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Rocky Mountain Sakai: First SEPP Meeting in Denver

This past week marked the first inaugural meeting of the Sakai Educational Partners Program (SEPP) in Denver. More than 175 representatives from 45 member institutions met to review the status of Sakai and plan for the future. Read more….

The conference, which coincided with the beta release of version 1.0 of the Sakai collaborative learning environment (CLE) software, offered the opportunity for SEPP members to engage with each other on issues of technology, pedagogy, project evolution, and more. Each SEPP institution pays $10,000 for each of three years to participate as a full member in the continuing community source development of Sakai. SEPP institutions will have licenses and may implement Sakai 1.0, on schedule for release in July 2004.

Sakai 1.0 will be a full production environment based on the existing course management implementations done at each of the four founding institutions, as well as work of the Open Knowledge Initiative (OKI), which designed the framework and provided a proof of concept for an open source learning management system for higher education. The four original Sakai developer institutions charged with delivering Sakai 1.0 are MIT, Indiana University, University of Michigan, and Stanford University.

In-depth meetings on Thursday and Friday, June 24-25, provided members with updates on both technical issues and organizational aspects of SEPP. Topics ranged from an overview of the Sakai project to transition and migration planning, and sessions and discussions covered programming for Sakai, standards for the creation of portable and interoperable tools, Sakai architecture and functionality, tools and features, uPortal, OSPI, Samigo, open source implementation examples … and more.

While the appearance of SEPP may have an extensive impact on the learning management systems market-where the main customer frustrations have been the difficulty of getting new or modified features from commercial vendors along with serious pricing and licensing issues-that is not the central purpose of the open source community. SEPP seeks to leverage the experience and talent found within the higher education community. "Who better to develop for higher education than developers working within higher education?" asks Brad Wheeler, Sakai board member and associate vice president for research and academic computing at Indiana University. "The two main objectives of SEPP are to create the best possible open source software from within higher education and organize ongoing collaborative development."

Coordination and communication are important with the growth of SEPP, and that's on the minds of the partners. Several mechanisms are either already in place or being created or refined, including focused discussion groups, a detailed gap analysis and suggestion process for new features, and plans to build a knowledge base for documentation.

With SEPP membership numbers already exceeding expectations, the Sakai board can focus its efforts less on marketing and more on organizational and sustainability issues. The Sakai project was created for the purposes of delivering a full production open source learning management system, with no intention of asking for extended funding from Mellon beyond 2005. SEPP is receiving initial funding from the four founding institutions, Mellon, and Hewlett as well as membership fees, but it intends to develop an ongoing organizational model based on membership, rather than seeking major foundation support in the future. The challenge of governance seems well within the range of the many talented partners attending this year's SEPP-some of whom may serve on a SEPP board in the future. Regardless of the governance model that may emerge, or the ultimate size of membership, the success of SEPP is likely to continue to be based on leveraging the innovation of its member partners.

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