Thursday, July 15, 2004

Presenting your Iron Chefs of Course Management! 

A group of universities is trying to do to course management what Linux did for operating systems.
A cooperative venture by several major universities to build free course-management software is expected to release the first version of its product today, together with the complete source code, so that any college or individual can customize and enhance the program.

The effort, called the Sakai Project, named for a chef on a popular cable-television cooking show, could draw business away from commercial vendors -- mainly Blackboard Inc., which went public this year, and WebCT Inc. -- that sell similar software to thousands of colleges worldwide.
The consortium is lead by Michigan, Stanford, Indiana and MIT. It unfortunately sounds a bit slapdash at present.
Sakai is a Frankensteinian creation, stitched together from the computer code of existing course-management software developed at the four lead universities, as well as from uPortal software, a Web-based application made up of open-source-software parts created by several hundred universities. Drawing on existing software allowed the developers to craft a complex program in just six months.
I admit to not knowing the history of Linux or Unix as well as many other bloggers or readers, so I don't know if perhaps this is how other open-code software has been built. WebCT has been the standard here at SCSU, but we are changing this year to Desire2Learn. I can't imagine that these are cheap; if the university has the option of using some freer software that we could code to do, for example, better assessment, that sounds like something to investigate.