In the Sakai community we regularly have open meetings of the sakai governance group – the Sakai Project Management Committee (PMC) to plan upcoming releases and strategize about how to best meet user requirements with Sakai. Our most recent open Sakai PMC meeting was June 8, 2017, the day after the end of the Open Apereo 2017 Conference in Philadelphia, PA.
As the current Chair of the Sakai PMC, it was one of the best meetings I have ever participated in my life. I was amazed at how our community has grown and matured since we became part of Apereo in 2012.
While nearly all of the PMC members were present and participating, this was a meeting of the community – not the PMC. Some of the people in the room have over a decade of expertise in Sakai software development, others in the room were customers of Sakai commercial affiliates, others were technical support specialists, we had faculty members, and a number in the room were first-time participants in the meeting.
Neal Caidin, the Sakai Community Coordinator ran the meeting and kept us moving through our topics but made sure to have a very inclusive discussion all along. We had a lot of big issues to cover like:
– When would we code freeze the Sakai 12 release?
– What would be the scope of the Sakai 12 release?
– Where did the NoodleTools contributions fit in the Sakai 12 release?
– Could we remove the legacy Grade Book UI from Sakai 12?
– What were the community hot buttons in terms of “things to fix” before Sakai 12?
– What were the major “holes” that could be filled by Sakai 12?
We had the advantage that we were coming off a great Open Apereo conference and there had been lots of discussion about Sakai in presentations, in BOFs, at Karaoke, and in hallways – so in many ways the post-conference meeting was bringing a lot of threads together to form a plan of action.
We had about four hours to talk so we did not need to rush and could allow lots of people the time they needed to talk. Virtually everyone in the room talked on one or more topics regardless of seniority, role, or experience. The most senior developers spent a lot of time listening and reflecting and helping to add a sense of resource costs / availability to each of the ideas as they moved throughout the room.
Here is some notes from the meeting:
Among many small decisions and ideas, we decided to freeze Sakai 12 at the end of July, and that the old grade book UI would be removed, and that we would try very hard to get the Noodle Partners work into core by Sakai 12 and others.
But what impressed me is how much fun we were having together while discussing these very significant and consequential product decisions that might tie a company product manager in knots. Neal would bring up a topic, the conversation take its time and wander around the room gaining lots of diverse perspectives and wind its way to a decision and then we would move on the the next topic and the pattern would repeat.
All very relaxed and enjoyable – and at the end we had an impressive roadmap for Sakai 12 that was responsive to the community needs and practical in terms of timing and resources. In a way it was the “iron triangle” done properly – together we collectively balanced, time, resources, and features. No one got everything they wanted but we were able to arrive at a balanced plan for the next year.
An Open Invitation
What bothers me as we move into the LMS Vendor Conference season, is how little mainstream commercial vendors actually talk to their users and give the members of the community of adopters and users a seat at the table where final and ultimate decisions are made in regards to the product they are paying 100’s of thousands of dollars for. This is one of the aspects of “Sakai is 100% Open” that makes me most proud.
The commercial LMS vendors are great at throwing parties with an open bar and musical entertainment that runs long into the night. What I would hope customers of these vendors try to do a little bit is see through the parties that are distracting you from the fact that you and your school has very little involvement in the direction of your most important software product on their campuses.
What I would hope is that sometime, that technical support people from a few of these Canvas or Blackboard customers would come to a Sakai meeting and see how it can be done differently and in the open. Just come and sit in the back and listen – or participate if you like. You would be welcome even if you are a Canvas or Blackboard customer. You could come to our Summer Open Apereo meeting or even our Sakai Camp. Sakai Camp is in January and is two days dedicated to the kind of collective meeting to plan for Sakai. You need to register early for Sakai Camp because we have a size limitation. Sakai Camp is more fun because it is 3 days of nothing but Sakai planning – just like the meeting above.
If you come to Sakai Camp you will sit next to and talk the leading lights in the Sakai Community, from our QA leadership, support experts, pedagogy experts, UI/UX experts, end users, and core developers. There is no “hierarchy”, there is no “pecking order”, everyone is encouraged to participate, talk, and share your opinions.
What you would learn from those few days is how a community that cares deeply about each other can work together to produce a world-class learning management system with the best strategy and path towards a truly next-generation learning environment.