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Uses of Sakai

This is a page to gather together the various ideas about how to use Sakai that people have placed on the lists. This is variously thought of as "Uses of Sakai," "Project Site Uses of Sakai," "Beyond the LMS," or "Collaborative Uses of Sakai." In short, any uses of the Sakai Collaborative and Learning Environment that stretch beyond the typical classroom use. Feel free to reorganize or add to this page, or append materials such as talks, research papers, whatever helps us capture the variety of uses that people are putting Sakai to.
January 21, 2008

Conference Presentations -

Vancouver Session on Project Sites in Sakai (useful docs)

Newport Beach session on Projects Sites in Sakai (useful docs)

email list postings -

Via Nate Angell - the presentations by Steve Lonn at UMich and Mara Hancock of
Berkeley at that same Newport panel on project sites included
quantitative data:

This thread reminded me to upload my slides from the panel on Sakai
project sites at the Newport Beach conference, which is now available
Embedded in my slides are actual uses of Sakai project sites collected
from the community as well as numerous screenshots of Sakai project

I was hoping to get a version of my presentation up with audio, but
that will have to come later.

Vis Steve Lonn
Wow... I can list a whole plethora of potential uses.
Here's a few that we know are happening here at Michigan:

  • Students use project sites to collaboration for their course-related
    projects (e.g. group presentation)
  • Student study groups (for course exams, preliminary exams, placement
    tests, etc.)
  • Student organizations (student government, greek - fraternity/
    sorority, ethnic & religious groups, etc.)
  • Doctoral students here use a modified form of project sites called
    Grad Tools for monitoring their status toward dissertation and
    maintaining digital backups of their dissertation (similar to what
    Anthony was talking about)
  • Faculty have sites for professional development or shared resources
    across a particular unit
  • Faculty AND students use project sites for research, especially
    communicating and having a shared file space between institutions
  • Faculty and staff also use sites for their various committees
    (governance, budget, admissions, etc.)
  • Staff have used sites for training purposes (e.g. HIPAA training)
  • Staff and faculty use sites for reviewing grant proposals, book
    chapter proposals, etc.
  • Staff also use sites for maintaining information for tenure and
    search committees

Via Maggie Lynch

I agree with everything Steve Lonn listed in his wonderful quick list
of 10 project site uses. Here are three more uses from OHSU:

1. Cohort continuity and tracking. For example, when we admit a class
of Nursing Students they are put into a project site that will be
available throughout their 4 year program. This site serves as a
meeting place for students, an introduction place for students to meet
next terms faculty prior to course sites going live, a place for social
networking within the cohort. We also have similar sites for our
graduate cohorts.

2. Statewide shared curriculum initiative where partner schools, from
community college to universities, have agreed to having the same
nursing curriculum (outcomes, cases, assessment, etc.). This curriculum
is created, discussed, and shared with all the partner schools through a
project site.

3. Faculty Development efforts. As our faculty are spread around the
state at five different institutional locations, the development efforts
are challenging. In addition to physically traveling from one site to
another, we encourage each site to do their own development. However,
all of these efforts are recorded (webconference or videoconference
streams) and indexed on a project site, along with the handouts,
articles, or other presentational pieces.

I supsect there are even more examples. But these come to the top of my

Vis Stephen Rehberg

Good question, Sherry. In addtion to the many examples you have seen
already, I have a couple of more to add.

1. The Fellowship committee uses it to collect and disperse data to the
candidates for scholarships such as Rhodes.
2. Another initiative uses it to collect and review essays from high schools
(mostly in Africa).
3. Another committee uses it to help collect recommendations and other
documentation necessary for medical school applications. This is for seniors
and recent grads.

Via Noah Botimer
The posts in this thread cover most of the normal stuff except
portfolios, which are a whole discussion alone. Sparing that, the
other thing I'll mention just to prod another side of the
conversation is:

Using Sakai, not necessarily as a large installation, but as a
learning/exploration/testing tool for software folks. Here are some
quick thoughts of activities that might be fun:

  • A case study in a Computer Science / Software Engineering
    curriculum looking at the construction of the system
  • Folks looking at various Java standards testing if their
    components or containers work with our environment
  • A school having a "bake-off" to see what cool tools their local
    community might want to build for their installation without staffing
    an official development team
  • Design and usability curriculum embedding review of the interface

These geeky things are probably not the scenarios you're looking for,
but they illustrate how this is a living project you can touch. It's
very different from a large vended system of some flavor, where the
ability to download a copy and tinker on your laptop just isn't
there. And the community is extremely encouraging around this kind
of behavior.

I suppose I'm also trying to mention that "Sakai" is at least four
things to us:

1. A collaboration / learning system
2. A framework for building collaborative tools
3. A community of schools, affiliates, and generally cool/brilliant
4. A foundation of visionaries to steward 1-3

So, when someone asks "what can I do with Sakai?", the perspective is
usually #1, but we shouldn't forget 2-4. In so many ways, we're like
the Eclipse project, with a vibrant community around a set general
tools for building really cool specific tools. Where we differ is
that we have large-scale deployments with varied institutional
contexts, where many of the end users are non-technical. That brings
a whole new set of responsibilities and opportunities.

Via Luke Fernandez
The following is a very pedestrian use but has come in very handy:

Our student workers get paid every two weeks and right before the pay period
is due I verify their hours in our payroll system. Ordinarily they punch in
and punch out using a phone system but it fails quite regularly. So as a
backup I have them log their hours in the Wiki. I used to have them send
me email but sorting through my inbox was a pain. The wiki works great for
this verification task!

Via Chuck Severance

Some sites do use the webdav support in Sakai as a general purpose
place for students to store data as they move from lab to lab - a
student file store. By combining this function with their LMS they
reduce the number of Enterprise services by one.

Another purpose of Sakai is to be able to write applications that need
access to Enterprise data and role information - Sakai then becomes a
simple "Enterprise bus" for an organization - perhaps not the only
"Enterprise bus" - but one alternative. Sometimes this is a
university and other times this is an organization.

There is a number of things that happen in smaller organizations where
Sakai becomes more of a general purpose resource - sometimes Sakai is
the only place on a small campus that everyone ends up with an account

  • so Sakai effectively becomes a SSO system for a small organization.
    I see Kuali Student and other Kuali projects in the future expanding
    this general purpose role on small schools but for now Sakai is kind
    of a beachhead in those schools.

Some schools even use Sakai as their campus "portal" - the place where
people have a personalization area - this is not their main outreach/
marketing campus page - just the main page for folks to log into.

These ideas are in the margins and Sakai may not be the ideal software
for solving these problems - but given that folks need an LMS and have
Sakai - they do try to solve these functions with Sakai to improve
efficiency and reduce the overall number of services.

Via Harriett Truscott

We use it at Cambridge for all sorts!

Handing out sensitive documents securely to members of a University
committee (using Dropbox)

Making sure that graduate students with disabilities are matched up with the
college that can meet their needs best (i.e. so that a college with a room
adapted for a deaf student actually gets a deaf student to use it!)

For a PhD supervisor to share files with his PhD student

For libraries to do their internal planning and administration

Via Daphne Ogle

This is great list Clay! I'd love to see us pick up steam in
Sakai's ability to support these kind of project-based activities.
Understanding them is the first step, eh?

One more for your list...

-Student group project site – as a grad student at Michigan (where
students were allowed to create project sites) we used project sites
to plan, create share and review group work. In a couple cases we
gave our instructor access to the site when they were interested in
progress. The projects ran anywhere from all semester to a week.
The group work was anything from writing a research paper to
completing the entire user-centered design process to design a
product (and all the artifacts created and iterated on along the
way). Project teams were created off-line but it sure would be
interesting to support the team creation process (sometimes ad hoc,
others based on skill sets, schedules, etc.) and automate project
site creation with the "right" ties back to the course site (ex.
final drafts in project sites sent as assignments to course site with
all the right information like all student's names, etc.)

Via Clay Fenlason

I'm preparing a talk for new faculty on "other" uses of Sakai sites,
and I've been drawing together a few concrete examples from actual
users as a kind of collection of site recipes. Here's an initial list
of some broader categories, but I'd be happy to hear about others:

1) The ListServ site - we all know this one, of course. Although
it's less than an exciting use of the software, it just so happens
that our population finds it easier to manage this in Sakai than any
of the other campus services that are arguably better suited.

2) The Editing Room - we've had faculty add external collaborators
and editors to a site and compose an entire book for publication using
the Resources tool. The simple policy choice of allowing external
guest access is what makes this one work, despite the fact that the
Resources tool is really not designed for this.

3) The Doctoral Student site - students add their committee members
and use the site to manage communications and document draft

4) Program administration site - we have one enterprising associate
dean who uses the Assignments tool to get project proposals, review
them, and return them to the submitters with comments and
acceptance/rejection notices.

5) The Research Project site - beyond managing communications and
filesharing, the key extra piece here, again, is adding external
project sponsors to the site so that they can review some of the

6) Orientation site - materials, communication, schedules, and posted
announcements for incoming faculty and students. Very sharp spikes of
usage (just those couple weeks before a term opens), but something
that's definitely sprung up.

It's interesting, though not entirely unexpected, that none of these
purposes reflect particular strengths of the software. Some of them
owe more to simple policy decisions and flexibility (i.e. allowing
people to create their own sites and add anyone they like, including
external users) than functionality, and some of them succeed despite
frank weaknesses in functionality to support them. Part of me cringes
with the professional distaste that a carpenter might feel while
watching someone try to hammer nails with a wrench. But then part of
me sees this as the beginning of driving collaboration that's really
relevant to campus needs from the ground up, and I need to watch and

Via Luke Fernandez
This one may fit under the "Program Administration Site" but it might deserve a separate entry:

"The Job Candidate Search Committee Site." The committee posts all the resumes and cvs of applicants in the Resources tool. Committee members visit the resumes/cvs and use one of the polling/assessment/quizzing tools to assess/rank the candidates. We used this for a recent Arts and Humanities College dean search and included all of the faculty from the college in the site. It provided a lot of exposure to Sakai and it expedited a lot of administrative tasks for the provost's office.

Via Clay Fenlason
Anecdotally I think these contribute:

  • bureaucratic hurdles to getting "approval" for other lists, which
    we've consciously avoided in our Sakai implementation. It's simply
    easier to create a new site and add people in an ad hoc way than to
    follow the steps of other campus services. If other campus services
    had not been so controlling, this probably wouldn't have been
    perceived as a benefit of Sakai. As it is, we have the appearance of
    innovation. Hey, I'll take what we can get (wink)
  • the power of a unified environment: this is the same place where
    your course sites are, etc. Isn't it nicer to have all my
    collaboration stuff in one place rather than navigating across several

Via Sean DeMonner

Michigan has been tracking the evolution of project site usage on our
campus for some time now (anyone can create a project site in our
instance). In fact last Summer in Vancouver Stephanie Teasley and
Emilee Rader participated in a panel along with Wendy Morgaine Jeff
Narvid tp present some findings on the topic. Slides from that panel
are here:

While we've seen project sites similar to all of your use cases, it
seems that the largest area of growth is in administrative uses.
These range from the use of Resources to replace the departmental
file server to admissions workflows and tenure tracking processes.
We've also thought about how our Sakai instance might be used in a
pandemic situation to maintain business continuity for the academic,
research and administrative missions of the University; project sites
figure prominently in that discussion.

Via John Norman

Thanks for this Clay. I have for a long time wanted to ask the "Yes,
but what is it for?" question on any number of issues. I see this as
a really important development, even if we only document why you
should not try to use Sakai for any particular purpose.

Don't forget the My Workspace examples:

1) backup for my USB stick when travelling (with unlimited capacity
in our case)
2) wiki in myworkspace as a mobile todo list and store of interesting

Also we have sites for primarily for resource reservation (using
calendar OR wiki)

Via Brad Wheeler

I'll add another slight variant on the typical "committee site" use. Last year I chaired the search committee for the next dean of one of our professional schools. Given the multi-campus organization of the school and ties with alumni, the committee had 14 members from all over. Absolute confidentiality is essential for this type of search and handling of applicants. We used a typical site with Resources, Listserv, Schedule, and Wiki. All applicant materials were turned into secure PDF files with a file password (using Acrobat Pro) for an additional precaution.

We used folders in the Resources tool for each candidate's materials, then nested the candidates in folders of "Applied" "Interview" "No Interview" etc as the serch progressed through various stages over 6+ months.

These simple tools provided a great way to organize the work of the committee and keep everyone insynch with the progress of the search. It has now been adopted for other searches too.

Posted here, not in above email thread:

Institutional Knowledge Sites – One example being graduate students self-organizing in a department to create a project site to share their materials and additional notes, in order to help future Teaching Assistants (TA's, or Graduate Student Instructors, GSI's) come up to speed on particular courses and teaching with particular instructors.

Our graduate student body is about to experience large turnover with
nearly 1/3 of us graduating in the coming months. We are in serious
danger of losing institutional knowledge on teaching. One of the
frequent complaints of GSIs in our department has been the
unavailability of past teaching materials for courses when the previous
GSI has graduated. To address this problem, we created a [USER:Sakai]
classroom repository with folders for all of the commonly taught
undergraduate courses in our department*. This repository contains
activities, labs, and other resources, forming continuity from GSI to GSI.

To ensure that we don't lose valuable knowledge when you graduate, we
encourage you to take just a few minutes to visit the course repository
and upload useful information from the courses you have taught. If you
are currently a GSI, you should already have access to the site. If you
are not a GSI but would like access to upload materials, simply reply to
this email.

*Keep in mind that all GSIs have accessed to these resources, so
sensitive material like keys should probably not be posted for courses
which might be taken by graduate students.

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