#Sakai15 and #BlendWits – a huge success

On the 23rd and 24th of March, members of the South African Sakai community and Wits’ academics interested in elearning met to share and discuss blended learning

The #Sakai15 conference on the 23rd of March was attended by members of the Apereo / Sakai community. The conference, sponsored in part by OpenCollab, was held at the Professional Development Hub at Wits. Colleagues from UCT, North-West University and Unisa were amongst the delegates.

Wits hosted this event because they wanted to discover more about current activities of other Sakai aligned institutions and learn from their experience. We thought that the conference did expose individuals and implementation teams to each other, and we hope further collaboration will flow from this event.


Day one’s programme kicked off with sharing and feedback sessions from the four participating institutions. Derek Moore from Wits was up first, then Sam Lee Pan from UCT. Magdaleen Arlow updated the delegates on Unisa’s progress with Sakai, and lastly, we heard from Kobus le Roux and Adelle Lotter from North-West University. These sessions were very informative as institutions had the opportunity to learn from each other, and see practical examples of Sakai use.

Apereo Sakai – the learning management system (LMS) under discussion – is South Africa’s most widely used LMS in terms of numbers. Used by 5 universities, Wits, Unisa, UCT, North-West University and the University of the Western Cape, the open sourced LMS offers users a myriad of tools and functions. OpenCollab works with the Sakai code to provide institutions with tailor-made tools.

Feedback from the frontline

It was therefore fitting to have Elsabe Botha from OpenCollab to present a session on OpenCollab’s involvement and innovations. Of particular interest is the initiative called ‘One’, a new option that universities can use to create an app store-like platform for finding information easily.

A connected network

The afternoon sessions introduced as a “Birds of a Feather” (BOF) session involved activities where delegates had the opportunity to unpack issues and concerns associated with Sakai. Topics ranged from Assessment options to the Lessons tool. TurnItIn was also discussed at length because the consensus is that lecturers misinterpret the use of TurnItIn, and that this was problematic.

The networking value of day one was unique and inspirational as old relationships were refreshed and new ones were formed. The delegates were left inspired, reenergised and reassured that the Sakai community is one of sharing and collaboration.

Blended learning symposium: #BlendWits

Our venue at the Professional Development Hub was packed to capacity by blended learning enthusiasts for the second part of our conference. Day two’s focus was devoted to blended learning, and the programme kicked off with a panel discussion. Chaired by Prof Christine Woods from CLTD, the panellists included Prof Judy Backhouse (Wits), Rassie Louw (NWU) and Annemarie Bates (Unisa).

It was established very quickly that a definition of blended learning is redundant because no one definition will fit all contexts. “Don’t get hung up on the many definitions of blended learning,” said Prof Judy. “There are so many variations possible.”

For Rassie Louw, it was important that we rethink the way learners learn: “Blended learning is about blending approaches, not blending technology”. He added that “in South Africa we need the universities to work together. Then pull our resources together and tackle blended learning.”

An interesting discussion followed during the question and answering session, with Alice Goodwin-Davey (Unisa) asking when was learning ever not blended? It was clear from the discussions that context, planning and different approaches were important when considering blended learning methodologies in teaching and learning.

Connecting remotely from around the world

We also had remote presentations from two international guests, Ian Dolphin and Chuck Severance. Ian is the Executive Director of the Apereo Foundation and his presentation on the Apereo Learning Analytics Initiative looked at open source options as a key driver of innovation in higher education. You can find Ian’s presentation here.

Chuck Severance, the first Chief Architect of the Sakai Project, first Executive Director of Sakai Foundation and at present the Sakai Chief Strategist at Longsight has been instrumental in Sakai’s development over the last decade. Chuck’s presentation was an overview of Sakai – where it started, how it’s evolved, and what the future of Sakai will look like. One of his key points highlighted the value of open sourced code because its advantage is that there are multiple collaborators with the sole purpose of improvement and innovation.

Case studies

The case studies session included presentations from: Christo Kriel and David Merand (Wits) on Flipped Classroom; Alice Goodwin-Davey (Unisa) on It’s all about the blend; Paula Barnard (Wits) on Boldly Being Blended (a Moodle example); and Sam Lee Pam (UCT) on Blended Learning at UCT using the Lessons tool.

The case studies offered delegates to see example of blended learning initiatives. The examples covered a spectrum of options and it was clear from the presentations that there’s no one-size-fits-all model. It’s all about the blend… and how you blend is up to you as a lecturer because finding the right blend for you and your teaching purposes is vital.

Breakaway options

The afternoon sessions included a mini workshop on designing and aligning your blended course (presented by Derek Moore from Wits), and a Q&A session with an educational technology panel. Those who attended the workshop had to complete activities designed to get delegates to think about blending content in their own courses. The Q&A attendees had the opportunity to talk to Sakai developers about various issues, including TurnItIn, Assessments, new tools, etc.

Take aways

The feedback from the delegates was overwhelmingly positive. The general consensus was that the networking opportunities, case studies and presentations were a unique blend of possibilities.

Here are some of the comments we’ve received:

“Enlightened regarding Blended learning and beyond. Got some ideas for running and administering courses.”

“Great Networking opportunity, met people face to face that I’ve been following on twitter. Learned about some pretty new tools and developments.”

“A great demonstration of some aspects of technology that can be utilised and limitations. Great introductions to concept of blended learning and what it is not. Loved the case studies-very exciting examples.”

For more information on the discussions and sessions, search for the hashtags #Sakai15 and #BlendWits on Twitter. 

Last modified on 2015-04-15 by Liana Meadon