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MIT helps break ground in educational software collaboration

MIT is a partner in the Sakai Project, a collaboration among higher education institutions to develop and share open-source software for course management tools that was launched Jan. 22 with a $2.4 million grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation.

Sakai's four university partners, MIT, the University of Michigan, Indiana University and Stanford, will contribute services worth at least an additional $4 million over the next two years.

The Sakai Project will produce open source code for course management systems and make it available for all users to study and modify freely, with no restrictions on commercial use or redistribution. Course management systems are tools that faculty use to post course requirements, readings, assignments and assessments on the web, and allow online communication with and among students.

"This project made so much sense when we first started talking about it, that it has evolved very quickly. The commonality of purpose, the single-minded focus on tangible deliverables, and the chemistry and trust among the core partners bode well for the future," said Amitava Babi Mitra, executive director of Academic Media Production Services at MIT. "More importantly, MIT faculty and faculty at other institutions stand to gain through a design approach that will allow efficient integration of innovative pedagogic tools."

Sakai will make available a complete course management system that incorporates the best features of each participant's existing systems and experiences.

Other universities will access the Sakai software via an enhanced version of the popular UPortal system now in wide use by universities and businesses. Universities will have the ability to choose the course management components they wish to make available to their campuses and offer additional types of university services via the portal. Individual users will be able to configure the site to their own preferences.


MIT's Stellar is an online course management and administration system that supports teaching and learning by providing an easy way for faculty to organize class materials for students, handle homework assignments, and engage students in discussion using the web.

The University of Michigan is developing a flexible environment for supporting distance learning and collaborative work. Indiana University is creating an online course environment (Oncourse) that lets faculty and students create and maintain web-based teaching and learning resources. Stanford University's CourseWork is a course management system that offers a collection of tools for developing and displaying the components of a course web site.

The MIT-based Open Knowledge Initiative is a collaborative project that creates an architecture that specifies how the components of an educational software environment communicate with each other and with other enterprise systems.

A third Sakai product will consist of tools that support research by giving faculty colleagues the means to collaborate across the network, using many of the same functions offered by course management tools.

The first release of the Sakai software is set for summer of 2004.

In a related development, Indiana University announced a $518,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to lead development of ePortfolio software, based on Sakai and O.K.I. standards. EPortfolio software will allow a student to compile a digital collection of lifelong academic work, such as reports, projects, and recorded presentations, and easily tailor the material for different uses.

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