moodle vs. sakai 2

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).


7 thoughts on “moodle vs. sakai 2

  1. Hmm… Sakai does have profile, roster, and other tools that let students build out individualized information & attach photos — though it’s admittedly still too hard to enable, publicize and populate those tools with content.

    Your post does make me wonder though — I know Sakai has some features which many institutions have turned off, largely because it’s hard to figure out how to activate them. I suspect Moodle has similar features (particularly given your My Moodle example). So I wonder — is there anything missing from your Sakai instance that just seems so obvious it should be there? It may be a case of us needing to make it easier for implementors to activate or discover existing functionality.

  2. JS: That’s an important point. I’ve been wondering how much of my Sakai experience depends on what’s available in our school’s instance of the software. When I started using Sakai, I looked specifically for a way to add profiles and pictures, and couldn’t find any. But maybe the problem is with our local implementation, and not with the product itself.

  3. I dunno, I kind of liked it better when you were being snarky 😉

    We have neither Sakai nor Moodle at my new U, but instead have our University-branded version of the same Bb/WebCT behemoth that was Compass at UIUC. I requested an account, thinking maybe I would play around with it and it would grow on me, but every time I looked at the interface I had a negative physical reaction. So I’m using a university-hosted WP blog. It’s a compromise: I miss not having a private space; I miss having a real discussion board; I miss the student picture/profile; but it’s worth it.

    I only used Moodle a little before I left UIUC, but it was hands-down better than Compass. You know, I also miss the old BlackBoard — circa 2002, maybe? — when it was all user-friendly and hadn’t succumbed to the feature-creep that tries to make the same software serve both a small writing class and a giant powerpointed, automated-test lecture.


  4. KC – I don’t personally know the implementers at UIUC (well, not for Sakai, I know some of your portal team) but it would certainly be interesting for this series of articles to include any information you might have on your local deployment.

    Even a copy & paste from site setup of the tools you have listed would likely be useful context.

  5. Jason: Actually, I’m not teaching at UIUC right now, and that’s where I was using Moodle (the ‘official’ CMS there is a port of WebCT called ‘Compass’).

    I’d prefer not to be too specific about where I am right now, but here’s a list of the site tools I have available: Home, Announcements, Assignments, Chat Room, Drop Box, Email Archive, Forums, Gradebook, Mailtool, Messages, Modules News, Podcasts, Polls, Post’Em, Resources, Schedule, Section Info, Syllabus, Tests & Quizzes, Support & Training, Web Content, and Wiki.

    As I mention in a different comment, I acknowledge that perhaps some of my frustration with Sakai is with my local instance of it. I’m curious, do you see important things missing off that list?

  6. Hmmm… SiteStats is the one that jumps up off the top of my head. Rosters/Profiles too based on your previous article. Blogs maybe. Can you say what version of Sakai you’re running? Gradebook pre-2.4.x was pretty limited.

    Otherwise I’d say the core toolset seems to be well represented. The real question is probably along the lines of where integration has been done.

    It’s possible for instance to integrate both official photos and user-submitted photos via rosters/profiles (though not yet as well integrated as the Moodle feature you mention above with the other tools).

    Also, some tools, like the Assignment tool have integration with services like turnitin (if you school has a license) which may be particularly useful for your class scenario.

    Finally, you may be interested to know that there are efforts underway on “Assignments2” an attempt to re-invision/rewrite the Assignments tool, and initial requirements gathering has included assigning tasks from other tools, and facilitating workflow and peer-review.

    So, hopefully we’re making progress 🙂

  7. A lot of larger organizations have stacks of rules and procedures surrounding data ownership. And fiefdoms surrounding that data. And parallel fund-seeking efforts to support their staffing… at the expense of the others.

    This can lead to staged rollout of sakai features, as well as feature abandonment.

    oh and the instructors can come in last.


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