2015-2016 Apereo Annual Report

2015-2016 Annual Report Introduction - from the Executive Director

One of the objectives of bringing Jasig and Sakai together in a common foundation - Apereo - was to provide a more rational framework for the development of open source software serving education, avoiding duplication of function and service where possible. In founding Apereo, we made an assumption that other projects and communities would see the value in such a proposition. Three years in, that assumption has proved substantially correct. Apereo now provides an umbrella for ten software communities, with a further seven in incubation. Some of those communities, such as Xerte, Opencast and Unitime, had existed independently before Apereo. Others, such as Karuta, established by partners spanning three continents, were very much the product of the broad Apereo community.

The last year, largely dominated by consolidation, has also seen growth into new areas for the Apereo community. The POET Group, a group of commercial partners working to enhance Moodle plug-ins, became an Apereo incubating community late in 2015. Apereo has also worked with the K12 Federation, a group of statewide initiatives bringing together high school districts, to explore the potential for closer collaboration around software sustainability. Three of these statewide initiatives, in Nebraska, Illinois and Nevada, have recently joined Apereo.

In last year's Annual Report we noted the widespread acceptance of openness in education, and the misuse of the term "open" to describe and sell software that fails many of defining characteristics of openness. This problem hasn't gone away. We have worked with our partners the Open Source Initiative, Red Hat and ESUP-Portail to organize the Open Summit in May 2016, immediately before the Open Apereo Conference. There are three essential purposes to the event. The first is to stimulate dialogue between open initiatives in education. All too often we operate in open silos, which reflect the silos in education generally. Increased dialogue, we hope, will lead to improved understanding, coordination and alignment where appropriate. The second purpose is to help develop participants understanding of openness and it's many facets by exploring the benefits of openness across many domains and areas of work. The third purpose of the event is to analyze the lessons of open initiatives and open approaches to organisation, and understand how those organisational approaches might inform a transformation of education. As a whole, the agenda is ambitious, but it has to begin somewhere.

With ten software communities maintaining and developing software in the service of educational mission delivery, and a further seven in incubation, Apereo is well positioned to participate in the developing discussion about what follows the learning management system/virtual learning environment, and the future of learning online. The transformation of the LMS has been discussed for almost as long as it has existed. What seems clear from the Educause Learning Initiative consultation on the topic, which engaged many dozens of campus learning and information technologists, together with faculty and institutional leaderships is that the appetite for change is strong.

A more flexible and pluggable environment, capable of customization and personalization to meet the needs of learners, teachers and providers more closely is clearly on the agenda of substantial sections of the higher education community. As a distinct community within that - and a community with a strong record of driving standards development such as Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) - we should and are engaging in the conversation surrounding the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment.

As one surveys the broad Apereo Community, it's clear that we can contribute many pieces to this emerging landscape. We have a collaboration and learning environment in Sakai that is about to make a very significant release. Opencast has clearly emerged as a media platform for education. Xerte enables the authoring of highly accessible and interactive learning content. Karuta is a highly flexible, next generation portfolio solution. uPortal - which should more properly be described as an ecosystem than an application at this point - is capable of rich levels of customization and personalization. Apereo Open Academic Environment allows collaboration beyond the classroom, across the institution, and across institutions themselves. Underpinning these forward-facing components, we have communities that develop software that provides services to handle calendaring, single sign-on, timetabling of courses and examinations, and an open analytics platform that is attracting considerable attention and adoption.

We will not build the future alone, however. Apereo was established around the need for dialogue, partnership, and respect for the cultures and priorities of those we engage with. In the coming year we will act to further strengthen our existing partnership with ESUP-Portail, and its engagement with the Francophone world, and our collaboration with SoLAR around learner analytics. We hope the conversations we stimulate at the Open Summit in 2016 will lead to new collaborations.

It is also important, though, to recognize that we will not build the future environment we need by driving communities down paths they do not believe are right for them, or are misaligned with their tactical or strategic priorities. Our community memory is strong. The attempt to align uPortal, just emerging from grant-funded status, with the yet to-be-created Sakai environment over ten years ago taught a lesson we would do well to remember: the Foundation facilitates, it does not control. It encourages, but does not mandate. The Foundation exists to do those things collectively that the community it supports cannot do better separately.

Effective facilitation and encouragement require resources. Having put in place the building blocks, we need to do more to enable our community to build with them. At Open Apereo 2016 the Foundation launches its individual membership program, 'Friends of Apereo'. The funding we raise with this initiative will be applied entirely to community recognition programs such as the Apereo Teaching Awards and the Fellows Program. But more effective recognition of our many volunteers, both individual and institutional, can only be the start of increasing our resource base. Our new membership structure, reported below, lays an equitable basis for Foundation and software community resource gathering. Remembering our international nature, we have work still to do to ensure all regional and national communities within Apereo are also treated equitably in this respect.

In the last quarter of 2016, a general membership drive will seek to engage and encourage further institutional and commercial partners. If you can help in any way with that – as an ambassador, or a contact point, or in reaching out to other schools – we’d love to hear from you. Presenting at a regional or national conference? Consider including a slide or two on Apereo. Our community can be a powerful voice for change. Help us make sure that “100% open, supporting education” is a message that reverberates throughout education.

Ian Dolphin, Executive Director, May 2016 

Full 2015-2016 Apereo Annual Report