October 2, 2007
For the past year, the course management faculty advisory committee has been working with the Provost's office (Milton Adams) and the CIO's office (James Hilton) to evaluate and advise on the selection and implementation of a new course management system and collaboration environment to replace the Toolkit. After thoughtful deliberation, we have decided to go with an open source system supported by the Sakai community (www.sakaiproject.org).
This document contains questions and answers divided into three parts: Part I - Why Open Source? Part II - Why Sakai? And Part III - When and How?
While the Toolkit provides many useful tools and features, it does not provide the kind of comprehensive online support that is increasingly needed to support both residential education and distance education. The Toolkit does not, for example, support blogs, wikis, chat, or a host of other collaborative tools. Moreover, the Toolkit's assignments, quiz, and materials tools lack adequate functionality. All of the features that are currently available though the Toolkit are also available through the more comprehensive course management applications (except for UVa-specific processes like final grade submit which would need to be ported to the new environment).
A number of factors contributed to the decision.
Not necessarily. Today's open/community source applications are packaged very much like commercial products. Both open/community source and commercial products install out of the box and both require the local IT shop to be engaged in implementing, maintaining, and supporting the systems. The main difference between the two approaches is that the open/community source applications allow for (but do not require) code modification.
No, they are not the same. While both approaches allow users to modify the source code of the application, they have distinctly different development requirements. As the name implies, build it yourself approaches require significant development activity. The Toolkit is an example of a build it yourself approach. In this approach, the institution bears the entire responsibility for developing the code that runs the application. In an open/community source approach, the code already exists. An institution can decide to contribute to the subsequent development of the code, but it does not have to do so. In fact, it could decide to devote no more development resources to an open/community source project than it would to a commercial/proprietary approach.
Determining the total costs of ownership for the two approaches is difficult because those costs depend largely upon the level of development effort an institution chooses to put into a community/open source project and the fixed costs of licensing associated with proprietary systems. In both cases, the institution must bear the costs of implementing and maintaining the systems. An open source solution is potentially less expensive because it does not require licensing fees--thus freeing up more resources for support from ITC.
Being locked into a commercial license is not necessarily safer. The cost of the software licenses is only a part of the total cost of maintaining a large IT infrastructure system. Having license costs locked in (and contractually committed) to a vendor reduces the flexibility we have in dealing with budget challenges, forcing us to cut things like support that have a much more direct impact on the value of the system to the university.
The committee did a survey of the landscape and quickly determined that Moodle and Sakai are the two primary contenders in the open source arena. The committee also determined that providing central support for a single course management system was preferable for two reasons. First, providing a single system should minimize confusion. The committee discussed the challenges that multiple course management systems would create. The committee saw advantage in having students and faculty deal with a single interface common to all classes rather than multiple, and potentially confusing, systems. Second, supporting a single system should be less expensive than supporting multiple systems.
Although both systems would be an improvement over the Toolkit, several factors led to the selection of Sakai.
Dozens of universities, including Michigan, Indiana, Berkeley, Yale, and Stanford are currently running Sakai. A full list of institutions, along with more information about Sakai, can be found at www.sakaiproject.org.
In the early phases of the transition, the Toolkit and the new system will both be available and supported. Those needing collaboration tools, or wanting to use some of the newer web technologies (e.g. wikis, blogs, podcasts) would start using the new system; those who want to continue using the Toolkit could do so. Eventually all new course websites and course administration activities would move to the new system, and the Toolkit will be placed into read-only mode for access to previously offered courses.
No, you will not lose all of the things you love about Toolkit. At a minimum, the new system will include all the functionality of the Toolkit. In addition to replicating the Toolkit functionality, the new system will offer a single environment that supports course content and course administration, and provides collaboration tools for researchers - thus helping to blur the distinction between the laboratory and classroom, and between knowledge creation and digestion.
Supporting a full-blown course management system, whether proprietary or open source, will place more demands on ITC. Selection and implementation of a new system is a joint project of the Provost and the CIO. The Provost and CIO will work together to devote the resources necessary to meet the new demands and to ensure successful implementation.
Course Management Systems and collaboration environments are rapidly becoming an essential part of the infrastructure that supports teaching, research, and scholarship. As such, they have high priority for new and reallocated resources. The ongoing support costs will be incorporated into ITC's budget and decisions about particular system enhancements will be made on a case-by-case basis.
Much as is the case today, central support for additional systems is not planned.
Yes, we believe the following components are key for a successful implementation:
While the timeline is still being finalized, the goal is to have the new system available for early adopters in January 2008 with more and more courses/users moving to it during the 2008-2009 academic year. Assuming this timeline holds, Toolkit would no longer accept new homepages after the Spring 2009 semester.
We recognize that moving resources from Toolkit to the new system is critical and ITC will be working with faculty to make that process as easy and efficient as possible.