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some thoughts on Sakai 09: here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the doors…

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2009

I’ve been liveblogging day one of the Sakai 2009 Conference in Boston, MA. One key theme in all of the panels I’ve attended so far is this:

We (designers, programmers, educators, faculty, administrators, students) need a shared language for talking about open education, open technologies, and Sakai.

Which makes me wonder: Why is there such a dearth of faculty and, specifically, education faculty at this conference? My sense so far is that the majority of the 500-odd attendees of this conference are in administration, technical support, and Information Technology. A few presenters are also faculty members, but this is generally a split role–IT folks also teach part time.

If it’s true that we need a common language, if it’s true that we need to think about how to support adoption of and deep engagement with the tools made possible through Sakai, then we need a wider variety of people at the table. A common language cannot be devised until everybody starts talking.

Sakai is an ambitious and admirable project, and designers and programmers have developed a robust system that supports a wide range of interaction types. What’s missing seems to be the conversation about pedagogy. Presenters have pointed to the tool’s affordances, but I wonder how much work has been done exploring what kinds of learning experiences are supported through Sakai, and how the results of Sakai-based courses compare to those of offline courses of courses that work through other types of collaborative learning environments.

Where are the education folks? Were they not invited?

5 Responses to “some thoughts on Sakai 09: here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the doors…”

  1. Mark Notess said

    Faculty tend towards conferences with peer-reviewed paper submissions so that their work can "count" for promotion and tenure.

  2. Jenna McWilliams said

    Well, that can't be comPLETELY true…after all, my faculty advisor at IU was thrilled to be able to send me to sakai09. I suspect he'd be here himself if he could manage it. AND it's a fun conference for education types, so there's that.

  3. Kelvin Thompson said

    Personally, I think this is because Sakai has "bubbled up" from a hands-on (read: sharp edges and bare wires) user community and has been adopted especially well in "non-education" disciplines. A lot (but not all) education faculty are more interested in systems that are more "invisible" so that they can just focus on the teaching/learning without worrying overly much about the technology. A lot of generalizations there and certainly plenty of exceptions.

  4. ithiliana said

    When I volunteered to teach at the first computer assisted classroom in 1986 in Boise, Idaho, I don't believe the faculty were given any input as to what was done (I might be wrong–I was just an adjunct).

    At this university, when I came in 1993 (tenure track), the provost decided to put all the eggs into the compressed video basket: she might or might not have talked to any faculty about it, but I suspect not.

    A few years later, faculty were invited to try out some online programs (I was one of the few who went, was very unhappy with the strong bias towards math/science/lecture/quiz/exam), and said so–but I doubt anybody listened. When they decided to go for Educator, we were simply told (by we, I mean faculty) afterwards. When they decided to switch to eCollege, there was a cursory survey of faculty, but it was stated unofficially that the change would be made.

    Given my experience over the years, I think many administrators see technology as part of the hardware or physical plant, and not something about which they would solicit or listen to faculty opinion. Call my cynical (I've been here for 16 years), but I think many higher admins want the glitz and gloss of technology, they have a vague idea online teaching is cheaper (which I gather is about as accurate as the idea that students have that it's easier), and they want it, but they do not want to give the time or money to find out what to buy and how best to use it. By money, I mean they're not going to send a bunch of people (they might send one who is expected to be the 'go to' person). By time, I mean they expect faculty to keep teaching their regular load (when my university first started 'encouraging' faculty to teach online our class load was 4/4), to publish, and to keep up their service responsibilities, and in their copious spare time (which many admins think faculty do have) to develop online courses as well.

    And yes, travel funding is limited (my department allows $450 for each tenure-track/tenured faculty member for the year–and at that, we were happy not to lose it this year, as happened in some states). Most people I know in humanities will attend the scholarly conferences.

    Additionally: I wonder about advertising! I saw the conference mentioned on your blog, sent the link immediately to the IT director and a friend who is very into new media and technologies–but we didn't know of it ahead of time, and couldn't have gotten funding for it if we did.

    From what I've seen, at my campus, the emphasis these days is on webinars (so nobody has to pay travel). I signed up for one to learn about pro live or whatever it's called, loathed it (the format and the experience) so much that I swore I'd never use it, and spent my time reading LJ on the side because the pacing and delivery was so boring. So 'training' in this context has very negative connotations.

    Not sure all this is helpful–it's a very good question, and I think there's just a lot of institutional clutter and assumptions that are blocking access.

  5. Daniel Hickey said

    Hmm…. Interesting conversation and interesting comments. One of the comments reminded me that there are a a number of other "e-Learning" conferences where education faculty tend to be featured and present peer reviewed papers. I bet they have strands on these topics. As an aside, they seem to be hosted in surprizingly nice resort-like locale and appear to have much higher acceptance rates than other conference like AERA.

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