Sakai is still Awful

I’ve occasionally read people complaining that it is too hard to get their universities to use more open-source software. I think any such people should be careful what they wish for. At Rutgers-New Brunswick, the course management software we’re forced to use is a terrible program called Sakai. The upside of Sakai, I guess, is that it is open-source and free.

The downsides are basically all of the downsides you’d expect with open-source software. If you use the software the way the makers intended, it works tolerably well. But it’s completely user-unfriendly, and has no error correction. One effect of this is that it is incredibly hard to navigate around, and find the various features that you might want to use. The interfaces have pretty clearly been designed by someone who knows just where to find all the features, so doesn’t have to worry about looking for them. One reason it is so unfriendly is that although it is web-based, it basically disables the use of the “Go Back” command. And it is really hard on screen to tell where to get back to where you came from. (Often there will be no single click that does so, or at least no apparent click, and “Back” doesn’t work.) So errant clicks can lead you down long dead ends.

And when you make a mistake, the program makes it impossible to make up easily. I just finished composing a long email to a group, but accidentally clicked the wrong group of users to send it to. The effect of this was that I was trying to send an email to an empty group. So rather than checking whether that’s what I really wanted, the program simply threw up an error screen. And of course from the error screen it’s impossible to get back to the email.

Happily at other Rutgers campuses they still use professional-quality course-management software, rather than the amateur hour product we have to use at New Brunswick. Hopefully New Brunswick can follow suit.

UPDATE: Oh, and Sakai thinks that various PDF files are really HTML files, so when you go to download uploaded PDFs, you get the raw source code of the PDF. Worst. Software. Ever.

4 Replies to “Sakai is still Awful”

  1. Wow, this Sakai must be pretty bad. On the other hand, there is also Open Source software that works well (I’m just writing this in Firefox, and you’re running this blog on WordPress ;-). And there’s some awful commercial closed-source software out there as well. So I don’t think shooting at OS in general is quite fair.

    I think the real target of your criticism should be whoever has selected the tool, apparently without having a good look at it first. (And perhaps without knowing that free of charge doesn’t necessarily mean free of cost.)

  2. Noooooo!!!!!! I just found out that we are moving from CourseWorks (OK but not great) to Sakai. What ever happened to Blackboard? I remember using it as a graduate student. I thought it was pretty good.

  3. Blackboard is still pretty good I think. Not great, but good enough. Rutgers still uses Blackboard at Newark and, I believe, Camden. It’s only New Brunswick that’s trapped into Sakai.

  4. I don’t see the point of any of these integrated packages—open source or otherwise. I make my class websites with Dreamweaver and link to message boards on Blogger for class announcements and discussion. A lot easier.

    But speak of free stuff: for research, I’m curious if anyone’s had a shot at Zotero: —a Firefox extension that makes like Endnote. I just got it and it looks pretty promising.

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