Monthly Archives: May 2016

Sakai by the Numbers

UC Davis’s recent multi-day Sakai LMS outage offers a cautionary tale for all schools – but in our opinion, not in terms of the knee-jerk open source versus commercial software debate that tends to pop up when these events happen. Institutions need to plan for unscheduled downtime for all the types of software they use.  It is an imperfect reality that any software can stop working at any moment, including the most respected commercial software products such as Salesforce which recently suffered a multi-hour outage and deleted four entire hours of some of its customer data during its recovery efforts.

For schools that are offering online courses, continuity of operations should be a topic that is top of mind. There is, however, no perfect way to fully address this concern. SLAs with fines or penalties only incentivize vendors to restore service as soon as possible (or attempt to proactively minimize disruption). Running all software in-house requires different trade-offs in terms of staffing, skill sets, and cost. Differences among commercial and open source software offer still more options to consider including flexibility in terms of support and the size and expertise of their respective user communities.

We expect in this case that there will be a lot of discussion in the coming days, especially following the recent Apereo conference, about the health and viability of the remaining Sakai community members. The Sakai platform remains the most open major LMS in terms of licensing. It has seen recent and encouraging interest from international schools. Finally, it has seen exciting new developments in terms of usability and feature improvements. But here we’d like to present Sakai by the numbers.

141 universities having more than 500 FTE students currently run Sakai as a primary LMS. The average size of a Sakai school is 7945 FTE students with a median of 3548. Sakai is most popular in California, Hawaii, and New York.

In our data set, 15 universities have stopped using Sakai as their primary LMS over the past 2 years (roughly 10% of the installed base by number of institutions). All but 2 have migrated to Canvas (with one moving to Moodle and the other to Brightspace). There have been 2 announced migrations to Sakai, of which 1 was successful and the other has failed to materialize. Additionally there have been many schools (including Indiana University and Stanford) that have announced intentions to migrate away from Sakai or are in the process of doing so. 34 schools (roughly 1/4 of the remaining installed-base) are currently running another LMS in addition to Sakai, a behavior strongly correlated with an intention to switch. The percentage of at-risk institutions, or those we define as likely to switch LMSs in the coming year, is higher for Sakai than any other LMS that is not currently experiencing a forced-migration (for example ANGEL and Pearson’s Learning Studio which are both facing imminent end-of-life).

Of remaining Sakai installations, 62 are on version 10 or higher. 47 are on version 2.x. 16 are running a version older than 2.9. (The remainder are customized or secured behind Single Sign-On, and an accurate version number cannot be determined.)

Longsight remains the most popular choice for hosting provider, with more than one-quarter of Sakai installations hosted here, and has migrated several rSmart institutions to their hosting service during past 12 months. rSmart still hosts just over a dozen institutions. Unicon remains the smallest provider of Sakai hosting with fewer than 5 institutions.

The data set used for this blog post is available for purchase from Client Stat.

Throw-away digital literacies

As a recent graduate, I’m finding a blank space on my phone’s home screen these days. You see, I’ve recently uninstalled D2L’s Binder app. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a helpful app that allows a student to send class materials from their LMS to their phone for later viewing offline (for example, when on the subway where internet connectivity is weak).

As an adult learner, the “rite of passage” of uninstalling this app, leaves me a little unsettled. When I think about it, I spent 2 or 3 years mastering how to navigate a LMS and figuring out the settings and buttons required to support my preferred workflow for reading lesson materials on my phone. Now that I’ve graduated, I’m probably never going to use that app again – or log into my school’s LMS again for that matter.

While I’m grateful that these technologies helped me to get the job done, I can’t help but think of a LMS like an expense reporting system. I need to use it (because they say so). I don’t like using it (because it’s clunky). And when I leave, the experience of having used it is not really a marketable skill (I’ve never seen a job posting wanting experience taking classes on a specific LMS or using a specific expense reporting system). I guess one could argue that maybe the frustration of hunting and pecking around the LMS prepares students for the real-world experience of navigating around poorly-designed corporate intranets, but I digress.

Perhaps schools, instead of investing so much in creating and using complex LMS software, should begin to more-seriously consider technology platforms that have a less-ephemeral connection to the student and a longer-term relevance to their lives. Or maybe using technology with which an incoming student is already familiar (perhaps already has installed on their phone) will help ease their transition into college.

Over the past year, we’ve seen Apple (1, 2), Microsoft, and Google each announce new and continued improvements to extend their technology platforms to support educational uses. Yes, we can argue that this is an effort to acquire more users at younger ages. However – in the case of iTunesU, some learners enter college already having familiarity with iTunes – and will continue to engage with iTunes (and through iTunesU, perhaps even with the university) for long after they graduate. The skills learned using the productivity and collaboration software offered by Microsoft and Google remain relevant long after school ends. And consider the possibility of introducing real-world workflows into the classroom. For example, when was the last time you submitted a proposal to your boss, they gave you a C+, and handed it back? When was the last time you saw a LMS used by an instructor and student to iterate over several versions of an assignment (perhaps using revision historytrack changes, or embedded comments) until it was clear that the student produced his or her best possible work? When was the last time you saw a LMS attempt to recreate this workflow within its walls, and it just ended up being a clunky, clicky, and confusing experience?

-Post by George Kroner (personal thoughts do not represent my employer’s)