Apereo Foundation Fast - Wilma Hodges, Sakai Community Manager

Wilma HodgesApereo Foundation Fast is an interview series that gives a quick "behind the scenes" peek at the Apereo community. This installment is an interview with our amazing Sakai Community Manager, Wilma Hodges, Ed.D.!


Wilma Hodges is the Sakai Community Manager for the Sakai LMS, an Apereo Foundation Software Community. Wilma is also the Director of Training and eLearning Initiatives at Longsight. She has more than 20 years experience in faculty training, LMS administration, online pedagogy, instructional design, online course and program development, teaching, and technical writing. Wilma has been involved with the Sakai project since 2009, and plays a leadership role in a number of Sakai community groups.


AFF: Wilma, thank you for finding time to be interviewed by Apereo Foundation Fast. We appreciate you being with us!

WH: Happy to! Thanks for thinking of me.


AFF: You have been with the Sakai community since 2009. How did you become involved in the project in the first place? What has kept you engaged and invested in the project all these years?

WH: I first became involved with Sakai in 2009 during my time at Seminole State College. I was the department head for the Distance Learning Department there for more than 10 years, and an Instructional Technology Specialist for several years prior to that. In my role working with faculty and course development for online courses and programs, I served as the primary learning management system (LMS) administrator for the institution. After experiencing repeated dissatisfaction in using several commercial LMSs, we began looking at open source options. The idea of having more direct control over our technological destiny was a very appealing one. By partnering with Longsight and working through them with the Sakai Community, my institution was able to contribute and shape the development of the features and functionality that were most important to our faculty. Seminole State piloted Sakai in 2009 and adopted it as the campus-wide LMS in 2010. 

The thing that I found most compelling about the Sakai community at that time, and it is still true today, is the ability for institutions and individuals to contribute to the project directly and influence the features, product strategy, and development timeline in a very tangible way. That is something I hadn’t often seen in my work with commercial LMS vendors and it was truly a breath of fresh air. I also very much appreciated the openness and transparency we had with our Sakai managed services provider, Longsight. In my experience, the support I’d received from other vendors was often lacking. Longsight’s consistently high level of customer service and focus on client satisfaction was like night and day. In fact, I had such a high level of respect for the folks at Longsight that, after leaving Seminole State in 2013, I ended up joining the Longsight team. I knew from my experience working with the Sakai community that there were ways I could contribute and make a real difference. I’m very happy that I’ve found a role where I can continue to work toward the betterment of an open source project like Sakai, both on behalf of Longsight and on behalf of the community, and keep improving it for all adopters. Technology is constantly changing, as are the needs of learners and faculty. Finding new and creative ways to meet those needs is a constant and welcome challenge; it allows me to keep learning and growing as a professional. The freedom to work directly with stakeholders, designers, and developers in order to innovate and improve the product is what keeps me engaged.  


AFF: You hold an interesting position in the Apereo Foundation as the Community Manager for Sakai LMS. Could you tell our readers about what you do in that role? How does the Manager role interplay with the Sakai Management Committee and Apereo leadership?

WH: As Sakai Community Manager I serve as the central point of contact for the community. I contribute to the overall strategic planning, coordinate with area leads to ensure alignment between working groups and community stakeholders, lead or participate in many of the working group meetings, and administer the tools and applications that we use, such as community email lists, the Sakai Project Google Calendar, Slack, Confluence, Jira, SakaiLMS.org, etc. I also plan and organize community-wide conferences or meetings, such as the Sakai Virtual Conference, Sakai Camp, community webinars, and other events. My role often makes me the point person to liaison with Apereo leadership for Sakai-related initiatives. As a member of the Sakai PMC myself, I represent the PMC’s interests, and I also act as a clearinghouse for information, sharing announcements, insights, and updates across communities of practice.   


AFF: You are also involved in MANY Sakai community groups including the Apereo Teaching and Learning Group, the Sakai Marketing Group, the UX Working Group, and the Documentation Working Group. Could you tell us about one or two projects that these groups are working on in 2022? 

WH: While there are many projects in the works among the various working groups, one example is user research related to the new Sakai UI in development for Sakai 23. The UX Working Group has been involved with conducting usability testing for some of the navigation and workflow components of the UI, so that we can incorporate community feedback as part of our agile development process. Another example is the social media outreach that our Marketing Working Group is doing. The Marketing team is currently working on increasing the Sakai LMS social media presence on Twitter, FaceBook, and LinkedIn by sharing timely and informative content about the features and benefits of Sakai. 


AFF: Sakai community has so much going on all the time, how can someone new to the community become involved? Where do they start?

WH: A first step to getting involved is joining some of our email lists, so that you can keep up to date on news, and take part in the community’s key discussions. I would also recommend participating in one or more of our working groups, which are open to all. Pick a group you are interested in, and start going to the meetings. Current group projects or tasks will typically be discussed in those meetings, and attendees can volunteer to help as they see fit. You can find information about subscribing to our email lists and the Sakai Project Calendar for working group meetings on our Confluence Wiki.


AFF: Are there any groups within the community that especially need volunteers right now? What types of volunteers are you looking for in 2022? Do folks need any special qualifications to volunteer?

WH: We always welcome volunteers, and you don’t need any special qualifications! If you have an interest in a particular group, or if your skills are well-suited to a particular task, feel free to join any of our working group meetings and step up to help. One area where we always need additional help is in QA (Quality Assurance). These are the folks that test upcoming releases of Sakai to look for bugs and verify fixes. You don’t have to be a developer or even an expert user to be a good tester. You just need to be detail oriented and methodical when it comes to following test plans and updating Jira issues. The QA team holds regular weekly meetings to coordinate testing and help onboard new testers, and they are always available for questions via Slack and email. The more testing resources we have as a community, the quicker and the more thoroughly tested our releases will be. Also, our QA testers get to be the first ones to see and use new features and enhancements in the upcoming releases. If you want to see the latest and greatest innovations and improvements in Sakai, and help to ensure that those improvements are as user-friendly and bug-free as possible, spend some time working with the QA group.


AFF: Finally, as we approach Open Apereo 2022 which will focus in part on “The Value of Open Source in Higher Education”. What is your interpretation of the value of Open Source particularly to faculty in higher education?

WH: I think a key value for faculty in higher education is the fundamental concept of openness that characterizes Open Source. This ethos of freely sharing work in a collaborative endeavour is something which has much in common with the spirit of sharing and building knowledge through collective inquiry often seen in higher education. The ability to build on the work of others and improve the product for everyone is just as valuable for software developers as it is for scientists, researchers, and other communities of practice. In addition, open source projects like Sakai welcome student participation and volunteer contributions, which makes for many opportunities to provide students with real-world skills and experience. Students in a variety of disciplines, not just technology fields, but also marketing, technical writing, UX design, human factors psychology, and more, can potentially benefit from working on projects within an open source community. Open source can be a powerful teaching tool for faculty, and one which aligns well with the altruistic goals of education.


AFF: Wilma, thank you for this excellent conversation and for taking the time to join us on Apereo Foundation Fast. We appreciate your time and everything you do for the foundation!