Hello world, Sakai a well-known learning management system and framework for tool building has had its first European Congress in the beautiful town of Lübeck in Germany. A relatively small campus town Leubeck is well known for its churches and marzipan and related confectionary. I personally enjoyed looking at the two main churches back lit from outside in the dark with good beer and solid traditionally German food inside my nicely warmed stomach.
Sakai itself is a robust highly scalable Learning platform written in Java. Being educationally orientated and open source its license is Apache-like and allows for good relationships with partners that are more commercial. If you have itchy fingers and are interested in instant contact with the product, you could download an archive file, unpack and just run locally. No configuration or other changes are required. Log in on http://localhost:8080 as admin, admin now you are the boss.
The congress lasted two days not the one day suggested by first part of the title. The presentations covered a healthy range of topics from the history of Sakai via a photo tour by Chuck Severance to the creation of content and internationalization. With around a 100 participants ranging in location from the US, Holland, UK, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Ethiopia, South Africa, and a few more destinations, this was truly an international and cozy event.
Being relatively new, the e-learning environment is growing rapidly in functionality via a wide range of contribution projects and has a substantial and active development community. About 100 deployments have occurred to date, some of them rather large. Here is a nice Google map representation of the main deployments. However, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if the map is a significant underestimation of reality. The situation is changing so fast at the moment. Chuck Severance is one of the driving forces in the community and it is no coincidence that his travels over the last couple of years mimic the local deployment centers of activity.
For my sins, I am a developer at the Universeit Van Amsterdam, Central Computing Services. I gave one of the more technical presentations on automatically finding bugs in code. However, luckily for the audience there were better presenters throughout the two days. Enhanced by good and solid refreshments and well organized facilities. The Oncampus consortium hosted the whole affair and sold their perspective of the Sakai Universe well. As a builder and gluer of systems, my personal favorite presentation was by Ian Boston of Cambridge University on the subject of the Sakai Framework. Sakai is not just a delivery system. It is also a set of API’s and services that allow for the rapid development of new tools. Boston gently introduced a mixed audience of techies and decision makers to some of the more interesting details. A hard performance to follow and I was next!
The Dutch presence was welcome with participants from at least Twente and the Universeit Van Amsterdam. Not surprisingly, hinted at by their presence, both Universities are planning further deployments after first successfully piloting this new e-learning software. I asked the Manager of the Group Education and Research Services at the Universeit Van Amsterdam, Dr Leon Raijmann, if Sakai had a future in Amsterdam. He commented, “Yes, we are implementing a portfolio system that is part of the Sakai environment. Therefore, Sakai is effectively there. Further, we like the whole philosophy of the open source movement we are sure that tools and the functionality will follow". At the conference, I noticed similar attitudes from managers at a number of piloting sites. This bodes well for a deep and long presence of this mainly high educational e-learning environment.
To round up, I suspect that over the coming years I will look back with nostalgia on this first congress. I expect Sakai to boom and thus the numbers next year to be much higher. This initial European congress was probably the first and last Sakai European day where you could mingle as one group.