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Thinking about the future of Sakai Conferences -

We have been discussing the Sakai conferences at the board retreat. They have been a very popular activity from the feed back we have gotten through the surveys we have done after each conference. Still, we are an evolving community and need to constantly review and reflect on what we are doing and imagine alternatives. In doing this, we are thinking about the variety of ways that we can support and encourage community activities. One suggestion that has come up in the discussion, is that we have one Sakai-wide conference a year instead of two, and that we support, for instance, more regional and task-related meetings with those resources.

This is something we would like to have some community discussion around. If we do move to one conference a year, we have to make at least one decision very quickly: whether or not to go through with the December 2007 Sakai Conference, which is currently planned for San Diego. So this is a call for feedback and community discussion around a few questions.

First, how do you feel about moving to one conference a year?
Second, what is the ideal time of the year to have a conference?
Third, if we were to go to one conference per year, and depending perhaps on what time of year you think is the best to have a conference, should we have a conference this coming December?

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25 Comments

  1. I like the idea of reducing the frequency of conferences in favor of organizing mini-events around specific workgroup activities. It seems like that would be a more effective use of travel funds for us.

    I think that summer is the time to have conferences.

    If we decide to run with one conference per year, let's begin now...no December conference.

    1. I'm definitely on board with 1 conference per year, and like Summer as the time for it. I'm cautious about doing that this year and skipping December since many of our community can't make it to Amsterdam. What do others think?

      1. Unknown User (mkorcuska@elt-inc.com)

        Or the San Diego meeting could be the first regional "mini-event".

  2. I concur; one conference during the summer.  I would however like to retain the conference in December as I was unable to attend the one in Amsterdam.

  3. Probably need to avoid using "Summer" as a reference point in this discussion, as it has a different meaning to our colleagues south of the Equator.

    If a clear consensus is lacking for June or Decemember, given the differences in academic sessions around the world, another possibility to consider is conferneces every nine months. This both reduces the number of overall conferences, though not by as much, and helps avoid always having a problematic date for the same group of potential participants each time.

  4. I think once a year for Sakai-wide is good. Probably would save a lot of money, time and increase quality. I think the regional thing is already underway. The Euros have had theirs. California is having one this July hosted by Claremont Colleges & UCSB.

    If this conference were to be annually in the northern hemisphere summer, July or August would be best. June is right when quarter schools are finishing spring and starting summer.

  5. I'm in favor of a single conference in late June/early July. The conference needs to coincide with new, major releases for information sharing, and the heaviest impact for many schools is in summer (north of the Equator) when preparing for the Fall quarter/semester.

    I'm wondering how we would choose a fair venue for this conference - especially since out of country travel is expensive. Would we rotate between America, Europe, and South Africa?

    Regional meetings are great since there are often common issues of higher priority within these smaller groups. I do think I'd really miss my non-American friends, though.

    1. I don't know what I'd think best right now, and we need to see how attendance at Amsterdam turns out. It's looking pretty good now, with more papers submitted for sessions than at earlier conferences, but, we simply need to see. We will need to look each year, as use of Sakai evolves and as the user base shifts, and as we learn more about what conferences in different places cost us, to gauge what would be the best place to have the yearly conference. I think we could figure that out.
      But, for me, what this move to a yearly conference signals, as you point to, Lisa, is the interest and importance in supporting more focused project meetings, planning meetings, working sessions, summits, forums and such that focus on a particular area of Sakai use, like pedagogy or research, or a Sakai tool, like the gradebook, or a more general, overarching area, like assessment or like the upcoming OSP 2.5 Planning Meeting at the University of Michigan. This is the interesting evolutionary change this points to. It has also been suggested that we might want to find a way to support more Sakai presence at other organizations' conferences, where teachers, researchers, people specifically interested in testing or portfolios or open source or open content get together. All useful ideas, and worth thinking about as we move forward.

  6. Hi

    I'm from Charles Sturt Uni in Australia. WE are going live with Sakai in January 2008 - currently busy with professional development, pilots, back-end integration and the like...

    1. I support the notion of one major conference per calendar year (not every 9 months as this could be confusing re conference attendance planning). It might also be that in a few years there will be only one major release of Sakai per year following this conference?

    2. it could be in June or December; nice if it is in June as this will mean an escape from Winter for us southern hemisphere dwellers

    3. location: I think we must accept that the origin of Sakai was in the US and that a location in the US for this conference would have to suffice. Cost problems could be overcome by sponsoring arrangements by the Sakai board for those Sakai members who have to travel e.g. first priority to participants from developing countries who are Sakai members; secondly on a first-come-first served basis for Sakai members.

    4. smaller regional (e.g. Australasia; Southern Africa; Europe etc etc) and workgroup conferences can then be held if some of the main Sakai "names" are committed to attend these smaller conferences to bring hot and significant news on Sakai developments.

    1. BTW: I would not cancel the December 2007 event given that many people might have bargained on attending this and therefore have not made plans for the Amsterdam conference.

  7. Personally, I think once a year in April/May is a good idea. I think that attendance is likely to rise and overall we can reduce costs. Preparing for a conference can take a fair amount of time, so reducing it to once a year will help me.

    Speaking has someone who as worked on the last three conferences, there is a LOT of work that goes into getting these things set up and running smoothly. We (the committee) started working on Amsterdam almost immediately after Atlanta. We've been meeting weekly (by phone) for quite some time now. All this adds up to a HUGE effort on the part of the people planning and working the conference. Going to twice a year will lessen the overall burden on these people (who are pretty much the same ones year after year) and will likely lead to higher quality in the conference itself.

    Again, speaking strickly for myself, I'd favor shifting the December 2007 conference to May of 2008.

    • Mark Norton
    1. Mark brings up a couple interesting ideas here that are worth noting. Concerns over cost drive a good part of this review of twice yearly conferences. The idea is that we could spend our sparse money resources better on more technical support or staff, full or part time, to support coordination on initiatives like UX or needy tools or getting a community-based load testing environment available (pick your own community priority). So the question here is: how valuable is the conference we would give up vs the effect putting those resources elsewhere would be? Or, are smaller workshop-based activities more valuable at this point in Sakai's development, and this is where we should put those resources currently going to that second conference? Or?
      Mark also points to the large amount of work that goes into a conference, and points out that going to once a year (he says "going to twice a year" above, but I think he means once a year) would lessen the overall burden on the people doing the conferences. Probably true, though complexity in planning things like session placement and such may scale non-linearly if the yearly conference really does get bigger (because it's the only full face to face gathering). Though, otoh, we are getting better with every conference in doing things like this and distributing the work further and more evenly into the community. The software for reviewing papers and assigning sessions to times and generating schedules (for instance) is making those processes easier, and the notion of "Track Leads" that is new with the Amsterdam planning takes lots of load off central staff and places it appropriately with people, largely volunteers, that are closer to the communities and issues of the specific tracks. So current load will drop, and hopefully quality increase, even continuing with two conferences a year.
      And we should probably think about the burdens imposed on all of us by more, smaller meetings scattered over different times and places. For instance, if we do have more regional sessions and work group meetings, they may well take more of peoples' time and resources to attend than the grouping of many such things at a conference venue. I personally think there are significant other advantages to these smaller get-togethers (like being able to focus for a day or two on just one topic or task), but personal burden-reduction or time-saving may not be among them. So there are a number of things to think about at the same time here.

  8. Sorry All,
    Call it Selfish, Canadian, Whatever; ...
    I can't tell you how left out I feel not having the opportunity to attend Amsterdam.
    I more than many understand the need for an International presence; however - one must come back to reality and realize (this is huge) how much us Northern Americans are missing out on (albeit only one) international official Sakai conference. Seriously, it hasn't even happened yet and I am already feeling ripped off.
    Call it selfish, call it Canadian, call it what ever you wish...
    I need and truly desire more Sakai!
    Teresa Collins (Terry)
    Centre for Flexible Learning
    University of windsor
    Ontario, Canada

    1. Terry, your regret at not being able to attend the Amsterdam conference is the same regret that many non-US/Canadian participants feel at not being able to attend multiple North American conferences.

      1. Hey Stephen,
        Point well stated and taken.
        Thanks Bunches! Terry

    2. Terry--if you cannot make it to Amsterdam do consider attending the JA-SIG conference in Denver, 24-27 June 2007. The JA-SIG conference features a Sakai track for the first time and will offer a number of interesting sessions for attendees.

      http://www.ja-sig.org/conferences/07summer/index.html

      1. Hi Anthony,
        Thanks for the suggestion.
        Immediately after receiving it, I did a quick check on the conference site.
        After a quick check, I immediately approached my manager with the possibilty.
        Thanks Again! Terry

  9. Definitely favor switching to annual + regionals.

    Location should vary, but we should acknowledge up front that by definition picking one place will always inconvenience someone. Not mentioned yet but to be considered in planning should be travel access. Some locations (airports) are a lot easier and cheaper to get to than others.

    Dates like location are always going to inconvenience someone but I would strongly encourage us to look ahead and avoid conflicts with other "obvious" conferences (e.g. EDUCAUSE).

    Given plans are already in the works for San Diego and people have adjusted their near term plans for both Amsterdam and San Diego I would let San Diego stand but it's not really a strong preference.

  10. Although I've only been to one conference so far, I like the idea of having 2 conferences a year since its the best opportunity to get a lot of people together to draw on whiteboards and talk/brainstorm about design ideas.

    However, if the Sakai Foundation moves to 1 conference a year, I'm sure the unofficial regional conferences that Spring up around the world (like the European Sakai Day) will make up for that.

  11. This is a dangerous discussion.

    If the community decide to switch to one conference a year, the impact of Sakai in the elearning world will decrease. Amsterdam is the first big step out of North America! Now we are discussing that it will be the last one, too?

    Having one conference a year means:
    2007 Europe
    2008 Africa
    2009 USA
    2010 Asia
    2011 Europe

    In my opinion there is no big Sakai Community outside Sakai(smile) I want to say, that nobody from the inside view see this demand of two conferences a year. But nobody in Europe knows Sakai, only some universities in the netherlands, UK and Portugal/Spain.

    There is no installation in Italy, Germany (only Luebeck), Poland, Swiss, Austria and so on. What about Africa, Asia and Australia?

    How will the Sakai Community promot Sakai, if there are no Sakai conferences?

    And there are two other problems. One is that Chuck retired from his job, and there is a big gap now and the other one is Moodle.

    Of course I want to say, that one big conference is enough...enough for me, but not for Sakai.

    Best regards
    Andreas

  12. I am speaking mainly for myself rather than Johns Hopkins as a whole, but I know of
    several people who here have commented on the value of two conferences
    yearly. There is still so much development on so many fronts within Sakai
    that the conference helps to crystallize the achievements of the past half
    year and allows for discussion about future focus. While other communication
    processes are available, the chance meetings and ad hoc conversations can be
    as valuable as the planned sessions. Moving to one conference yearly will
    occur eventually, but I don't think it should yet.

    When Sakai moves to a yearly conference, November or December is ideal, as
    it allows time to plan for a major release in the early spring.

    I think the San Diego conference should remain scheduled for December 2007.

  13. I completely agree Mark Norton said about the effort and resource to organize the Sakai conference. I go with one annual Sakai conference definitely. The budget is too tight for me if I attend both Sakai conferences in one calendar year as well, so typically I only attend once per year.

    The idea time for the annual Sakai conference I think is in May or June. Because most of attendees are from universities and many of them also attend annual Educase conference which is in October, Campus Technology conference is in end of July, Blackboard is in mid July... Well this can be a criteria to consider the idea time but not the must.

    I want to say let's plan our first annual Sakai conference in May 2008, cancel the conference in December 2007.

    Thanks

  14. I support the ideas of 1) moving to an annual Sakai conference that is funded and organized by the Sakai Community via the mechanism of the Sakai Foundation and 2) utilizing a portion of Foundation monies that formerly supported the second Sakai conference as seed money for community events held at the regional and local level.

    Funding large conferences is an expensive affair and I encourage those interested in the financial side of the question to review Chuck Severance's Atlanta conference "Sakai Foundation Overview" Powerpoint presentation.  Chuck provides an overview of Foundation finances and outlines conference expenditures, costs that currently consume a large proportion of the Foundation budget (http://bugs.sakaiproject.org/confluence/pages/viewpageattachments.action?pageId=32509).

    But apart from financial considerations, the advent of regional/local events spearheaded by members of the Sakai Community are a welcome development and, in my opinion, offer attractive alternatives to our biannual conference approach.  Between 2004-2006, developer training, release planning, tool design and integration events held at Yale, Michigan, Indiana, UCDavis, Berkeley, Oxford and rSmart in Phoenix (among other places) went far towards helping create a sense of shared commitment and community among Sakai designers and developers.  Next week, Sakai developers will gather together at North-West University in Potchestroom, South Africa for the next installment of the successful programmers cafe series of training events (a model that could be extended to those who, for instance, teach using Sakai).   Last year's Euro-Sakai Day provides a model for the regional mini conference idea that is worthy of emulation (and from comments above UCSB and Claremont Colleges will be hosting a similar event in California in July).  In June, the JA-SIG conference will feature a Sakai track for the first time and if successful, will provide yet another model for generating interest in Sakai with the added benefit of increasing awareness and collaboration between Sakai and other open-source communities.  

    Encouraging financially both an increase in the frequency of these types of events as well their extension beyond our traditional technical base to other constituents within the Sakai Community should help to round out the Sakai calendar.  As importantly, supporting "mini events" throughout the world will extend the reach of Sakai to areas where our large conferences may never be held.    

  15. I can agree with the general tendency here: one BIG conference a year, plus regional events that also get some funding by the Foundation to make them happen. I know that the Euro Sakai meeting that is mentioned here, took considerable effort to organize....
    Concerning the date for the yearly conference: i have no preference. I agree with those that have said here that we should try to schedule somewhere where there are no other big events (and by that I also mean big events outside of the US, e.g. the Online Educa in Berlin, always end of November).
    Which brings me to another point: why not try to get as much exposure as possible at these other big events? This might be a very effective way of promoting Sakai and the community (and possibly is much cheaper).
    I am also with Andreas here: Sakai is still not very high on the agenda's in a lot of countries, especially in Europe. Actually I dare say that in my opinion only the UK, the USA and Australia (maybe South Africa?) have some substance with regard to Sakai installations (which are all English speaking countries btw; is this a coincidence?).
    In my opinion we should really focus our efforts (and money!) more on attracting institutions that are new to Sakai. Ofcourse our community would not function properly if we would have 200 members right now. But we should strive for some gain in paying members, which also lifts our budget.

  16. Hi, this is another post from Twente University. I'd like to support the post of Andreas stating that one World conference a year would probable do for me as a person, but not from a marketing perspective in which the ambition is to let the Sakai community grow further. I am also wondering why should we decide beforehand to reduce the frequency to one time a year? This is also a matter of meeting the demands of the community. If the number of conference delegates is / remains high in a frequency cycle of two times a year, then it's obvious that the conferences fullfil a demand. If there is a considerable decrease then one might wonder if a reduction in frequency is appropriate. Does someone have an overview on the number of participants during past Sakai conferences?

    Moreover, there is the number of contributions to the Sakai conferences. As I understand, there were a lot more conference submissions for the Amsterdam Conference than the program can handle. The program committee had to turn down some of the contributors. So, it seems to me that there is a strong tendency that people like to share their knowledge and experiences with the community. And finally, if we consider Sakai a worldwide community and the Sakai conferences as being true world conferences, then I agree that the locations of future Sakai conferences should also reflect this global ambition. So, why not consider Asia, Africa or Australia for a future conference?

    And finally, besides our own conferences it's import to create attention for Sakai on local events. It's important to work on exposure outside our own community events. In Europe we have e.g. Online Educa or LearnTec. On a national level we have big annual education conferences with over 500 participants. These are also good platforms to spread the Sakai message.