Sakai has become a true community resource at Roger Williams University. Based on a RWU motto “Bridging the World” we branded our Sakai instance as “Bridges” when we first adopted it as our LMS in 2010. The metaphor of bridges has actually been prophetic since what started out as a learning management system to support courses has actually become a connection point between students, faculty, staff and external community partners.
Our learning environment currently serves as a supplement to our onsite courses. All courses are automatically created on Bridges/Sakai based on a registration feed from our Colleague administrative system. The rosters and instructor(s) of record are updated every night. We have worked with specific departments to design custom templates for many of the course shells that support their initiatives. We have integrated VeriCite anti-plagiarism and iRubric to strengthen assessment for all courses. There is also a link to the CoursEval system on every Home page menu for easy access for students for end of the semester course evaluations. Faculty can easily add and remove tools from their menus to meet their goals.
For all online and hybrid courses, Bridges/Sakai is our virtual classroom. We have integrated Panopto video capture for narrated lectures, demonstrations, tutorials and podcasts. In addition, we have integrated Meetings/BigBlueButton web conferencing to support synchronous class meetings, virtual office hours and interactive group and tutoring sessions. This year, we have integrated Examity online proctoring into our Tests and Quizzes tool in order to increase academic integrity and compliance for our distance students. What has been interesting is that although we have added these tools for online teaching, many of our faculty who teach onsite have also adopted them for use when away at a conference, illness or weather-related emergencies.
We have a thriving Community Partnership Program at RWU where we accept proposals for special projects from community non-profit organizations and then match accepted projects with courses that have similar activities as part of the curriculum. For example, matching a non-profit that needs an online survey designed, developed and distributed is matched with a Marketing class that studies survey design. The non-profit gets their survey and our students get real-world experience to add to their resume. Bridges/Sakai project sites have become the focal point for faculty, students and community members to both store and archive materials they are working on as well as exchanging ideas and communicating progress.
We allow any student, faculty or staff member to create project sites on Bridges. This has resulted in a wide range of committees and groups building project sites to store and organize materials as well as use tools like the Calendar, Announcements, Email, Resources, and Email Archive to keep everyone on track. This has transformed our learning management system into a wonderful resource for our campus community. Even our Human Resources, Payroll and Environmental Health departments have used Bridges to create and distribute Panopto videos and documentation in a password-protected environment in a way that isn’t available through the University’s open web site.
Technical literacy is a goal for every university. We are leveraging our Bridges/Sakai instance to support this type of literacy by building a robust Faculty Learning and Resource Lab project site full of short, instructional videos for faculty. All faculty are automatically included in this site so it remains as an ongoing resource as faculty explore different tools. We also have a New Student Orientation project site for all incoming freshmen and transfer students. There is such an avalanche of information for incoming students that is almost impossible to absorb initially. By creating a resource site for students, they can refer back to specific information as needed. A great just-in-time learning strategy.
Another feature we have built in is a folder of specific faculty materials like the Provost’s mandated syllabus template, distance welcome letters, adjunct faculty handbook, etc. within an Administrative Resources public folder. This folder is then linked within our course templates so that contents are automatically added to every course Resources folder for easy access by faculty. When changes are necessary, we just update the files in the Administrative resources folder that then automatically update all the course Resources. We are going to employ this same strategy for a series of student resources – mostly short video links – that will also be added to all course Resources folders starting this Spring. This overall approach is much better than a series of email messages that quickly get lost since the information is persistent and always available.
Customization and community involvement are really unique and important aspects of utilizing the Sakai platform. We can use tools like the Message Bundler to write custom instructions and messages on different tools to guide our users as needed.
Our Sakai support staff also participate in the Sakai community weekly Teaching and Learning calls to learn from others using Sakai as well as to discuss features and functions we are interested in improving or adding. Working collaboratively with other institutions we can pool resources and move a feature or function forward that is important to us all. This allows our small university to affect the continuing development of Sakai in a way that is just not possible with any other platform.
RWU even has a faculty member and her students involved in usability and QA testing for the next version of Sakai. Their course is on web design so the students are getting valuable, real-world experience through this involvement while contributing to the Sakai community at large. A win-win.
As one more feature for our campus community, we have developed a customized Home page menu with external links to all enterprise-level instructional programs. This allows us to aggregate access to special programs like Lynda.com, Qualtrics survey creator, Gmail/Google Apps for students, and Poll Everywhere student response system. Since we don’t have an intranet at RWU, our Bridges Home menu allows us to advertise all the technologies currently available to our faculty with custom links to our subscription sites.
With Sakai, our institution enjoys flexibility, independence, customization and international collaboration that is unparalleled among LMS platforms. We are excited to see where the future takes us all.