Sakai a safe bet: A cheaper alternative to Blackboard, Sakai accomplishes more for less

Blackboard will be obsolete at UNC by fall 2014, but don’t expect radical change with the replacement program, Sakai.

On Oct. 18, the Information Technology Executive Steering Committee decided to begin the three-year transition from the current Blackboard to Sakai. Students have already tested the new program through the Sakai Pilot Study, which started in fall 2008 with 18 courses.

Sakai does have some advantages over Blackboard. Sakai is open-source software, meaning that its software can be modified to a site administrator’s liking.

Sakai benefits UNC’s budget. Because Sakai is open-source, it carries no licensing costs. The new system will cost UNC $332,000 annually, as opposed to $620,000 for Blackboard.

Students also have the freedom to blog or create a wiki — a web page created by the user that can be viewed publicly.

The user also has a profile, which looks like a stripped-down version of Facebook. Students can enter personal information, post statuses, and make “connections” with other users.

When students already have a Facebook, it adds little to Sakai’s value.

But Blackboard has been criticized for its static, academic-only use, so Sakai will offer the flexibility that Blackboard lacks.

Being more user-friendly and a fraction of the cost of Blackboard, Sakai is the better option.

Users who are expecting Sakai to be a drastic improvement from Blackboard might be disappointed.

Other than catering to a user’s social tendencies, Sakai’s interface mirrors Blackboard. Its layout and color scheme are even reminiscent of the Blackboard program used today.

Still, UNC’s decision to transition to Sakai is a welcome move. Faculty should add value by making the most use of the site’s functions.

To check out the Sakai pilot for yourself, visit https://sakaipilot.unc.edu/portal and log in with your Onyen

Thanks for reading.

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