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  • Jutta Treviranus 2008 Thoughts
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Like the other BOD thought pieces, this was originally written in March/April of 2007

I have read and agree with many of the statements already submitted. I thought I would focus on some areas in which I have a slightly different view.

I agree that we should not compete with either commercial or open source applications. In my view there are several key values that distinguish Sakai that we should foster and strengthen.

The first is a diverse, supportive community focused on common interests in scholarly goals, primarily in higher education. I don't agree that increased adoption and growth should be our primary measure of success. Adoption and growth that outstrips our ability to deliver will only be destructive. Too rapid growth threatens community cohesion. We need measured growth in which we recruit members that address gaps and weaknesses. A better measure of success is user satisfaction and the depth of implementation within the member institutions. I also don't think that popularity as a value supports excellence. When popularity is the primary value other values such as accessibility and diversity are compromised.

Ownership is the second value. I use this term in two senses. With Sakai, member institutions retain ownership of their own IP, they help to set the direction of the initiative and retain control and ownership of the efforts they invest. Members also need to take ownership or responsibility for the initiative and feel invested in its success. This comes about through engagement. Whatever size we become or direction we take I think it is critical that our members feel engaged in the initiative and in the community. We cannot promote Sakai as merely a product because there is no engagement involved in choosing and implementing a product. We also need to make sure that each contribution is recognized.

Sakai supports self-determination and freedom of choice. Anyone can add features, change the design, reflect their local institutional values, conventions and preferences. The content is not locked in, Everyone has the choice to abandon Sakai without additional penalties or risks. This implies content portability and tool modularity.

Sakai should become a platform for innovation. It is critical that we get to a point where there is a robust enough core that members can easily innovate in research, teaching and academic administration. We need to create supports that make it easier to repurpose and reuse generic components and build new innovative functionality on top of them. We need to stay modular and flexible.

Sakai should support collaboration, among members but also with other software initiatives. I feel that we should not reinvent the wheel. There are enough gaps and unmet needs in academia that we don't need to replicate existing tools unless we can provide significant added value. Collaboration requires interoperability and open standards. Having devoted far too many hours of my life to developing interoperability standards I obviously support their use, but not at any cost and not just any standard. Various standards grew out of pedagogical models that are not consistent with higher education. I don't feel we should implement standards if they constrain or compromise our teaching or research practices.

One issue we need to grapple with is the balance between central control and conventional open source practices. There are certain design values that require central guidance and control. But this carries the risk of stunting creativity and initiative. I don't have a pat answer to this dilemma but I think part of the answer lies in providing authoring tools, templates and reference implementations that support, model and clearly articulate the values we are promoting. We also need to embed the values in our communication materials and messages such that they become a natural part of the culture and an assumed value.