Why Sakai?

The university is currently engaged in a exploration of what web-based course system should replace WebCT 4.1 - possibilities include a new version of WebCT (6.0) that is so different from the current one that it should be considered a new system, WebCT "Vista" which really is a different system altogether (and prohibitively expensive), Blackboard, eCompanion (already available to Rutgers faculty through the Division of Continous Education), Desire2Learn and Angel, and an unfinished, rudimentary system named Sakai.


Feature-for-feature, Sakai is years behind the rest. Yet OIRT is putting considerable effort into a Sakai pilot project, at first glance a seemingly odd thing to do. But there are two significant differences that make Sakai well worth considering: customization and collaboration.

Sakai is an "open source" project being developed jointly by a consortium of universities; Rutgers is participating in the process. We can change Sakai to fit our own institutional needs, as can other universities. More than with any other platform we can alter Sakai to fit into existing Rutgers administrative and computing systems, potentially easing the administrative tasks of managing a course's web site. With existing systems these administrative tasks are left to the instructor and can quickly consume time that would be better spent teaching. Beyond administrative details, unique instructional tools can be developed or added to Sakai to support individual disciplines — without the need to wait for a corporation to work the tool into their existing product on their own timeline. Sakai is limited by Rutgers' own priorities and staff resources, but that may be far better than being limited by an external corporation's priorities.

Moreover, since other universities can also customize Sakai, it is possible to exchange the custom-built pedagogical tools between participating universities. Something that MIT or the University of Michigan has done on their Sakai system could easily be brought into use at Rutgers.

While customization is useful, the most significantly important feature of Sakai is collaboration. Sakai turns the traditional course web site on it's head, allowing the students to be as involved in the creation of the course web site as the faculty are (at the faculty's discretion). This is where a real transformation of teaching and learning can take place. The 400-student lecture can be shaken from it's movie-theater style presentation mode to a dynamic community of small groups. The students themselves can create the web pages, discussion boards, document sharing areas and chats. Imagine a contributive web site, like Wikipedia, where students add to the course materials, collaboratively building their own textbook and correcting each other's work, all under the tutelage of the instructor.

Sakai is intended as a collaboration system. It supports research groups, it can be used for committee work, it allows students to innovate and engage in their own education. The fact that it also does standard web-course tasks too is almost incidental. Those features will improve with time, but to base a comparison of Sakai with WebCT or Blackboard on the strength of the common tools is to overlook the dynamic shift in what is possible. Ultimately the replacement for WebCT 4 will be chosen based on how well it fills the needs of faculty and instructors. Sakai may not be all the way there yet, but in spite of it's incompleteness it needs to be considered.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Joseph Delaney published on June 24, 2005 11:19 AM.

Use of Tablet PC's was the previous entry in this blog.

Sakai Transition is the next entry in this blog.

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