Using Sakai to improve Knowledge Engineering conduits between government agencies, SMEs and academics

Thanks to Rob Crouchley (Lancaster University) and Rob Allen (STFC) for this article.

Collaborative Research in Business (CRIB) project is a UK Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) funded project examining Knowledge Engineering conduits between government agencies entrepreneurs of Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) and academics. Central to the CRIB project was to build web based social networking tools into the existing Sakai Collaboration and Learning Environment; to harness the power of social networking but minimizing the risk associated with public social nets, such as Facebook.

It is interesting to look at the way that the community uses some of Sakai’s collaboration tools and what they might do if the tool were not available.

Announcement: used to post announcements to work site members. An e-mail notification can be sent. An e-mail list server could be used as an alternative to this and the Mailtool described below. In the UK, JISCMail is available for academic users and MailTalk for commercial users, both of which also archive mail. A local server could be set up instead.

Chat Room: on-line chat facility internal to Sakai for site members to hold impromptu discussions. Content is archived. Other internet chat facilities could be used instead. We note that BigBlueButton contains a separate chat channel for background discussions during on-line meetings.

Discussions: threaded discussion forum tool. An e-mail notification can be sent when a thread is updated. Users can opt out or receive digests. A separate forum tool could be used.

Mailtool: used as a list server to send e-mail to community work site members. Mails are archived. See comment about alternative mail list servers above. Projects which do not use a list server with archival facilities tend to send large numbers of individual e-mails, the content of which are scattered among project members and other partners. There is no consistent thread of information and no possibility of knowledge management based on this so called “grey literature”.

Meetings: BigBlueButton audio visual conferencing tool. This is now integrated with Sakai enabling meetings to be scheduled for work site members. Other tools could be used, e.g. Evo (for academic use), Skype, or regular telephone conferences. We note that AccessGrid has been widely used by the academic e-Science research community. Whilst there is a portal interface to this, portable access grid (PAG), it is currently not integrated with Sakai.

People (aka Roster): used for sharing information between community members. Shows all people on a work site and links to their published profiles, it also provides a quick way to find how to contact people directly. Alternatives might include FaceBook, LinkedIn, or a variety of social network tools deployed for specific purposes. We note that many of these will also contain blogs and other functionality for sharing information.

Profile: used to publish information about yourself, both work related and personal. Users can control which information is visible to other users. They can search by interest and connect to people across all Sakai sites to form networks.

Resources: shared folders for work site members to post documents and links. An e-mail notification can be sent when a resource is added or changed. Whilst there are public Web 2.0 sites for sharing specific resources like photos (Flickr) and video material (YouTube) we have found few usable alternatives to the general purpose Sakai Resources tool. Google Docs can be used to collaborate on document writing. DropBox might be another possibility. We note that, by default, documents in Sakai are stored in the data base. For large binary documents, such as the CAD drawings mentioned above, it is possible to configure Sakai to store them in a separate file space.

Search: used to perform a key word search across all work site content. Returns a list of items and a tag cloud. There would be no simple way to search across multiple external Web 2.0 tools even if social networking standards like OAuth are used.

Web Content: used to put up links to important Web sites for the community. Here these include Business Link NorthWest, NorthWest Development Agency, e-Science Training and Help pages and a Facilitator Form which are all hosted externally. These links can be useful in the facilitation process.

Wiki: A Radeox based Wiki private to the work site for members to collaboration on document development. Can link to images and documents in Resources. Also widely used to record meetings, monitoring development status, etc. There are many external Wiki tools maintained for different purposes.


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Why Oxford Chose Sakai

In 2002, the University of Oxford opted to deploy Bodington as their institutional VLE. Bodington was open source and was developed by The University of Leeds.

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.

Bodington VLE

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.

Exit Strategy

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.

Why Sakai

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.


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Learn About The Benefits Of Sakai at ALT-C 2011

ALT-C 2011 Symposium: Institutional VLE Choices: We’re all in this together.

The 18th international conference of the Association for Learning Technology will be held at the University of Leeds, UK, 6-8 September 2011 and is sub-titled ‘Thriving in a colder and more challenging climate’. Registration closes on 12 August 2011.

The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, SunGuard HE, OSSWatch and the Sakai Foundation are running an hour long symposium to talk about the benefits of Sakai and running open source software at an institutional level. The increased flexibility that this approach offers allows technology to support the way that teaching and learning happens rather than asking academics to change their working practices in order to fit an off-the-shelf system.


Those involved in making a choice or purchase of an institutional (enterprise wide) VLE. Those interested in calculating the full cost of ownership or cost of running a VLE service. Those using technology to support face-to-face teaching. Those who want teaching to shape technology rather than the other way round.


This symposium aims to attract and persuade. If you are reviewing your choice of institutional VLE anytime soon and your university offers mixed models of traditional and blended teaching or has a remit for the creation and dissemination of knowledge, you may be interested in hearing what we have to say.

Your institution’s choice of VLE can limit your ability to be responsive, flexible and open. Before attending this symposium please consider: How sustainable is your current position? How much does it really cost? Is your voice heard? As part of this community are you contributing new thinking and rigour to the development of tools? Does it make a difference to your students and staff which technologies you choose?

Speakers from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and will describe and debate the benefits that Sakai and Moodle have brought to the institution. Drawing on institutional strategies for OER, open source software and online distance learning we will explore ‘flavours of openness’. With contributions from OSS Watch, Sakai Foundation and Sungard HE we will present the different open community models which support and sustain development (of staff, students,content and software) and encourage participants to consider models of cost, value and giving.

This session will focus on the use of open source software at an institutional level with a focus on what you can do to tailor technology to support the way that teaching and learning happens rather than asking academics to change their working practices in order to fit an off-the-shelf system.


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Sakai Commercial Support Options

Sakai Commercial Affiliates provide commercial support for institutions using Sakai. This includes:

  • hosting an institution’s VLE
  • offering advice / helpdesk service
  • custom tool development
  • systems integration
  • help on migration of content

For more information see:

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Sakai UK (UKISSN) meeting

The UK and Ireland Sakai Support Network met for the second time this year at the JASIG UK meeting in Manchester on July 20th. There were 12 delegates from the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Hull, Lancaster, Bath and Limerick plus attendees from the Sakai Foundation and STFC (Daresbury).

The day began with introductions swiftly followed by a short talk by the Executive Director of the Sakai Foundation, Ian Dolphin,  who spoke about the implication of the upcoming merger of JA SIG and the Sakai Foundation. It is hoped that this will be completed early in the new year. The merged entity has yet to decide on a new name.

A demo of the next generation of Sakai, Sakai OAE (formerly Sakai 3) was given by John Norman from CARET. The demo covered four main aspects of this next generation VLE:

  • openness,
  • user autonomy,
  • content creation and
  • social interaction.

Sakai OAE is not yet complete, however, what currently exists is quite usable, indeed Cambridge University Engineering Faculty are committed to use the system over the next academic year.

Functionality to support annotation, content authoring and activities will be added next followed by learning and teaching management and assessment.

The demo had many highlights: the ease of creating “websites” and embedding third party content (for example, You Tube and Vimeo objects); the categorisation or tagging of content; the ease of sharing such content with named colleagues or the general public; and how easy it is to run other systems, such as Moodle, inside Sakai OAE.

John outlined how Sakai CLE (Sakai 2) and Sakai OAE can work together. It is possible to have either a whole Sakai site or a single Sakai tool running within OAE. Styling is applied so all Sakai 2 tools like a native OAE object.

Hull commented on how the OAE looked like it might satisfy their ePortfolio needs (as well as act as their VLE).

After this each institution gave a round-up of how they use Sakai and any upcoming developments. Oxford, Cambridge, Hull and Limerick run Sakai as their institutional VLE, Lancaster use it within the Business School and the other use it to support collaborative research projects. Limerick have opted for a hosted platform and use rSmart for this purpose.

There was quite a lot of talk about accessing Sakai on Mobile phone with a variety of methods of access being used. There was great interest in recently developed reading list functionality, Turnitin integration and the Survey tool (generally known as Evaluations),

After lunch there was presentation about uMobile which is a spin-off from the uPortal project after which the Sakai developers broke off to take about technical issues related to mobile access and the rest of the group talked about the recent initiative focusing on collaborative improvements to the help documentation.

It was then reported that Sakai-themed papers have been given at the Eden Conference and will be given at ALT-C. There will also be a workshop hosted by Cambridge and Oxford at ALT-C to further raise the profile of Sakai in the UK.

A member of Hull University teaching staff won a Teaching With Sakai Innovation Award (TWISA) – Distance Learning during 2011. It was decided that, as an experiment, Hull would coordinate a lunchtime webinar for members of the teaching community – this could be a talking shop where academics swap ideas on how to get the best out of Sakai.

Finally there was a discussion how UKISSN could raise the profile of commercial affiliates to help make it easier for local institutions to use Sakai. There are hosting companies such as rSmart, Unicon, Longsight (& Samoo) who can provide either a whole installation or set of sites and that there are numerous companies who can undertake bespoke development of targeted tools. (See:

The meeting ended with a hearty round of applause for the host institution, Manchester University.

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Sakai OAE demo at JA SIG UK, 20 July, Mancherster

John Norman from CARET (Cambridge U) will be giving a demo of the emerging Sakai Open Academic Environment (OAE) at Manchester University on 20 July 2011. (Sakai OAE is the new name for the project formerly known as Sakai 3).

Sakai OAE is targeted more at collaborative research-oriented teaching and will provide a scholarly networking environment for learners and researchers. It will extend beyond the institution and centres all activity around the individual by providing a customisable personal learning environment.

OAE achieves a balance of scaffolded freedom through storing structures of content, spaces and activities as templates and then allowing these templates to be widely shared, reviewed and revised. The innovators are put back in the driver’s seat.

See: & (screencast)

This demo will form part of the joint JASIG UK and UK and Ireland Sakai Support Network (UKISSN) meeting at University Place in Manchester next week.

Details about the event can be found at: with the programme outlined at:

Please let both Rob Sherrat (R.Sherratt@HULL.AC.UK ) and Anthony Colebourne at Manchester ( know if you would like to attend.

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EuroSakai 2011: Focusing on European Adoption, 26-28 Sept

From Frank Benneker

EuroSakai 2011

Sakai is returning to Amsterdam for 2011 edition of EuroSakai. It will be held on the same beautiful waterfront as the 2007 Sakai conference, the dates are: 26 – 28 September 2011.

The main theme of EuroSakai 2011 is “Focusing on European Adoption”. Over the past years, Sakai has seen increased adoption by institutions and the community has grown steadily. However, the adoption of Sakai in Europe lags behind, particularly in comparison to Northern America. At the same time, higher and tertiary education in Europe are also confronted with budget constraints, and the end of many existing product licenses. A number of European institutions that had previously not considered open source software are now starting to give it serious consideration. Awareness of the benefits and flexibility of open source, and the possibility of collaborating between renowned institutions needs to be fostered in Europe. Meanwhile, policy makers such as the European Commission Digital Agenda are encouraging use of open standards and open source software. All summed up, the conference takes place at a time of great opportunities for Sakai.

Conference Themes

We encourage the presentations to fit within one of the following themes. However, other suggestions are also welcomed.

  • Adopting Sakai, best practices in implementation, support and teaching
  • Expanding in Europe, new audiences
  • Quality Assurance in Code and Practice
  • Internationalisation and localisation
  • Innovation in Education and Technology

The registration fee is 100 EUR for Foundation Members and € 125 for Non-Members.

More Information and a link to the registration are available on website:

If you are planning to attend this conference please visit the web site and register as soon as possible. We send also an special invitation to all the (South-) African & Middle East Sakai members to join the conference.


Please we need all your collaboration for the conference presentations. If you think you have any good experience to talk about, a new tool to show or any good practice you want to share, please think about doing a presentation in the conference.

Presentation proposals can be sent to the conference e-email address :

Additional information, registration, programme and forms for call for proposals on the conference website (under construction):

More Information: please contact us at:

On behalf of organizing committee, see you in Amsterdam

Frank Benneker (UvA) & Jaeques Koeman (Edia)

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UK & Ireland Sakai Support Network meeting

There will be a UK & Ireland Sakai Support Network (UKISSN) meeting in Manchester on Wednesday 20 July  from 10:00 and finish at 16:00; registration will open at 9.00.

The agenda will be added on the following wiki page:

Can you please confirm your attendance with both R.Sherratt@HULL.AC.UK and Anthony Colebourne at Manchester ( so arrangements can be made for catering.


As some may know, the Sakai Foundation is soon to merge (or rather, be absorbed into JASIG).

Sakai CLE and Sakai OAE (nee Sakai 3) will become top-level JASIG projects along with uPortal, Kuali, FIFER and Bedework.

In the future, all JA SIG-UK events will have a UK & Ireland Sakai Support Network strand. There will probably be sessions for developers and for trainers/ teachers and academics.

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Euro Sakai 26-28 September 2011, Amsterdam

I am pleased to announce that the European Sakai Conference will be held in Amsterdam on the 26th, 27th and 28th September. The Universiteit van Amsterdam and Edia Educatie Technologie have generously agreed to lead the organisation of the conference. Expect further announcements shortly.

Ian Dolphin, Executive Director, Sakai Foundation

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Sakai 2011 Conference Information

The Sakai Foundation is pleased to share the initial information and call for presentations for the Sakai 2011 conference in Los Angeles. All conference information will be added to as it becomes available.

The growth in projects, partners, adoption and engagement in the Sakai community creates an opportunity to have a remarkable conference this year. Yet as you can imagine, the move from Berlin to Los Angeles has compressed the timeline of conference preparations.  Achieving this is going to require a community effort. If we can each make a small contribution to the success of the conference and meet the deadlines, it will be a tremendously successful event that is beneficial to everyone involved. Please take a few minutes to review the information and deadlines below.

We would also like to emphasize that the invitation to participate in the Los Angeles conference, like all Sakai conferences, is a global invitation. The geographic range of our organizations creates a rich perspective and experience that is core to the Sakai community and central to our success. In addition to participating in local Sakai events, please consider joining the community in Los Angeles.

Request for Presentation Suggestions

As a new addition to our process this year we are seeking information from conference participants about the session content that they would most like to see included in the program. What sessions would you like to hear? What topics do you hope to have covered? Our hope is that community members will share topics and ideas, and review this list to get ideas for presentation submissions. If you are attending the conference, please share your content requests. If you are willing to present, please consider the requests as you are formulating your presentation proposal. This information can be submitted and reviewed immediately.

Call for Presentation Proposals

We are requesting proposals for conference sessions, pre-conference workshops, birds of a feather topics, and showcases/tech demos. Please consider sharing your expertise in a formal session, or an informal discussion or demo.

Registration and Lodging
Registration will open on April 1. This timeframe is driven by a need to define the pre-conference sessions prior to opening registration. If we are able to get through this process more quickly, I will send a message to the list with that information. You may book a room with the conference rate immediately.

As we begin the process of gathering and reviewing presentation content I would like to acknowledge the conference committee that is contributing significant time to bring this together: Chair-Chuck Powell (Yale University), Brian Dashew (Marist College), Bruce Sandhorst (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), Debbie Smith (Concentra), Ian Dolphin (Sakai Foundation), Jenn Cummings (Concentra), John Lewis (Unicon, Jasig), Joel Thierstein (Rice University, Connexions), Kate Ellis (Indiana University), Kim Eke (UNC Chapel Hill),  Kim Thanos (Sakai Foundation), Lance Speelman (Indiana University) Lynn Ward (IUPUI), Lucy Appert (New York University), Mara Hancock (UC Berkeley, Opencast), Michelle Ziegmann (UC Berkeley, Opencast), Mary Miles (Sakai Foundation), Mathieu Plourde (University of Delaware), Rob Coyle (Johns Hopkins University), Trent Batson (AAEEBL), and Doug Johnson (University of Florida).


Kim Thanos

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