Daily Archives: September 4, 2015

Announcing University of Michigan / Coursera Python and Web-Design Specializations

I have been involved with Coursera and MOOCs since early 2012 when I created my Internet History, Technology, and Security #IHTS course on Coursera. That was followed up in 2014 by my Programming for Everybody (Python) #PR4E course. Over the past three years we enrolled nearly 200,000 students in #IHTS and nearly 600,000 students in #PR4E.

Both of these classes are designed as “on-ramps” for students to take as their first foray into technology. The good news is that I think that we were very successful in the pacing and content of both classes so that they were accessible to all students regardless of prior knowledge or experience. But at the end students were always left wanting more advanced material.

So this Fall, we are expanding the Python course into a five-course Specialization called Python for Everybody and adding a whole new specialization taught by my University of Michigan School of Information colleague Colleen van Lent called Web Design for Everybody. We chose the “..for Everybody” names because we are both committed to teaching courses that had no pre-requisites except for a willingness to work and learn.

To transition to the “Python for Everybody” specialization, we have broken the material in the 10-week “Programming for Everybody” course into two six week courses that we now call “Getting Started with Python” and “Python Data Structures”. And to that we add two more six week courses titled “Using Python to Access Web Data” and “Using Databases with Python”. These two new courses will cover Chapters 11-15 in the textbook.

Here are the links to the four courses that now cover the entire Python text book:

Those students who paid for and earned a verified certificate in any of the Programming for Everybody sessions (all the way back to April 2014) can jump right to the third course in the specialization. Your Programming for Everybody verified certificate will be treated the same as earning certificates in each of the first two new courses in the Python for Everybody specialization.

For those students who could not complete the course due to time commitments or other issues, you will be able to re-start at the beginning on the new Coursera learning platform that is much more flexible in terms of deadlines. Courses start every 6-8 weeks, and if you don’t complete the course in one session, you can join the next session and your homework and quizzes follow you from session to session so you don’t have to start over. If you want to work quickly, you can see all the material as soon as the course opens so you can race through as fast as you can go. The advantage of the new platform is that there is a wider range of paths to completing the course successfully.

Live Office Hours

If you have any questions about the courses I have taught or the specializations going forward, Colleen and I will be having live online office hours (more like a question and answer session) on Tuesday September 8, at 12:30 PM Eastern time using a Google Hangout. That is a great time to ask questions of either of us. The URL for the live office hours is:


So all in all, it is a super-exciting time for us. Colleen and I have worked all summer to prepare these new courses and we hope you will join us this Fall in one or many of these classes.

Sakai 11 – Skin Contest

(This is taken from a posting to the Sakai mailing lists)

Announcing a Sakai 11 skin contest!

Winner(s) to be announced at the Sakai Virtual Conference – November 4th, 2015.


One of the key features for the next major release of Sakai is responsive design, or better support for small screen sizes like cell phones (aka code name Project Morpheus). Thanks in large part to contributions from NYU, Marist, and Murcia, we have a great UI design to start with. Now we want to take it to the next level! Help us go there!

Come up with your best design, take screenshots, document your rationale for the design, provide details (feel free to use frontify.com, it may help).

Submission process

Working on it. Will have more details in weeks leading up to the conference. But there’s no reason you can’t start working on it today!

Getting started

To get started, it is recommended that you download a copy of Sakai 11 to run on a test server, or at least take a look at our master copy on our nightly server (create an account or use default account “instructor” with password “sakai”). See what we’ve already got, and build from there.

Take into account internationalization issues (the ability to localize Sakai to a geographic location’s cultural and language preferences) and accessibility, so that people with physical limitations are not limited in their use of Sakai. A quick and easy resource to start with is http://webaim.org/resources/contrastchecker/ or http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/.

Come up with your color schemes, come up with any interface changes, consider desktop and mobile screen sizes. Mock up your schemes as images that anyone can access (jpeg, png, tiff, etc).


As Sakai continues to evolve and innovate we need to be aware of a number of issues. As mentioned above, internationalization and accessibility are a couple of examples. But we also have maintainability and consistency to consider. A subset of the community actively fixes bugs and maintains tools. We call these folks the Sakai Core team. This team needs to feel comfortable that they can support the code. And we have efforts underway to make Sakai tools have a common look and feel, so that they will be easier to use overall.

So feel to go crazy and wild with your designs. The winner(s) will be based on aesthetic beauty, functionality, and creativity. The Sakai Core team will pick and choose which elements will work best, possibly across several designs, if that makes sense. Also, the Sakai Core team and the Sakai PMC will consider the timeline of Sakai 11 and figure out which skin features will make it into the Sakai 11 timeline and which will need to wait until the next maintenance or major release. For these reasons, 2 or 3 members of the judging panel will be from the Sakai core team.

Judging and Prizes

The judging panel will determine the criteria for the contest winners and the distribution of the prize money. We have donations for the prize money of several hundred dollars which will likely be distributed as Amazon gift cards.

Judges will not be eligible for prize money themselves (in case they want to submit, or collaborate on a submission).