From the Executive Director: Apereo Strategy Review

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Apereo Newsletter – May 2018
 
From the Executive Director: Apereo Strategy Review
 
Apereo was formed five years ago, as a result of lengthy discussion and consultation between two already well-connected communities; Jasig and Sakai. During that five years Apereo has grown from a handful of software communities to almost twenty. Collectively, the overwhelming sense I get from our communities is that the merger has worked – but that doesn’t mean that there have not been setbacks, and it doesn’t mean that there is no room to improve. The fact that we hold conversations about our progress – warts and all – in public, in a careful, considered, and considerate manner is not a weakness, but a strength.
The mission of Apereo – ‘… to assist and facilitate educational organizations which collaborate to foster, develop, and sustain open technologies and innovation to support learning, teaching, and research’ has guided our strategy closely to this point, and should continue to do so. The context we operate within continues to evolve and change, however, and it’s entirely appropriate, five years in, that we have an open community conversation that considers those developments and their impact on what we do. That’s why the Apereo Foundation Board has developed the strategic planning draft at - https://bit.ly/2HLIpK8
Although brief, this draft document is designed to around several interlocking elements. The first of these is to bring a greater degree of transparency to planning – both in articulation and realization. We’re a community that relies on organizational and individual volunteers to a very considerable degree. Collectively articulating what needs to be done is the basis for volunteer participation. Given the experience of merger and growth, the Board are moving this to a more coherent plane.

The second element is to ground our strategic approach in evidence, whilst recognizing that evidence is frequently partial, and often gathered on a national or regional basis[i]. To help inform the strategic approach of an international community such as Apereo, evidence requires validation – or otherwise – against multiple national or regional contexts. Shared understanding of both general backdrop, together with identification of specific regional or national characteristics is key to elaborating shared objectives and a shared strategy and recognizing where objectives and strategy should differ to suit local conditions.
It’s not my purpose here to re-hash the Board draft, but suffice it to say that there are several identifiable specific opportunities for open source software in the current landscape – but also critical challenges to be addressed. Within the general pull-me of the promise offered by the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE), and the push-you of issues surrounding the affordability of higher education, specific issues such as the student popularity of lecture capture, streamed media and analytics dashboards stand out as being directly addressed by Apereo software communities. In a general sense, the NGDLE agenda requires strong open source components for its realization[ii], and Apereo members as geographically distant as Notre Dame in Indiana and NWU in South Africa have begun not simply to conceptualize this, but to incorporate it into strategy and practice at multiple levels.
The higher education landscape is not without challenges. Despite evidence that satisfaction levels with LMS/VLE offerings are broadly similar across multiple platforms, the number of institutions considering a platform change appears to be high. All too often what is articulated as a “cloud first” strategy becomes a “cloud only” strategy, skewing institutional human resource from the potential to innovate towards contract management and administration. Finally, understanding of open source software, its capacity for helping to meet address the present needs of higher education and its potential for enabling innovation towards the future remains shallow, and often focused on cost. Hence the rise of the “fauxpen source” offering, which often hides lock-in behind an open source license and proprietary hosted software tweaks.

The Board have outlined six key strategic themes to orient the work of the Foundation and help us rise to these challenges. They contain objectives and deliverables. They are – like the rest of the draft document – open to discussion and amendment. They are all important. At five years in, it’s right that we review the services we provide and the services we consume. If we can rationalize and reduce central cost, we should – and have begun to. It’s also that we have a clear and open process for community members to suggest new foundation services, and those they feel should be retired. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the incubation record of a software community helps to build adopter confidence. Our graduated software communities should consider whether similar health evidence could be presented sustainably on a continuous basis. 

Communications, outreach and engagement are vital elements of realizing the Apereo mission. This has an outward-facing aspect and is critical in further developing membership and partnerships. It also has a community facing aspect – networking good practice. We need to improve both aspects. It should be natural for Apereo members and software communities to share practical stories at every level from a white paper to a brief vignette. The Board and Foundation focus effort to ensure that such a culture of contribution continues to develop.

Apereo recognition programs have broadened. What was the Sakai Fellows Program is now an Apereo Fellows Program, recognizing individual contributions which go “above and beyond.” The Sakai Teaching and Learning Awards, recognizing best practice in learning and teaching with Apereo software, have become the Apereo Teaching and Learning Awards (ATLAS), and are attracting submissions from more and more of our software communities.

Realization of our mission requires a strong organization, but we need to take care to keep the order of that statement; we do not exist for the sake of existing, but ‘… to assist and facilitate educational organizations which collaborate to foster, develop, and sustain open technologies and innovation to support learning, teaching, and research’. We realize that mission by supporting our software and other communities, which in turn we accomplish by growing our membership and by establishing meaningful partnerships that are grounded in practical collaboration. Last year we established a new partnership with the LAMP consortium. LAMP membership consists of small institutions, largely in the Eastern US, but with a member in Costa Rica[iii], and has a specific practice around learning and teaching with open source technology which overlaps with Apereo. Our partnership with ESUP-Portail continues to strengthen, with significant interest in newer Apereo software communities around learning analytics and the Karuta ePortfolio solution. Apereo membership rose last year, with thirteen new organisations joining, but six leaving – a net gain of seven, with a more or less static financial impact. There are interesting underlying trends within these bare statistics – a marked increase in interest from commercial service providers, and institutional/organisational memberships from projects that have passed through our incubation process. These are healthy signs for the future of Apereo, but, whilst keeping a firm sight on our mission, we should aim to grow our membership globally in the coming two years at an increased rate. It’s important to recognize that membership is not just about financial resource – however necessary and important that may be – but also about participation and ownership. It’s also important to recognize that not every institution is a large research intensive or operates in the global North. Smaller institutions, and those in the developing world have specific needs, and have specific contributions to make. We’ve laid good foundations. Help us build on them. 
 
Ian Dolphin / May 2018
 
Please review the draft strategy at https://bit.ly/2HLIpK8and comment on the Apereo open list – open[at]apereo[dot]org[iv]
 
 

[i]In particular the ECAR Student and Faculty Surveys - https://bit.ly/2ihNxH1, and EDUCAUSE Tope 10 IT Issues, Technologies and Trends - https://bit.ly/2BH0oud
[ii]https://er.educause.edu/articles/2017/9/open-source-and-the-ngdle
[iii]http://lampschools.org/Our_Members/
[iv]Joining instructions at https://bit.ly/2IEOg4l