Summer Sakai Update Sparks Interest

Courtesy of luc.eduSakai 11 will replace Sakai 10 on May 12. The update is expected to modernize the program and make it more user-friendly.

In keeping up with supported versions of the program, Loyola’s Institute of Technology Services (ITS) plans to roll out a massive overhaul to the learning management application Sakai starting May 12 — reigniting the debate among teachers and students of whether to include the program in classes for the coming academic seasons.

When adopted, Sakai 11 — the updated version — is expected to provide a slew of modern features. They include additional language options, customizable color schemes, direct email access to site maintenance and professors, streamlined gradebook technology, pop-up alerts that can specifically target select students and a “soft delete” system that allows teachers to recover deleted files of entire classes for as long as 30 days.

Among the most significant changes is the introduction of a completely new, mobile-friendly user interface. Code-named “Project Morpheus,” this version provides a “responsive design optimized for desktop, tablet and mobile screens,” according to the company release notes.

Manager of Instructional Technology and Research Report Tim Walker embraced the incoming update.

“[Sakai 10] is really at the end of its life cycle … so we are getting to a point where we need to move to get support from the [Sakai] community,” he said. “Assuming everything goes right, we are looking to adopt it.”

Though noting that the format is significantly different, Director of Online Learning Sarah Dysart assured students and teachers should not have much trouble adapting to the new program.

“From what I have seen, it does look a little bit different … but in terms of the functionality, a lot of [Sakai] will be the same,” she said.

Director of the Faculty Center for Ignatian Pedagogy Carol Scheidenhelm echoed the sentiment.

“It’s not nearly as big of a change from when we went from Blackboard to Sakai,” she said.

But while administration officials such as Schiedenhelm hailed the update, the features may not be enough to attract professors estranged from the platform.

Although ITS sets up a Sakai account for each class, teachers are not obligated by the ITS technology policy to post anything on the site. The practice is anchored on a promotion of teacher choice in utilizing online content, according to Dysart.

“The technology is similar to a textbook — each faculty member has the best understanding of their own content matter … and they know which books will be more complementary to what they are trying to do,” she said. “If they feel like if Sakai is not the best choice to them … then thats a choice we do not want to take away from them.”

This leads to some teachers choosing to opt out of the program entirely, like 25-year-old graduate student Alex Christie.

Over his six semesters of teaching writing and literature classes, Christie has avoided Sakai completely ­— opting instead for programs like WordPress and Microsoft Excel to draft gradebooks or connect students to content.

“[Sakai] is aesthetically unpleasing and a little bit cumbersome … and it makes it not super user-friendly,” Christie said. “I can control Excel and WordPress … [and] I have the tools already, so why would I go out of my way to use another one?”

That preference, he admitted, is mostly rooted in being unfamiliar with the program.

“It sounds like other folks, other professors and faculty members, have found really robust and interesting things to do with … disseminating information on Sakai,” he said. “But I think about who’s the end user of everything, students within and beyond the classroom … and as a student I was dissatisfied by it.”

But for some students, such as 20-year-old bioinformatics major Anusha Gangani, avoiding the program is far from ideal.

She argued that the purpose of hosting the program is defeated when teachers do not use the program at all, forcing students to go out of their way to retrieve content.

“It is an inconvenience because if it’s like, ‘Oh, like I missed one day of class,’ Sakai could have notes that we can use,” said the sophomore. “But then the professors don’t like to put anything on there … and it’s frustrating when they don’t want to put anything up.”

Others, such as 31-year-old forensic science and biology major Julio Esparza, shared opposite concerns on teachers depending too much on Sakai, especially for quizzes and time-restricted content.

“I’m a commuter, so many times I do homework on the train because it takes about an hour and a half to get [on campus] … so not being in front of a computer puts things at a disadvantage,” Esparza said. “ For some classes … it’s like you’re pretty lifeless without Sakai.”

So how should students air these grievances with teachers were approaching Sakai? Director of Information Services Bruce A. Montes encouraged them to speak through their course evaluation forms.

“The university and faculty really values that feedback … and it helps us know how we can help make our programs better,” he said. “We always want to encourage it.”

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