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Merger of Jasig and Sakai Approved by Membership Vote; Intent To Form 'Apereo' by Early 2013

News of the Sakai and Jasig membership-approved plan for a merger as announced November 5, plus a CT exclusive briefing with Sakai Foundation Executive Director Ian Dolphin

After more than two years of deliberation, the memberships of two of the highest-profile organizations producing open source software for the higher education marketplace have voted to go ahead with their long-considered merger. Sakai, the non-profit organization best-known internationally for its higher education community-developed open source Sakai Collaboration and Learning Environment, and Jasig, a global consortium of higher education institutions and commercial affiliates that sponsor open source projects for higher education will merge and become Apereo (the name is a combination of the Latin 'aperto,' meaning open and 'mereo,' merit) by early 2013. A brief announcement appears on the Sakai Web site; of course readers should expect more information in the coming months leading up to actual incorporation.

Merging Sakai's 80 higher education institutional and commercial members throughout the U.S. and internationally with Jasig's 47 institutional and corporate members globally will initially yield approximately 120 unique institutional members and corporate partners worldwide, with the strongest presence currently noted in North America, Europe, South Africa, and Japan.

The combined communities will broaden the portfolio of open source software significantly for all, as well as expanding the size and international presence for the two merged organizations. Just a few of the major project areas of Apereo will be: The Sakai Collaboration and Learning Environment (Sakai CLE), uPortal, CAS single sign-on, Bedework Calendaring, Sakai’s Open Academic Environment--and others.

Extensive, inclusive, and well-documented examination of the proposed merger reached throughout the membership of the open source communities of Jasig and Sakai as well as spanning all levels of foundation staff, management, and board. For a look at some of the discussions and summary documents, see the Apereo Web site. Campus Technology spoke with the Sakai Foundation's Executive Director, Ian Dolphin, to get some additional insights into the values of the merger and future directions of Apereo:

Mary Grush: We hear about company mergers all the time. But most of those mergers are of companies with proprietary products, and the strategies of their mergers are of course intended to put the companies in stronger positions in the market, to sell their proprietary products. If there is any sense of community it is generally secondary to the purpose of the merger.

Jasig and Sakai, however are communities--because of the nature of open source development. Could you reflect a little on the notion of merging two communities?

Ian Dolphin: It's important to recognize that both current organizations represent multiple communities at present. Jasig supports multiple software products, as does Sakai. In a very real sense also, both organizations have regional groupings. Jasig U.K. has operated for several years. Sakai has particularly strong regional groups in Japan, South Africa, Spain, and elsewhere in Europe. As organizations, Sakai and Jasig exist to facilitate these communities, either by providing services which are most effectively handled above the level of an individual software community or project--such as inbound and outbound licensing, organizing conferences, and providing technical infrastructure. The merger will associate a broader range of communities and provide such services more effectively.

Over time, we expect synergies to grow between projects and software communities. Apereo will essentially support two types of communities: software communities, which exist to iterate open source software through its lifecycle; and communities of interest, which form around particular themes (an example of this is the Sakai Teaching and Learning community). We expect communities of interest to play an essential part in stimulating synergies between projects and software communities over time.

We've been very mindful that bringing together active communities is very different than the merger of corporate entities. This process has taken just over two years to get to this point. We could have driven the process faster, but would have run the risk of not developing a shared understanding of direction, and of alienating parts of both communities. We've approached this patiently, and encouraged discussion and debate of substantive issues as we have proceeded. We've organized joint events, such as a highly successful joint conference in Atlanta earlier this year. The memberships of both organizations, as a result of this patient approach, have had time to reflect and grow together.

Grush: Is there a little more detail on the vote available? Were these the institutional members voting (not just a board vote)? What was the vote?

Dolphin: Both Jasig and Sakai are membership organizations. Both are made up of education institutions and commercial partners. Each member organization has a nominated contact with Sakai or Jasig. These members have cast their votes in a poll, which carefully followed guidance from non-profit legal experts. The vote will be released to our memberships early this week.

Grush: Who will be on the Apereo board, and who will be the organizational leaders for Apereo?

Dolphin: The initial board will be made up of four members of the current Sakai board, and four members of the Jasig Board. When the new organization is incorporated, four more members will be elected from the wider membership.

Grush: How do you see the projects of these two communities merging? Are there particularly exciting ways in which the existing Sakai and Jasig projects can merge? Beyond larger developer pools, are there real possibilities to look at technology directions and point to reasons the Sakai and Jasig merger really reflects current technology trends?

Dolphin: We have--very consciously--avoided any sense of driving particular projects together. Projects and communities evolve and grow at their own pace, and while Apereo will provide many opportunities for cross fertilization and the incubation of new approaches, we will not try to force directions on particular communities. We don't regard that as the role of the foundation.

That being said, our focus on software to closely support the academic mission--learning, teaching, and research--together with the infrastructure that supports it, provides some significant opportunities and challenges. It's a complex area--in many senses more complex and exploratory than administrative computing--and it is moving from enterprise scale to Web scale. We intend Apereo to be a global pole of attraction for those working in this space, growing shared resources, and making a real difference.

Grush: Could you characterize what the merger will mean for Sakai, specifically?

Dolphin: A larger broad community gives the Sakai CLE improved infrastructure, at a foundation level, and a significantly broader reach. The Sakai CLE community will continue to evolve under the new Apereo umbrella, but it would be wrong to prescribe a future course for that development at this point. The Apereo incubation process--essentially a process of sharing experience and mentoring--will provide scaffolding for new projects to develop.

This week, we've seen the emergence of a Sakai mobile initiative--Keitai--which will be one of the first projects to enter incubation, at the same time that uMobile, a Jasig mobile initiative has emerged as a software community. There's clearly synergy to explore in the specifics there, but more broadly, a structured incubation process will act to encourage the development of new tools and services--and help them succeed. And that has considerable potential benefit to the Sakai CLE.

Grush: The big question: Sakai really had it right years ago when the words "collaboration and learning environment" were used, not limiting the vision to a "course management system" even though that was the market niche Sakai was in effect operating in. What's in the future for collaboration and learning environments or learning management systems? In general, what is the LMS or the CLE turning into? And given that, what are the key technology directions and trends that the merger supports, going forward with the Sakai Collaboration and Learning Environment (after Sakai merges with Jasig)?

Dolphin: The initial vision of Sakai has stood the community in good stead. It's worth noting that the Sakai CLE is used in many institutions to support research collaboration in addition to supporting learning and teaching online. I want to be very clear: I do not believe the Learning Management System will go away, as a product category, but we're heading towards a more holistic view of support for academic practice online.

The development of interoperability standards such as the IMS Global Learning Consortium's Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) is making it easier to plug tools into environments--and to connect environments themselves. The LMS will need to become more permeable and more open--the walled garden at least needs more gates. That's one potential line of evolution for the Sakai CLE, and the direction being explored by the other current Sakai project--the Open Academic Environment.

There's a notable trend today to explore scale of delivery. I found the position expressed by Nicholas Negroponte in a recent column in Wired interesting: "Today, programs such as Khan Academy, Coursera, and MIT's own edX are ... focused on teaching, not learning. Course correction is needed. Pun intended." I believe he has a point; scale is important, especially in reaching and engaging non-traditional learners, but we do need to keep a grip on the relationships between all areas of academic practice as we collectively explore these new frontiers. Learning and research--and [more specifically] the relationships between them--are worthy of considerably more focus than the sector currently affords.

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