The conference that Anthony and I attended this week in Baltimore, MA was about the open-source software project/product called Sakai.
Sakai is the open-source equivalent of Blackboard or Web CT. It is an enterprise-level course platform.
Anthony and I were hoping that we might be able to leverage the work of the Sakai project so that it might function as a foundation for our future work on SocialScholar and Pathways Learning.
We have concluded that this is not possible. It turns out that while Sakai goes to great lengths to offer flexibility, that flexibility is constrained within the limits of a course platform. None of the Sakai developers, it seems, have questioned whether a “courseâ€? platform is the best “learningâ€? platform. They are not innovating learning so much as engineering the software equivalent of the tried-and-true course.
This might not have been a problem. It might have been the case that the foundation of their software was flexible enough to allow for a “courseâ€? system, as well as an alternative. But, the product is so overly-engineered, so utterly complex, that it would take us as long to figure out how to unravel their knot as to tie our own. So, we shall begin our own project development today.
Which brings me to the most valuable information we obtained at the conference; i.e. how to revive the notion of EdLab, and bring the “labâ€? back to the forefront of our work.
In a previous blog entry I attempted to bring your attention to a company known as IDEO. They are a “designâ€? company in CA that is responsible for such things as the first computer mouse, among many other things we use every day (think of the new squeezable ketchup). At any rate, the basic premise of this company is to take an existing product (like ketchup) and improve the design.
EdLab might very well work from the same premise, but focus our attention on products and systems related to the field of education. At IDEO every employee becomes involved in the brain-storming concerning the re-design of a product. They spend hours gathered together in spaces like we have on the fifth floor and throw ideas onto white boards. The break and create drawings and mock-ups in attempts to further clarify their ideas. They are tasked with thinking creatively, and they do so as a group. When meeting in the group setting, all employees are on the same level and each person's idea gets recorded on the board. The best ideas are collected, aggregated, and ultimately fabricated.
I propose that we carve out some time, away from our service positions, and gather together to redesign the world of education. We can start with the “new learning platformâ€? and move to other projects. Here is a quick list of things that I feel need to be re-designed:
- Library web site
- Room booking
- Display boards
- Program collections
- Peer review
- Tenure review
The point is that there is nothing that does not need some sort of redesign. We need a way to practice the art of design as a team, involving as many people as possible. The fabrication of the resulting design can then be left to certain groups (typically TSI and Media Production).
By the way, this approach may force a rename of TSI. Under the model proposed above we are all on the Solutions and Innovations team, and so perhaps TSI would be renamed “Technology Fabricationâ€? or “Technology Productionâ€?.
PS: check ou the attached PDF on IDEO.