“Sakai Courseware Management” – *the* Sakai Book

This may be old news to others, but I finally have my copy of the new “Sakai Courseware Management” book (courtesy of the folks over at Packt) and more surprisingly have even been able to carve out time to read the contents. For people who may not have been aware, this is the book that Alan Berg & Michael Korkuska have spent the last many months of their lives churning out.

After looking through “Sakai Courseware Management”, I’d say if you’re a technical staff member working with Sakai it’d be invaluable. Finally, much of the community knowledge and resources have been distilled into a single volume, greatly shortening the learning curve — and with enough topics that even old-Sakai hands will likely see some new bits, courtesy of the deep knowledge of Alan & Michael.

To get a feel for what’s in the book, check out: http://www.packtpub.com/article/sakai-courseware-management-the-official-guide-table-of-contents. Chapters 1-14 are a pretty straightforward introduction to the Sakai CLE. Chapters 15-19 are a bit off the beaten track, encapsulating a bunch of items that might be considered – “meta-Sakai” – things like community, teaching, and people that differentiate Sakai from some of the more traditional corporate LMS offerings.

Some nuggets you might not get a feel from the ToC, but that are items of note, the book is full of:

  • non-official “Contrib” or extended tools and how they can be integrated with Sakai (e.g. embedding JFlash to let Sakai support online Flashcards for instance)
  • pointers to product wikis, email lists, and docs — in many ways the entire book could be seen as a ToC for the broader SakaiWeb/Community
  • references to people and institutions — providing a connection to the key players in the space

Overall, the text is written in a pretty clear, narrative fashion (with lots of sidebars detailing history, or inspirations for various pieces of Sakai. Packt has posted Chapter 11: Web Services: Connecting to the Enterprise at http://www.packtpub.com/files/Sakai-Courseware-Management-sample-chapter-11-Web-Services.pdf which is a good representative of the style of the book.

Though brief, chapter 11 gives you a quick overview of web services (some background reading might be requred) then drops you into some examples in Sakai. It’s unfortunately a bit light from an example perspective (e.g. what are items the authors believe you can/*should* use these services to do, but it gives the reader a good set of tools to poke around and explore the environment.

Arguably the publication of a book is one of the signs that a project has “made it” and for Sakai I think this is certainly the case as well. Especially for open-source projects with tight-knit core communities, the experience for a new-comer can be daunting, no matter how congenial the atmosphere as you try to synthesize a product, community, and culture all at the same time (often while, errr… trying to get something done in the first place) In that regard, “Sakai Courseware Management” makes my life much easier, since now when people have questions about Sakai, instead of trying to enumerate the variety of community resources, articles, email lists, and code — I can drop a 485 pg. volume on their desk — not only producing a resounding “thwackt” but giving them a great post-conference read on the plane resource.

Having said that, this is clearly an introductory, technical book. It’s great for looking at setting up Sakai, poking around the various resources, and finding out what the tools do. I think if I were say a faculty member interested in effective e-Learning using Sakai, or interested more from a teaching/pedagogical side I might be a bit disappointed (though for that audience, there are some great case-studies from the Sakai Teaching Excellence awards on page 341). So, while I don’t want to take away from what this book is, and the great void it fills; I suppose we’ll have to eagerly anticipate some follow-on volumes targeted at other audiences/topics, like “Teaching with Sakai”, “Building Sakai Tools”, or “Deploying Sakai as an Enterprise CLE”.

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