Why change platforms?
When Leeds opted to select a proprietary system for their next VLE, we felt that it was time to re-evaluate our commitment to Bodington: Oxford was left as the sole large-scale developer of Bodington and this situation was untenable. It was at this point that Oxford decided to seek an alternative platform (with a bigger and better community). We felt that there was nothing wrong with open source software as such, but when choosing a solution, one must take into account the strength, direction and governance of the community as well as the functionality of the code base.
Many good things have come out of working with Bodington: we have learnt what a VLE at Oxford should look like and gained vast experience in open source software and community development. In addition Bodington as got a very good public image and many of its innovative features are being embraced both into Oxford’s deployment of Sakai and into the next major version of the system known as Sakai OAE.
We surveyed a number of open source systems with a view to defining an exit strategy for Bodington. The criteria were that any solution at Oxford must:
- be modifiable / extensible (for example, open source);
- not be tied to a course-based content structure;
- offer fine grained access control and flexible group definition to support Oxford model of learning;
- have devolved administration;
- offer equivalent tools and services as those supported by Bodington;
- have distinct advantages over the incumbent system.
Some of the main reasons we chose Sakai were:
- Proven scalability / reliability: Sakai is used in vast institutions with tens of thousands of concurrent users.
- Other comparable UK research-led and Ivy League institutions use Sakai, for example, Cambridge, Hull, STFC (formerly CCLRC), Stanford, Yale, MIT, UC Berkley and ANU, meaning that there is already a strong community who have very similar goals to Oxford.
- Sakai’s strengths lie in its collaborative features whereas others concentrate more on pedagogy; it is felt that the former is more appropriate for an institution such as Oxford.
- The Sakai community have expressed a real desire to incorporate key Bodington features into the core code base, for example, site hierarchy, reusable groups, and fine-grained permissions. (Sakai 3 will embrace many of these ideas.) In addition, the process for ensuring that Oxford’s additions to the code base is better defined for Sakai than for other comparable open source systems.
- Sakai is similar in nature to Bodington, but has a modern service-oriented architecture (SoA) with a simple interface for plugging in new tools or third-party web applications. (This architecture is recommended by JISC).
- Sakai is built using Java which maps very well to the core competencies within OUCS.