The Power of Funding Open Source Communities: How the Spanish Sakai Users Group Accomplished Incredible Change for the Platform and the Global Community

By: Daniel Merino Echeverría, Universidad Pública de Navarra
Edited by: Michelle Hall, Apereo Communications

The project

The Sakai LMS project is a community-driven, open source Learning Management System (LMS) created by a group of American universities in 2004. Sakai is one of the many open source projects under the Apereo Foundation, a global community dedicated to developing and sustaining innovative open source software for education.

The group

Communities of interest surrounding Sakai LMS have developed over the years; one of the largest and most active is the S2U group (Sakai Spanish Users). S2U was established in 2008 when several universities and a company in Spain using Sakai as a virtual classroom solution discovered that they shared many issues, concerns, and future plans. They thought that by joining forces, they could find solutions and progress faster than working individually. This approach aligned perfectly with the spirit of the community-driven, open-source software they were using.

Looking back over the last 15 years, there's no doubt that the collaboration worked. With a simple weekly online meeting lasting an hour to share information, review the group's work, and plan the next steps, S2U has made significant advancements in the continuous improvement of the platform. S2U has contributed improvements in functionality, security, internationalization, and documentation. These advancements have been acknowledged with an increasingly prominent presence in the international community governing the Sakai project and multiple awards for S2U members from that community.

But in 2023, something novel happened to the S2U community- perhaps the most positive development for a group overflowing with ideas and improvement proposals.

In 2023, we received funding.

The funding

The Unidigital plan suddenly appeared on the horizon. The Unidigital plan was developed by the Spanish Ministry of Universities for the modernization of its university system through the European Union's Next Generation Funds. Part of its financial support was aimed at "Boosting interuniversity projects of strategic and interdisciplinary digital innovation." There was nothing more "interuniversity" than the S2U group and nothing more "strategic and interdisciplinary" than an LMS. Everything fit together like a puzzle, but quick action was needed.

The collaboration

The universities in the S2U group got to work. The effort was intensified, and they proposed a long list of improvements that could be implemented, among which stood out an integration of the Office365 platform with Sakai. A technical specification was drafted with all the requirements for each functionality. An estimated cost was assigned to each improvement, and an internal voting process narrowed down the list to the most interesting and feasible ones.

A competition was organized in record time, offering a budget of around 250,000 Euros to any company that could integrate these improvements into a project that was technically very complex and used multiple frameworks. The company would need to adapt to the workflows of the international Sakai community, and the quality of the developed code would be reviewed and approved by the developers of that community. Afterward, the work would be contributed back to the Sakai LMS code repository. This immense amount of work had to be completed in just one year. The challenge was enormous.

The work

The company "Entornos de Formación" (EdF), which had been part of the S2U from inception, was possibly the only one that could take on this challenge, thanks to its previous experience in the project and its recognition in the community. It was not surprising that it was the only one to enter the competition and ultimately take on the responsibility for the work.

For technical reasons, it was decided that the Unidigital-funded improvements would be added in a separate branch of the project from the main one (the so-called "master" branch, which holds the most updated version of the code) to avoid incompatibilities with other developments. Once completed, the Unidigital-funded S2U developments would be contributed to the master branch of Sakai.

Following the competition guidelines, all developments were documented in JIRA, the community's issue management system. A Quality Assurance (QA) server was set up where S2U members and anyone else could test the functionalities.

The weekly S2U meetings included a section where Miguel Pellicer, CTO of EdF, detailed the progress of his team each week. If he needed any community assistance, mainly testing, he would ask for and receive it.

And so, step by step, the project was completed.

The result

Time passed, and 2024 arrived. The one-year deadline for completing the Unidigital projects turned out to be, to no one's surprise, insufficient, and an extra year of time was granted to all projects, a time they needed—except for the S2U project. EdF met the promised deadline and completed all requirements on the original timeline and within budget. Incredible!

As of today, a significant portion of the project has been contributed to the master branch of Sakai, and the remaining part is planned to be added very soon. Therefore, the next production-ready version released by Sakai will have all the functionalities of the Unidigital project added "out of the box," ready to be used by anyone installing the open source platform.

The international community has been eagerly anticipating seeing these developments in action, and now that they are, congratulations and praises keep pouring in for the S2U and EdF.

Just a few of the marvelous improvements accomplished through this effort:

  • Office365 integration
  • Features over main tools: Test and Quizzes, Assignments, Rubrics
  • Features over other tools: Announcements, Wiki, Groups
  • H5P LTI integration
  • Safe Exam Browser Integration

From the members of the S2U, I believe I speak on behalf of everyone when I say that we are happy and truly proud of what we have achieved and our contribution to Sakai, an open-source project that benefits educational institutions worldwide.

And who knows, things have gone so well that maybe we'll be given more funding.

 

Participaing Universities: University of Lleida (UdL). University of Murcia (UM). Public University of Navarra (UPNA) and Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV).

Special thanks to the team at EDF!

About the Apereo Foundation: 

The Apereo Foundation is a global community of higher education institutions and partners dedicated to developing and sustaining innovative open-source software for education. The Foundation provides a framework to develop, manage, and support open-source software projects and acts as a collaboration platform for engaging and connecting institutions, developers, and users. Join the home of open source for education: www.apereo.org or contact us membership[at]apereo[dot]org