Sakai: Open source alternative to Blackboard

University consortium initiated development when Blackboard started patent aggression. Code may not be 'iron' clad but it's good and free.

Although Blackboard's much ballyhooed patent-fight with Desire2Learn, along with its recent aquisitition of WebCT has left a bad taste in some customers' mouths, there is an alternative in the online course-management software market. TechNews World reports that Sakai, oddly named after Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai of television fame, has debuted in a pilot program at Rutgers University.

Rutgers used to use WebCT to manage online courses. However, Blackboard is expected to phase out WebCT in 2007, so Rutgers went shopping. After finding Blackboard too expensive, they settled on Sakai, said Charles Hedrick, university director for the office of instructional and research technology.

Sakai is a powerful program that lets professors manage a syllabus, organize dissertation research and facilitate international discussion among his students and those of universities abroad. Professors can post handouts online that would normally be printed. Students can also see coursework before classes begin

"[Sakai] is a wonderful teaching tool," said Leslie Fishbein, associate professor of American studies.

Teaming up up Sakai benefits both the university and the company. The university gets a flexible and powerful course management software and the company gets to work out it kinks.

"Because Sakai is open source, the code is not as robust. We find bugs in the system, [but] we have to deal with it," says Gayle Stein, associate director for instructional technology.

Sakai was created in February 2004 by a consortium of the University of Michigan, Indiana University, Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


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