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From Jim Eng To Michael Korcuska (March 3, 2008)

Hi Michael,

I'd like to propose that the foundation sponsor and fund a workshop on authoring environments in Sakai this fall. We have gone to an annual conference in part to free some money for workshops and other smaller gatherings of people to work on particular kinds of problems. I think October or early November 2008 would be the right time to convene a group of people from various perspectives to work on the problem of supporting the activity of creating artifacts in Sakai. This is an integral problem in a number of the projects across Sakai – ePortfolio, Samigo, Melete, Sakaibrary, etc. People in a number of projects are working separately on new approaches to this problem. I'd like to suggest that we invite interested people to a two-, three- or four-day workshop at which we'd share ideas and work together on common understanding of technical and non-technical issues (pedagogy, UX, etc).

I could say more about why to do this or how to do this, but mostly I want to put the idea in front of you and ask you to consider it. I would be glad to help plan/organize the workshop. I'm sure Michigan would be glad to host it, though that's not a requirement :-}. I was actually thinking that an informal off-campus location with housing for 30-50 people and meeting rooms in one facility would be ideal. But a campus location might be more affordable.

I'd be glad to elaborate this proposal or discuss it with you.



From Michael to Jim Eng (March 3, 2008)

I think this is a great idea, Jim. I'll talk to you more about it when
I get back from Spain.

Another thought....could this be a topic for April in MN?


Jim's reply to Michael (March 4, 2008)

Maybe a session in MN could be a start , but I think it's a big challenge for many of us, and a focused work session on it is needed. In MN we will be focused on 2.6, which is primarily about making our core services more solid. By fall, we will be finalizing 2.6 and looking ahead to 2.7, which should be focused on tools.

We are replacing central services in sakai with more robust services like JCR. Our next challenge is to make sakai a place where users can work in a natural way and depend on us to support them in that activity. The biggest challenge is authoring – giving them tools that support the act of composition, including writing, researching, organizing, etc. That's true for instructors preparing materials for students, students working on assignments or taking tests, researchers collecting information and sharing it with collaborators, work groups sharing tasks in a joint project, etc. We have rudimentary tools, but they are clumsy and not very reliable. The fact that we are web-based has been an excuse long enough. The technology has progressed so that we could make our tools for authoring as dependable and natural as google docs.

I'm imagining this as a sort of three-day unconference, where we have a few planned presentations for the first day and then let the great minds in the room decide how to best use the time for the next two days.

Day 1: Laying out the challenges
– Probably one large meeting with a few break-outs.
– Presentations by a few people focused on pedogogy and UX lay out some challenges to developers for what they want in 2.7 to support authoring
– Presentations by a few people on the cutting edge of work on authoring in Sakai about what they are doing and what's possible in the near future
– Maybe look at what some other people (like google) are doing in this area.
– Figure out working teams for Day 2

Day 2: Addressing the challenges
– Working in groups to come up with plans to address the challenges laid out in Day 1
– The groups might be cross-disciplinary teams of people working on specific problems,
or there might be separate meetings of developers, designers, people focused on pedagogy,
etc (for example, developers take what UX folks have said and figure out how to implements,
or designers take what developers have said about what's possible and sketch out how
to use that)
– Take stock, review and plan the next day

Day 3: Laying out a plan for further work
– Morning might be more work on issues from Days 1 & 2
– By afternoon, we're back together and pooling info from different teams.
– By close of day, we're figuring out specific work we'd like to cooperate on for 2.7 and beyond

Those are just my ideas. Like a conference, this will be an opportunity to get together the best and brightest of Sakai contributors (designers, developers, thinkers, etc). It will be a chance for hallway meetings and break-out sessions about other topics. We'll suffer if we go for a year without those. But the main thing is that we will have this group of people in focused work for a few days.

Maybe we should have a meeting of a small group of interested parties by phone or in MN to discuss this and figure out whether I have defined the topic in the right way. Maybe someone else will come up with a better idea for how to formulate the 2.7 challenge. But whatever it is, I think we will need this kind of gathering in fall or early winter.



Votes of support from John Norman and Joseph Hardin:

I think this is generally a good idea also, and needed. How would participation in this be determined? Is it open, or targeted at those doing work in the area? I would also suggest serious investigation of not building specific tools for many of the things Jim describes (all good activities to support) and rather focusing on a discussion of how to enable Sakai to work more easily with existing web resources, like the Google tools Jim mentions. This done in the context that Jim sets would be very interesting.


I would support this view of the world and suggest that we want to
bring innovative faculty to the meeting. Dan Cohen from George Mason
(inventor of Zotero might be one).


Jim's comment on Google Docs:

I've discussed the idea of using tools like Google docs with a few people. Google tools themselves are proprietary and save their data to Google. I'm led to believe that universities, for various reasons, cannot place student work in an external store like Google. If we could get Google to donate use of some version of an authoring environment so it could be used to store data to a sakai instance, that would be worth pursuing.

In the meantime, we have a number of groups within Sakai working on disparate approaches to support for authoring. I'm suggesting that the foundation try to recognize common threads in those efforts and support collaboration across the projects.

I haven't worked out a detailed proposal for how this workshop should be structured. I'm thinking that the next step might be to convene a web-based meeting of people to discuss the topic. Maybe one of the outcomes of such a meeting might be a more detailed proposal for a face-to-face workshop.


Jim's invite to the April 3, 2008 -- Initial Authoring Call

If you are working on a Sakai tool that supports users in
"authoring", please reserve 60 to 90 minutes beginning at noon EDT
Thursday, April 3, for a conversation on that subject. We expect
that it will be possible to connect through the web or by phone. We
are asking that you RSVP to me to receive connection information and
phone numbers. That's because we are a little concerned that the
meeting may be too large for the usual web bridge, so we may have to
make other arrangements for it.

Our hope is that this meeting might lead to more communication and
collaboration across the various projects and teams working on tools
that support authoring in Sakai. "Authoring" includes user activity
to compose "content". That might be writing, revising, researching,
organizing. The activity might be done online or off. Several teams
are involved in efforts to improve such capabilities within Sakai,
and it's hard to believe we would not benefit from more communication
about work already in progress as well as ideas about future work,
work being done outside of Sakai, etc.

A Confluence space is being set up to capture discussion of this
topic. The Confluence space will be available within hours or (at
most) a day or two.

In the meantime, please reply to me to get information about how to
attend the meeting next week. If several people at a location are
planning to attend, it will help if you can share a connection.


Jim Eng

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