Since some Sakai folks were nice enough to comment on the previous entry in this series, I thought I’d tone down the snark a bit, and also start with something I happen to like about Sakai. I love the fact that when you log in to Sakai, what you see first is your own “workspace,” a kind of clearinghouse for the various classes or collaborative group you belong to. In your very own workspace you see announcements from the different courses or groups you belong to.
I like this, because it fits the ethos of participatory culture that characterizes how my students tend to engage with technology in extracurricular contexts. In other words, it’s like Facebook or Myspace. So, instead of having only strictly delineated course sites, where the instructor controls everything, these workspaces in Sakai give students their own spaces that are linked to their various courses. (Facebook, by the way, might eventually be an interesting alternative to traditional CMSs, though I think the “Courses” application has a long way to go.)
I’d totally give this one an “advantage Sakai,” if I didn’t know that the same thing has been available since v. 1.6 of Moodle, under the name of “My Moodle.” I haven’t actually seen the Moodle implementation, though, since it hadn’t been installed yet when I left my previous the university. So, I can’t usefully comment on how it stacks against Sakai’s “My Workspace.”
As long as we’re on the topic of participatory culture, though, I thought I’d mention another thing I miss about Moodle: the fact that students could write profiles for themselves and include a picture in that profile. A picture might seem like a trivial thing, but I really liked how Moodle’s discussion forum posts (and even replies) included a thumbnail of the person who wrote the post. Not only did this help me learn students’ names more quickly, but I think it also increased the sense of responsibility (or answerability) students had for the things they said in the forums. Even in a small writing course, students often don’t know each other’s names, but they do recognize each other’s faces. It felt like it contributed to a stronger sense of community (though I am aware that “community” is a problematic concept to apply to a classroom).