Sakai welcomed to Amsterdam

The 7th Sakai Conference took place from the 12-14 June in the Movenpick Hotel Amsterdam.

Some of you newer readers to my random ranting may be asking what Sakai actually is? Well Sakai is a rather excellent and rapidly transforming Collaboration and Learning Environment. With a solid history of rapid release cycles, ever evolving functional requirements and delivered features, it has a solid set of architectural principles supporting scalability.

Okay you say and ask again what is Sakai? Sakai allows human beings, that is, instructors and students and potentially researchers, to collaborate via inbuilt tools such as forums, chat, WIKI’s, search etc. Nevertheless, Sakai is more than that, you can choose to add testing frameworks, grade books and a full range of learning features such as portfolios simply by clicking on tick boxes in an administrative screen.

What I particularly like about Java based software is that it is quite straightforward to develop tools for. In addition, the contribution section of the source code repository is brimming with cool contributed examples.

Sakai makes heavy use of Java frameworks such as Spring and Hibernate and has clustered instances that run to great scale massively above the 30,000-user mark.

Realizing that technology changes and complexity brings with it reliability questions the Sakai community invests heavily in a well controlled Quality Assurance cycle. As proof of this point, I should mention that around 90 human testers were involved in the, just released, 2.4 version.

Sakai has strong footing in American Universities and is deployed effectively throughout the world.

Around 400 delegates attended the conference in Amsterdam, the first outside America. A podcast of the keynote speech hints at the excellent content that flowed throughout the three rather busy days, five days if you count all the extra meetings possible.

My favorite moment at the conference was the giving of Sakaiger, a handmade teddy bear and the first of its type, to the head of the QA process recognizing her merits and positive influence. A well-known and influential figure spread out a number of smaller versions to an International audience of hard workers. Photos are now making it out onto the internet with various Sakaigers travelling the world. I expect some interesting stories to emerge over the course of time and a cult to emerge with the final resting place of this highly sought-after artifact finding its way to Graceland. We shall see. Long live Sakaiger, viva Los Vegas.

A preconference programmer’s café was fun to participate in, with the presenters showing youthful humor and deep knowledge of their subject areas. I really liked the fact that for every minor glitch one of the reprobates made a joke to cover until frenzied helpers returned control to the smoke ridden holodeck.

The conference was well organized and the venue convenient as walking to the railway station cost only five minutes. I particularly enjoyed gaining two free t-shirts from one of the sponsors, a hum, IBM.

The conference organizers split up the presentations into a number of logical tracks including: teaching and learning, technical, user experience and implementation. Not naming names, well because I do not know any, the Sakai System Administrator’s Guide presentation was exactly the sort of content that is practical in the wild. My own presentation went well apart from the fact that the beamer did not work and the audience spotted the technical flaws in my very existence. However, once I threatened the Sakaiger I was the boss of a group of herded cats.

If you still do not know what Sakai can do wait until the next release of the Free Software Magazine and I will detail further.

Viva Amsterdam.


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