I Have a Confession to Make about ANGEL

I hope I have made it clear that Sakai is my first love and always will be. I have a deep relationship with Sakai is part of the essential and permanent fabric of my very being and she defines who I am at the core.

But I have to confess that I have always had a thing for ANGEL. I mostly worshipped her from afar. It was probably wrong but I had an ANGEL account on a developer server for many years. I *promise* that I never taught a course with ANGEL. But I have had many long cups of coffee sitting at my desk exploring her functionality and dreaming about what might have been. I looked but never taught.

My family taking classes at Lansing Community College and Michigan State University use ANGEL. I look over their shoulders at times trying to watch how the product works and how LCC and MSU teachers make use of the ANGEL features in various ways. Even simple things like the pedagogy of an assignment drop box in the middle of sequenced content seem amazing. It inspired me to write an LTI tool called ‘dropbox’ that imitated ANGEL’s functionality. Like a poem written in PHP that I wrote but never sent.

In many ways ANGEL has been a muse to me and her simple understated elegance was inspiring. I felt that when I was with her, I had a better understanding of good UI design for an LMS. I think that just knowing her has made me a better designer and developer in my relationship with Sakai’s portal.

For example, in Sakai 2.8 when I first introduced the “expando” feature to minimize navigation, I imitated the expando feature of Angel. Few many have noticed, but the first image I used for the expando was the ANGEL image with black switched to blue. And the expando worked simultaneously vertically and horizontally just like in ANGEL. But the rest of the Sakai community did not know ANGEL as I knew her. They were more familiar with the horizontal-only expando UI from Blackboard. So slowly but surely the expando image morphed from ANGEL style to Blackboard style by Sakai 2.9 in a series of steps. The final 2.8 expando image still kept the arrow motif but was a circular button instead of a rounded triangle. The arrow remained as homage to the original ANGEL inspiration in 2.8 and by 2.9 there was only a partial arrow which is no longer really homage.

I was also taken with how ANGEL did its PDA portal. There was a button in the lower left that was essentially “switch to PDA mode” that eliminated frames, and inlined everything. When I first did the PDA portal for Sakai, ANGEL again was my muse – I tried to mimic the functionality of ANGEL as much as I could. I even wanted to borrow the little late-90’s Casio icon but I did not. Of course Gonzalo took that code and make it a million percent better – Sakai’s PDA portal is no longer is a weak imitation of ANGEL – it is the best non-native-app mobile LMS portal in the world. It took Gonzalo to take my symbolic gesture based on the crush I had on ANGEL into really good functionality.

When the Etudes team was rethinking some of how they orchestrated content and other items, I did demo of ANGEL and suggested they just take screen shots and make their UI “just like ANGEL”. The took a look and then did their own thing that turned out to be very cool.

When Chuck Hedrick of Rutgers started on Lesson Builder, I did a demo of ANGEL and suggested that where there was overlap between ANGEL and Lesson Builder, to borrow heavily from the ANGEL interface. Lesson Builder turned out to be pretty similar to ANGEL. I think that it is more because great minds (Chuck Hedrick and Dave Mills) think alike rather than borrowing ideas from ANGEL. But regardless, I had my new little Angel (Lesson Builder) in Sakai 2.9. to be so proud of as she grew up. Especially a few months later when our little Angel (Lesson Builder) started to blossom with IMS LTI and IMS Common Cartridge certification. She looked a lot like her mother but her mother never supported IMS LTI and IMS CC. Lesson Builder’s mother (ANGEL) has an early version of CC 1.0 – but it was not updated to the final spec and so while she is very talented and was instrumental in the birth of Common Cartridge – she does not have her degree in IMS Interoperability-ology. ANGEL could still go back and get her degree in IMS LTI and CC at some point in the future – but for now I am just so proud of her daughter Lesson Builder. Of course Chuck Hedrick is the other parent of Lesson Builder. I am more of a proud uncle.

As Lesson Builder moved into trunk, I asked Chuck Hedrick if we could rename it “Lessons” instead of “Lesson Builder” to give homage to ANGEL’s Lessons feature. In a way it is a little tattoo in the Sakai Navigation look and feel to remember Lesson Builder’s mother and be a little ever-present easter egg if anyone went between Sakai 2.9 and ANGEL. I thought it was a nice little touch.

A few weeks back when I was under non-disclosure, Michael Chasen explained the plans that were announced last Monday. Michael said, “I will be buying MoodleRooms and NetSpot.” I thought for a second and said, “I did not see that coming – but very clever”. He said, “I want to make an Open Source Division of Blackboard and contribute to Sakai and Moodle.” I said, “That makes a lot of sense.” Then he said, “We are removing ANGEL from end-of-life status.” I about jumped out of my chair and almost shouted, “Really??? Is David Mills coming back?”. Michael said, “Yes he is coming back and he is quite excited what we are planning to do.” Then I told Michael that he should first announce the extension of ANGEL and then wait two weeks to announce everything else. He laughed and said it was not practical to separate the announcements.

Then I asked Michael, “Can I call David and talk to him?” Michael said, it would be ok to call him but I needed to wait two days to call David. Before I left, I told Michael that I would probably accept the job – but only after I talked to David Mills. I called David two days later and we talked for about 90 minutes about our thoughts and feelings about the multi-LMS strategy which were completely aligned. We were like two kids in a candy store. And we both have a thing for ANGEL.

Now that I am a part-time cook at Blackboard, am am all of a sudden much closer to ANGEL. She is no longer out of my reach. ANGEL developers are a short motorcycle ride away from my house and they work in one of the few cities with *two* Ruth’s Chris steakhouses. How can I resist a short visit?

Maybe I will tell her how I really feel. Or maybe I will be too embarrassed to tell my true feelings. Or maybe I will just stay in the friend zone as a secret admirer and tell ANGEL that as a friend, I really think she should go back to school and get her IMS Masters Degree in Interoperability-ology.

I don’t know what I will say or do when I am finally alone with ANGEL having a cup of coffee with her at Starbucks. Hope I don’t make a fool of myself.