Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How Pepperdine has Contributed to the Open-Source Sakai CLE

Even Small Institutions Can Make a Big Impact

by Alan Regan

This week, we applied a small patch to Courses (powered by Sakai). Courses is our learning management system at Pepperdine University, and the patch related to the "Home" tool within Sakai.  The Home tool is often the home page for a class or project site, which provides space for introductory information as well as a dashboard of announcements, calendar events, and similar notices.

We had discovered a peculiar issue with the Home tool.  If you edited the "Site Information Display" element and added embed code from YouTube (with iframe tags), the tool was stripping away the code.  It was peculiar, since this code is accepted in other tools like Syllabus, Lessons, and Forums.  It was even more bizarre, since a professor could go to Site Info and use Edit Site Information to add the same code -- and it would work! So, there was something unique about how the rich text editor in the Home tool was processing the code.

Our Sakai service is hosted by Longsight. We reported this situation to them.  They confirmed the issue, created a JIRA ticket (the bug tracking system used within the Sakai community), and promptly rolled up their sleeves and set to work. Shortly, they had a fix for the issue. We applied the fix to our development instance, did some testing, and then scheduled the release to production.  The patch is working, and professors can now use the default embed code from YouTube to bring their class sites to life. Better yet, the fix is available for any other institutions using Sakai, too.

This is something I love. I love the fact that, although we didn't create the fix directly, we played a part. By shining the light on an issue, reporting the problem, and testing the fix, we helped to make an open-source product just a little bit better. We've been able to contribute in this way a few times, either through sponsoring bug fixes or engaging in development projects which were then contributed back to the community.
  • Sakai 2.9's "Publish Now" feature was a feature we dreamed up based on feedback from our Pepperdine faculty members.  We contracted with Longsight to develop a solution and then worked with the Sakai CLE team to introduce it as a core enhancement in Sakai 2.9. Hat tip: Nicola Monat-Jacobs and Dr. Charles "Chuck" Severance.
  • Sakai's "Assignments" tool now offers the ability for professors to submit a document on behalf of a student. We were very excited for this feature, but soon discovered that it worked in two submission modes ("Attachments and Inline" and "Inline Only") but did not work in "Attachments Only" or "Single Uploaded File Only." We wanted to offer this feature to our professors, so we contracted with Longsight to make the feature available in all of these submission types. We also identified a display issue and worked with Longsight to fix this as well.
  • With the advent of more mixed content blocking in web browsers, we noted that Lessons would sometimes not display YouTube content. We submitted a feature request and the amazing Chuck Hedrick at Rutgers quickly improved the multimedia embed feature.
  • Sakai's Announcements tool has a reorder feature. When we upgraded from Sakai 2.6 to Sakai 2.8 a couple years ago, we enabled this feature but soon discovered that it hadn't received enough quality assurance (QA) time. A few professors reported issues and we engaged Longsight on fixes. In the end, the feature was improved and is working well in Sakai 2.8 and Sakai 2.9.
  • And the list goes on. We've collaborated with Longsight on several other small fixes, whether in Gradebook, Tests & Quizzes, or other tools, to improve the software bit by bit. We've also contributed to improvements to tool documentation for Site Info, Assignments, Web Content, and others.
So, I am proud that as a small institution, we can make a contribution to the Sakai community. And I am very grateful to our partner, Longsight, since they deserve the lion's share of the credit!  I am also very appreciative of the many other collaborators and contributors from institutions big and small, nonprofit and for-profit, that help to make Sakai and other open-source solutions available to the world!

Thank you, everyone! Your contributions make a big difference!