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Sakai Project launches groundbreaking open source collaboration


The Sakai Project, a landmark venture to create open-source course management tools and related software for the higher education community, has been launched by a consortium of four universities, with U-M in a leading role.

The project—a collaboration of U-M with Indiana University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford—will release its first software next summer. It has received a $2.4 million grant from the Mellon Foundation and $300,000 from the Hewlett foundation, and it has attracted the interest of at least 13 additional colleges and universities since its launch in December, says Joseph Hardin, director of the Sakai Project.

"The Sakai Project represents significant innovation in software development for higher education," says Hardin, director of the Collaborative Technologies Laboratory at the Media Union. "Our goal is to give the entire higher education community free access to the best in course management tools and other software that supports work being done by groups."

In addition to producing a complete course management system, Sakai also will publish documentation, a so-called Tool Portability Profile, that will provide universal access to the framework for other developers. Institutions will gain access to Sakai software through the Web-based uPortal software, which also will utilize the Open Knowledge Initiative standards.

Hardin explained that the four university partners will direct a portion of the resources they ordinarily would spend for their individual software development efforts to a Sakai board that will have decision-making authority over the expenditure. That amount is expected to total approximately $2 million per year for two years. All the university partners have agreed to adopt the Sakai products for their own environments within two years, Hardin says.

Hardin notes that the project, named for the Japanese chef Hiroyuki Sakai, was inspired by an earlier U-M information technology project, the Comprehensive CollaborativE Framework, or CHEF.

A Jan. 30 article about the Sakai project in the Chronicle of Higher Education quoted Kenneth Green, director of the Campus Computing Project, who said Sakai could encourage higher-education institutions to abandon their commercial contracts in favor of its open-source offerings. "It has the potential to gain traction," he said, adding that Sakai's selling points for colleges are quality software, potential cost savings and the encouragement of a collaborative culture among higher-education institutions.

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