Moodle & Sakai – A Trainers Perspective


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I gave this presentation at last year's AuSakai conference and barely made it out alive, which is a shame as the moral of the story is that I do actually quite like Sakai and hope that it reaches its potential when Sakai 3.0 arrives. Enjoy!

Published in: Education, Technology
  • And I just realised that I addressed some of these issues on the linked blog post too.
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  • I know this is an old slide but for posterity, I'm addressing the issues raised in this presentation:

    Three years ago, the documentation was pretty solid. There was a massive cleanup led by the, then project coordinator, Peter Knoop, and I helped clean up a lot of the Developer Doco too. I'm sorry that you didn't find what you were looking for. Sakaipedia at that time was pretty dead and out of date and I think, in the process of being removed. You also hit about the time the kernel was being created AND the Confluence server went through an upgrade, hence the dead links and broken pages. Not a defence for the lack of suitable doco, but an explanation for the issues.

    But, I don't see a mailing list post asking for assistance in finding what you needed, or a Jira ticket requesting change. Remember that we don't have paid Foundation staff working on the product like Moodle does. So the wheels may turn a bit slower for cosmetic improvements.

    I've raised these issues with the Sakai Technical Coordination Committee in the first instance, so lets see if we can get something sorted.
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  • I wrote an update to this post since its been around for two years and people are still viewing it - check it out at
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Moodle & Sakai – A Trainers Perspective

  1. 1. Moodle & Sakai – a trainer’s perspective Mark Drechsler Professional Services Manager NetSpot Pty Ltd
  2. 2. About me… Mark Drechsler • Professional Services Manager at NetSpot • SA Education Department, SSABSA (SA version of VCAA) and ASC Training & Development (RTO) • Primarily a BA but also workplace trainer – not from a heavily technical background • Now the Moodle & Sakai Guy at NetSpot – training, consultancy, project management, evaluation of new features etc etc
  3. 3. Disclaimer This presentation aims to tell the story of a journey that occurred over several years and several employers, the views of Moodle and Sakai expressed in this presentation may not represent the opinions of NetSpot or my other former employers, and should be treated as an honest assessment of two really good technologies without any attempt to provide a glossed over version of the benefits or drawbacks of either Moodle or Sakai in their current or future forms and does not constitute guidance for your specific situation, consider the product disclosure statement and seek professional advice in all cases.
  4. 4. My experiences • Ten years managing student administrative systems in school/VET sector • Moodle – Created & administered ‘live’ RTO Moodle site – Completed my MTC in 2007 – Moodle trainer for the past 18 months • Sakai – Used in internal environment and pilots – Sakai trainer for the past 4 months
  5. 5. NetSpot’s position • Currently provide large number of hosted Moodle environments in multiple sectors. • Recently became Sakai Commercial Affiliates. • Internal capacity to support and customise both environments, however Moodle’s demand has accelerated knowledge in this space faster than knowledge of Sakai.
  6. 6. Why this presentation? • Tell a personal story of my learning journey, as a practitioner, of both Sakai and Moodle. • Ultimately, a desire to see both products improve and be desirable choices for learning organisations.
  7. 7. What this presentation isn’t…
  8. 8. The journey begins… • Working in SA Education Department, researching new technologies: – Moodle was my first ‘proper’ LMS experience – First impression: ‘Wow, its, um, ugly…’ – Second impression: But its pretty straightforward really…
  9. 9. And continues… • Then a career change and a move to the RTO environment: – We need to ‘get into online learning’ – OK, so I can put documents online and collect assignments, what’s the big deal? – But as the learning progressed…
  10. 10. …things got a little fractal • The closer I looked… … the neater it got.
  11. 11. …and ended up being fun! Moodling: …lazily meandering through something, doing things as it occurs to you to do them, an enjoyable tinkering that often leads to insight and creativity…
  12. 12. I became part of The Community • Huge in number • Vast, mind-boggling resource for knowledge and support • Knowledge spanning back to circa 2003 – forums, documentation, request tracker etc • I was a willing convert
  13. 13. Then it took over my life • Started hanging out on the Moodle forums • Became a full-time Moodler for NetSpot • Funny symbols started appearing next to my name in the forums.
  14. 14. In hindsight: • Software basics easy to learn • Community support brilliant • Overall a feeling of openness in terms of support, documentation and other resources
  15. 15. The Moodle training experience • One full day for the basics • Novice users manage, and sometimes prosper • Invariably end up ‘moodling’ off on tangents • Most times – fun!
  16. 16. And then I met Sakai • NetSpot already had solid technical capability, but needed to develop training capacity for clients • Was excited at opportunity to get my teeth into another open source LMS • And so off I went and logged in to a demo site, full of enthusiasm…
  17. 17. All I wanted to do was… Enrol some students Put in some assessment Add some content Customise how it looked Create a Should be simple, right? course
  18. 18. So I went to sign up and get help from the Sakai Community…
  19. 19. So I tried reading the Sakai documentation…
  20. 20. So I jumped in and explored… • Frustrations: How do I…? – Know what the mystery fields (some compulsory) are when creating a worksite without viewing back-end files and database tables (e.g. type, role to assign to joiners, skin)? – Upload a bunch of demo users and enrol them in a worksite without writing database queries?
  21. 21. So I jumped in and explored… • How do I…? – Let self-created users create a new worksite when the ‘Academic term’ drop-down isn’t populated, and without having to write SQL queries? – Get Forms, Portfolio Templates, Portfolio Layouts etc working without having to write raw XML/XSL?
  22. 22. My lowest point… • Am I so ‘Moodlised’ that I can’t work out how to use another LMS? • Am I missing something really simple? • Is there something wrong with me? • Am I making this harder than it really is?
  23. 23. Container Back to first Resources Assessment principles! Forget about Access how Moodle does it!
  24. 24. So I persevered… With a Project worksite by playing with various tools, and things finally started to fall into place a little… This thing integrates with Google Scholar to build citation lists – how cool is that? A non-assessment-driven drop-box function – how cool is that?
  25. 25. So I persevered… I can use Project worksites as my own course and invite others in to collaborate – how cool is that? It has a wiki that is genuinely usable and a half-decent blogging tool, as well as a built in portfolio system – oh wow…
  26. 26. …I love Sakai!
  27. 27. • But if only I could get my hands on one that had been set up for use in a real environment showcasing all the stuff I could see Sakai could potentially do…
  28. 28. The stark realisation • Moodle – install it and run it • Sakai – install it and get most of the functionality, but… • …it still requires some back end work around administration, portfolios and forms (for example) before it can show its true strength
  29. 29. So yet again…
  30. 30. From a trainer’s perspective: so what? • Sakai in its base form far more difficult to ‘sell’ given that: – ‘Vanilla’ installation less comprehensive than Moodle – Geared towards ‘enterprise’ back end integration – No decent, fully configured demo environments to showcase the strength of Sakai
  31. 31. Conflicting emotions… • I know how good Sakai can be, if only my friends could see it the way I do…
  32. 32. Sakai training – revisited • Far more difficult UI to get started with • Most concerning aspect – participants not getting excited. • Could see the functions of Sakai, but didn’t seem to have the same attraction as Moodle. Why…?
  33. 33. My hypothesis • Course layouts in Moodle difficult to replicate quickly and easily in Sakai (particularly for Project worksites) • In general, Sakai’s user interface not as intuitive as Moodle’s
  34. 34. My hypothesis • Sakai needs more ‘tweaking’ out of the box to deliver on its potential • Less community support (including documentation) makes it a difficult animal to love for new users
  35. 35. Aside: Community support • In traditional software, the focus has been mainly on the product • In open source, the user community is almost as important as the software, and is often a reflection of the software itself
  36. 36. The Moodle Community
  37. 37. The Sakai Community • Exists but not as ‘exposed’ • Fragmented, more difficult to find non- technical resources than Moodle. • Improving, with more user-focused projects and sites now popping up.
  38. 38. Interesting Community experiment: Search for “Moodle” and “Sakai” in YouTube
  39. 39. Challenges for Sakai • To show the world what it is truly capable of in an easily accessible way for educators without technical knowledge. • To be a platform that is enjoyable to use for educators, and that inspires them to want it more. • To develop a vibrant user community that is accessible and supportive to newcomers.
  40. 40. Advice for those considering Sakai • Expect more lead time to be necessary for Sakai (in comparison to Moodle) if it is to be shown at full functionality. • Considering existing ‘live’ Sakai implementations critical to see how tool has been customised in practice.
  41. 41. NetSpot’s role • Helping the technology and pedagogy converge to show Sakai’s true potential • Being able to showcase more of Sakai’s advanced functions that are not shown in the base installation
  42. 42. Conclusion • As a practitioner, I see strengths in both tools depending on the requirements of the organisation • As a trainer, I hope to get a more ‘complete’ version of Sakai running for future training sessions