of a formal or informal group outside a class, and indeed of such a group outside an institution. This set of tools and services leverages academic infrastructure, such as Access Management Federations, or widely used commercial infrastructure for authentication, open APIs for popular third-party software (e.g. video conference) and open standards such as LTI and xAPI.

Beyond the LMS/VLE

OAE is widely used by staff in French higher education in the context of research and other inter-institutional collaboration. The project is now examining future directions which bring OAE closer to students – and to learning. This is driven by a groundswell among learners. There is strong anecdotal evidence that students in France are chafing at the constraints of the LMS/VLE. They are beginning to use social media – not necessarily with adequate data or other safeguards – to overcome the perceived limitations of the LMS/VLE. The core functionality of OAE – people forming groups to collaborate around content – provides a means of circumventing the LMS’s limitations without selling one’s soul – or one’s data – to the social media giants. OAE embodies key capabilities supporting social and unstructured learning, and indeed could be adapted and configured as a ‘student owned environment’: a safe space for sharing and discussion of ideas leading to organic group activities. The desires and requirements of students have not featured strongly in NGDLE conversations to this point: The OAE project, beginning with work in France, will explore student discontent with the LMS, and seek to work together with LMS solution providers and software communities to provide a richer and more engaging experience for learners.

Integration points and data flows

OAE has three principal objectives in this area:

  1. OAE has a basic (uncertified) implementation of the IMSGlobal Learning Tools Interoperability specification. This will be enriched to further effect integration with the LMS/VLE where it is required. OAE will not assume such integration is required without evidence. It will not drive such integration on the basis of technical feasibility, but by needs expressed by learners and educators.
  2. Driven by the significant growth of usage of the Karuta ePortfolio software in France, OAE will explore how student-selected evidence of competency can easily be provided for Karuta, and what other connections might be required or desirable between the two systems.
  3. Given the growth of interest in learning analytics in France and globally, OAE will become an exemplary emitter of learning analytics data and will act wherever possible to analyse each new or old feature from a designed analytics perspective. Learning analytics data will flow from learning designs embedded in OAE, not simply be the accidental output that constitutes a technical log file.

OAE is continuing to develop and transform its sustainability model. The change is essentially from a model based primarily on financially-based contributions to that of a mixed mode community-based model, where financial contributions are encouraged alongside individual, institutional and organisational volunteered contributions of code, documentation and other non-code artefacts. There are two preconditions for accomplishing this. The first, which applies specifically to code, is clearing a layer of technical debt in order to more easily encourage and facilitate contributions around modern software frameworks and tools. OAE is committed to paying down this debt and encouraging contributions from developers outside the project.

The second is both more complex and more straightforward; straightforward to describe, but complex to realise. Put simply, answers to questions around wasteful duplication of resources in deploying software in education have fallen out of balance with reality. The pendulum has swung from “local” through “cloud first” to “cloud only”. Innovation around learning, which by its very nature often begins locally, is often stifled by the industrial-style massification of ‘the hosted LMS’ which emphasises conformity with a single model. As a result of this strategy, institutions have switched from software development and maintenance to contract management. In many cases, this means that they have tended to swap creative, problem-solving capability for an administrative capability. It is almost as though e-learning has entered a “Fordist” phase, with only the green shoots of LTI enabled niche applications and individual institutional initiatives providing hope of a rather more postmodern – and flexible - future.

OAE retains its desire and ambition to provide a scalable solution that remains “cloud ready”. The project believes, however, that the future is federated. Patchworks of juridical and legal frameworks across national and regional boundaries alone – particularly around privacy - should drive a reconsideration of “cloud only” as a strategy for institutions with global appetites. Institutions with such appetites – and there are few now which do not have them – will distribute, federate and firewall systems to work around legislative roadblocks, bumps in the road, and brick walls. OAE will, then, begin to consider and work on inter-host federation of content and other services. This will, of necessity, begin small. It will, however, remain the principled grit in the strategic oyster. As more partners join the project, OAE will start designing a federation architectural layer that will lay the foundation to a scenario where OAE instances dynamically exchange data among themselves in a seamless and efficient way according to a variety of use cases.

ID 22-MAY-18 Amended 23-MAY-18

June 11, 2018 12:00 PM

May 01, 2018


Will Sakai look different following the upgrade?

While there are some improvements to accessibility and some on-going tweaks to improve color contrast issues, the upgrade to Sakai will not affect the overall appearance that much.  For mobile users – the difference in course navigation will be much-improved.

Desktop/Laptop view:

Sakai 11
Sakai - Pre Upgrade Desktop View

Following Upgrade:
Sakai - Post Upgrade Desktop View

Mobile view (Sakai 11/Post-Upgrade):
Sakai - Pre Upgrade Mobile View  Sakai - Post Upgrade Mobile View

More detail will be distributed in the coming weeks and those following the upgrade.

by Dave E. at May 01, 2018 07:53 PM