Student Programmer Position: Working on Sakai – Open Source

I would like to fill a student programmer position (at the University of Michigan) to help me work on the Sakai open source Learning Management System. Sakai is the most popular open source learning management system for top-level research schools around the world like NYU, Oxford, University of Capetown, Notre Dame, Duke, University of North Carolina and many others. There are well over 200 schools that use Sakai as their primary learning management system and there are millions of daily users of the product.

I am currently working on defining and building the next generation of interoperability standards that allow learning systems to share and exchange data via standard, open protocols. I am also working on making Sakai certified against standards for accessibility like WCAG.

Skills Required

In the position you will make direct contributions to the open source Sakai project in your own name as well as work with me as I develop new and expanded functionality for Sakai.

This will require a pretty significant set of solid programming skills:

– Java
– Java Servlets
– Structured Query Language (SQL)
– HTML / CSS
– Accessibility
– JavaScript
– Git / github

This is not a position where you will learn those skills – you must already have them. Sakai is a million lines of code – much of which is a decade old. Working with real, mature, production code that was developed over time by a team of >100 programmers is both a technical challenge and very gratifying at the same time.

https://github.com/sakaiproject/sakai

In addition to your skills, you will need solid hardware to do Sakai development. My own laptop is a quad-core-i7 macintosh, 16GB RAM, and 500GB SSD. When you are building and testing a million lines of code – it takes some resources.

Benefits

You will work with a highly talented and deeply committed team of software designers, end-users, and software developers to tackle the most advanced issues in building software for teaching and learning. I would work as your mentor to bring you into this community. The community is very active. We have several teleconferences per week that are attended by people around the world where we work on topics like development, accessibility, marketing, and teaching and learning with Sakai. I will encourage you to attend these teleconferences to make sure that your work fits well into the community and product. I am not the expert in all things Sakai – much of what you learn about Sakai will come from many others in the Sakai community.

There may be travel to Sakai meetings and/or standards meetings where you will met engineers from all of the major learning management systems like Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas, Desire2Learn, Schoology and others. If you have an interest in working in the educational technology space there is potential to make many good contacts that might lead to an internship or a job. My goal is to be your mentor rather than your boss and in time for you to be a respected contributor in your own right.

When you have mastered the Sakai code base – you will know what it takes to understand a million lines of code and develop in a professional manner. You also will know that your contributions have advanced the cause of teaching and learning with technology worldwide.

This is a student programming position – not a full time professional position but the work you do will be at a professional level.

Getting Started

The best way for you to figure out if you have the skills and development environment to handle Sakai is to download it and get it up and running in your development environment. You can follow the official installation instructions at:

https://www.sakaiproject.org/download-sakai

(Start with the git repository)

I have built a set of scripts that allow me to check out and set up an instance of Sakai with a few scripts. They work on Mac or Linux and make things easier:

https://github.com/csev/sakai-scripts

Please feel free to send me a resume or ask a clarifying question.

What is static, double colon (::), $this, and arrow(->) in PHP OO

I wrote this code to answer some PHP Object Oriented questions during office hours.

function plus($x, $y) {
    return $x + $y;
}

class Thing {
    public $value;
    private $a;
    protected $b;

    function __construct($start=0) {
        echo("Construct\n");
        var_dump($this->value);
        $this->value = $start;
        $value = 12345;
        var_dump($this->value);
        echo("Done\n");
    }

    public static function add($x, $y) {
        // Cannot use $this
        echo("Adding $x $y \n");
        return $x + $y;
    }

    public function increment($x) {
        $this->value += $x;
        echo("New:" . $this->value . "\n");
    }

    public function inc2($x, $y) {
        $this->increment($x);
        $this->increment($y);
    }

    public function add10() {
        $this->value = self::add($this->value, 10);
        $this->value = $this->add($this->value, 10);
        $this->inc2();
    }

    function __destruct() {
        echo("AAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!!\n");
    }

}

$y = plus(3,4);

$y = Thing::add(3,4);

$z = new Thing(7);
$a = new Thing(10);

$z->increment(4);

$a->increment(5);

$y = $z->add(5,6);

unset($z);
echo("The last line\n");

Fixing when a jQuery UI Modal Shows Behind Fixed Bootstrap Navigation

I am blogging this because I searched stack overflow and Google and no one had the answer. Too bad I can’t just state something in StackOverflow after hours of research and a bunch of “close” questions and answers. But ah well – here it is.

I am working on my Tsugi OER site www.pr4e.com.

What I am trying to do is use the modal capabilities of jQueryUI modal dialogs (mostly because I do not like the overblown markup of BootStrap modals) while the rest of the site is styled with BootStrap. All goes well until the modal is larger than the overall window vertically and the modal slides under the BootStrap fixed navigation bar.

Here are some images:

Navigation with enough vertical space (good): good_nav

Not enough vertical space, modal slides below the navigation (bad):bad_nav

Not enough vertical space, modal atop the navigation (good): better_nav

Solution

The key is to set the z-index of the *generated* markup created by the jQuery UI dialog call after the dialog was created:

function showModal(title, modalId) {
    console.log("showModal "+modalId);
    $("#"+modalId).dialog({
        title: title,
        width: modalDialogWidth(),
        position: { my: "center top+30px", at: "center top+30px", of: window },
        modal: true,
        draggable: false
    });

    // In order to float above the BootStrap navigation
    $('.ui-dialog').css('z-index',9999);

    $(window).resize(function() {
        $("#"+modalId).dialog("option", "width", modalDialogWidth());
    });
}

I figured out the generated elements and changed their z-index.

Working code: www.py4e.com (Log in and go to “Use this service”, and press “Using Your Key”).

Code in github: tsugiscripts.js

October 1: Moving the Tsugi GitHub Repositories

I am just back from a successful trip to South Korea where I talked a lot about the NGDLE, Sakai, and Tsugi:

http://www.slideshare.net/csev/building-the-next-generation-teaching-and-learning-environment-66291838

I focused a lot on the new Tsugi use case of being a single-course LMS that is integrated into a single-site OER materials / course site.

https://www.py4e.com/
https://www.wa4e.com/

There was a good bit of interest from technically minded teachers and folks from educational technology centers. I made it clear that Tsugi was not trivial to install and run yet – but on a good path to be ready for teachers to to build web sites in 2017.

But some want to get started now. And so on October 1, I will be moving the main Tsugi repositories from

https://github.com/csev

to

https://github.com/tsugiproject
https://github.com/tsugitools

The core bits (PHP, Node, and Java) will all move into the “tsugiproject” and tools will move into “tsugitools”.

For folks who have been using the “csev” repositories, GitHub is good about forwarding requests when repositories are renamed or moved.

I am sure this will be a bit of a disruption – but probably better now than later.

If you have any issues with this or suggestions as to how to best do it, let me know.

Abstract: Building the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment using Tsugi

This presentation will give an overview of the Tsugi project and applications of the Tsugi software in building a distributed approach to teaching and learning tools and content. One company involved in the Internet of Things claims that “The next big thing will be a lot of small things”. If we apply this logic to the educational technology marketplace, an essential element needed to achieve the NGDLE is to reduce the granularity of the learning content and applications to the individual teacher or even individual student. Tsugi is a 100% open source effort that is part of the Apereo Foundation.

It is not sufficient to simply make a bunch of small web-hosted things and claim we have “implemented” the NGDLE. We must be able to coherently search, find, re-construct and re-combine those “small pieces” in a way that allows teaching and learning to happen. To do this, each of the learning application and content providers must master detailed interoperability standards to allow us “mash up” and bring those distributed and disparate elements back together. While there has been much said about the ultimate shape and structure of the NGDLE, and there are many current and emerging interoperability standards, there is little effort to build and train providers with usable technology that will empower thousands or hundreds of thousands of people to build and share applications and content that will populate the new learning ecosystem.

In effect, we need to build the educational equivalent of the Apple App Store. Except that it needs to be open and extensible and not depend on a single vendor intent on maximizing shareholder value. This presentation will show how the Tsugi project is doing research into how this works in actual practice. Tsugi is a 100% open source production-ready application and content hosting system that is simple enough to use to allow interoperable and pluggable learning applications or learning content to be built, hosted, deployed and shared by individuals or various-sized organizations.

Dynamic .htaccess to deal with Url Rewriting mod_rewrite.c, and FallbackResource

As I built Tsugi, I want to ship with a decent, working .htaccess in folders that need it. My most typical use case is that I want to map all the URLs in a folder into a file like index.php.

There are two good ways to do this. The old standby is a long set of mod_rewrite rules. The new, much more elegant trick is to use FallbackResource in mod_dir in later versions of Apache 2.2.

The problem is that clever hosting providers upgrade to the new Apache and then figure they can remove mod_rewrite so you know how to do it in either case but don’t have a good way to trigger when to use what approach.

This is my approach that I use in Tsugi when I want to map all URLs to one file:

    <IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
        RewriteEngine on
        RewriteRule ^ - [E=protossl]
        RewriteCond %{HTTPS} on
        RewriteRule ^ - [E=protossl:s]
        RewriteRule "(^|/)\." - [F]
        RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
        RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
        RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !=/favicon.ico
        RewriteRule ^ index.php [L]
    </IfModule>
    
    <IfModule !mod_rewrite.c>
        FallbackResource index.php
    </IfModule>

It is not perfect but kind of deals with things as the move forward. If mod_rewrite is there – use it – it works in later Apache versions as well but if mod_rewrite is there, use it and if not, hope that FallbackResource is there.

Now of course there are some Apache versions / setups where this fails – but on average, over time as Apache’s get upgraded, things get simpler and over time the mod_rewrite code just will stop activating.

I also added this information to a Stack Overflow question.

Abstract: Building the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE)

The concept of a Learning Management System is nearly 20 years old. For the most part, modern-day Learning Management Systems are simply well-developed versions of those first learning systems developed at universities and commercialized through companies like Blackboard, WebCT, and Angel. Since the early LMS systems were developed for a single organization and developed as a single application, it was natural for them to keep adding more functionality to that single application. Each vendor added proprietary formal expansion points to their LMS systems like Building Blocks and PowerLinks. The concept of a single expansion point across multiple LMS systems was proposed by the Sakai project in 2004. The idea evolved over the next few years to become the IMS Learning Tools Interoperability Specification (LTI) released in 2010. LTI provided a basic expansion point across the whole LMS marketplace. LTI greatly expanded the number of applications that could be integrated into an LMS – but those integrations were naturally limited because of the simplicity of the early versions of LTI. In this talk we will look at the standards activities over the past six years that have been laying the groundwork to move from simple plug-in integrations to an open multi-vendor learning ecosystem where the LMS is just one part of that ecosystem. Many are now calling the concept of the new structure of a broad and interoperable market for educational software as the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE). We will look at the work that has been done and an outline of what is left to do to deliver an open learning ecosystem.

Sakai 11.1 maintenance is released!

(This is from an email sent by Neal Caidin)

Dear Community,

I’m pleased to announce on behalf of the worldwide community of participants that Sakai 11.1 is released and available for downloading at

http://source.sakaiproject.org/release/11.1/

Sakai 11.1 has 146 improvements [2a, 2b, 2c] in place including
43 fixes for responsive design (Morpheus)
36 fixes in quizzes (Samigo)
28 fixes in gradebook (aka GradebookNG)
13 fixes in Lessons.

Other areas improved include:
Assignments
Dropbox
Forums
Membership
Portal
Preferences
Profile
Resources
Signup
Site Info
Statistics
Syllabus
Web Services
No new security issues fixed in 11.1 .

Beyond MOOCs: Open Education at Scale (Abstract)

Here is a draft abstract for an upcoming keynote – comments welcome.

Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) providers like edX and Coursera have revealed an almost unlimited desire for education for people of all ages and all walks of life. While these pioneering efforts have achieved much, these learning opportunities are still in relatively short supply. Each course is costly to produce, deploy, and support. These costs are a rate limiting factor in scaling online education to the point where we begin meeting the much larger demand for high quality, plentiful and relevant education worldwide. We need to build a Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) that makes it so any teacher can build and efficiently deploy their own open courses to a worldwide audience. In this presentation, we will look at how we can build an open source infrastructure that is based on open standards and open content that will make creating an open education experience within the reach of any teacher, anywhere in the world. We will look at how educational technology will need to change to reduce the cost to produce, share, and even remix online educational content.

Live, Online, Graduation Ceremony for Python for Everybody Specialization Capstone – Wed June 8 at 9AM

We are reaching the end of the first session of the Python Specialization capstone. We have two things planned to celebrate the time and commitment of the students who have made it through five classes, 25 weeks of work and completed the capstone.

First, the University of Michigan School of Information will be sending signed paper certificates, a temporary tattoo, and a waiver of the application fee to the University of Michigan School of Information Masters Program to everyone who completed the Capstone. We will be sending the packet to every student that has completed the first capstone regardless of geography.

Second, we will be the first MOOC to have an online, live, graduation ceremony and we want to invite anyone to watch our celebration. The graduation ceremony will be held:

Wednesday June 8, at 9:00AM Eastern time

Location: http://live.dr-chuck.com/

The URL will be ready Tuesday night. The ceremony will be streamed live on YouTube using Google Hangouts and then later a recording will be uploaded to Coursera for those without access to YouTube.

The agenda for the graduation ceremony will be to (1) thank those who have worked behind the scenes to make the course successful, (2) hear a short commencement speech from my colleague Colleen van Lent (who also teaches the Web Design for Everybody) specialization, and then (3) read the student’s names as we show each student’s picture.

There are 1165 students who have completed the capstone – but it is optional to participate in the ceremony.

If you have completed the capstone session 1 and want to participate in the graduation ceremony, go back to the course site and read the instructions for joining the ceremony that we sent you in email.

Thanks to everyone who made this possible and congratulations to the graduates on finishing the specialization.

I hope to see you at graduation.