Sixth Sakai Notes – Institutional Elearning Using Bodington – UHI and Oxford Case Studies, by John Smith and Adam Marshall

This is one of a series of posts about the sessions I attended at the Sixth Sakai Conference. See Conference Schedule, which has links to the individual presentations. Many of the sessions were recorded, and most of the presentations can be found online.

Here are my notes/impressions for the talk Institutional Elearning Using Bodington – UHI and Oxford Case Studies by John Smith and Adam Marshall, presented Thursday, 1:30PM.

The presentation can be found in PowerPoint format here. There is also an additional document, AtlantaHierarchy20061204.

The nicest part of the presentation was to hear it, as all the speakers were from various parts of the U.K. Each speaker had a slightly different accent. The speakers from Ireland, Scotland and Yorkshire were notable in having very subtle variations. Somehow I find English as spoken on the other side of the Atlantic more lyrical. The regional differences here in the U.S. have been largely flattened, so that such variations as remain are more pronounced, such as in “Southern” and “Texan” English.

I would like to think that just a few doors down from The Ministry of Silly Walks can be found The Ministry of Dilly Talks, a small group that exports speakers from the U.K. to enliven various conferences throughout the world.

There were several presenters, not just the two listed in the conference schedule.

There were only a few people in attendance, so the presentation was quite informal, with lots of questions from the audience. Thus the presentation did not closely follow the materials available for download cited above, and so this post is based on my notes.

The first speaker was Sean Mehan, of UHI.

Bodington is an eLearning system written in Java that was started in 1997. It will be integrated on top of Sakai.

There is a collaboration group called Tetra, named after a fish. See tetra. This is an enterprise application for use in the UK and European universities.

It uses “eFramework,” a SOA addressed to education, research, etc. This is the JISC e-framework. (TODO: give URL for JISC and explain what it is.)

Bodington is free open-source virtual learning environment.

The next speaker was John Smith, UHI, from Scotland, Northern Ireland.

The pedagogical range is SUO (??) to PhD. Their variant called CLAN.

Chose Bodington since it had developer community, with folks from UHI, University of Leeds, and Oxford.

It has a component architecture.

e-Campus – legacy, library, digital repositories and learning environments, etc.

The “funding council” is a close collaboration of universities and governments in the U.K. In response to a query, they mentioned that all universities in the UK are government-funded.

CLAN has a notion of virtual “building.” There are then floors in the building, divided into rooms. This defines notion of “hierarchy” in institutions. This notion is used to managage access rights, and has proven to be flexible.

There are “portal” aspects to CLAN. See the CLAN Interface slide.

Every resource has a unique URL.

There are authoring tools, and “course Genie” (??) is used to convert a Microsoft Word document into HTML format. I think this comes from “Horizon Wimba.”

UHI has been using the system since 2003. They found it hard to shift people out of Blackboard and Wb CT. Bodington is more flexible, and open-source gives them the ability to change the software in response to user requests, while they are unable to customize Blackboard.

Next followed a section on Bodington at Oxford, by Dr. Adam Marshall. Oxford re-branded Bodington as WebLearn. (WL)

In 2006 there are 6790 user, 41317 resources (a “resource” is roughly a page, or URL), 1831079 hits a week. The users include Medicine/Science (37%), LifeSciences (22%), Humanities (18%). 50% of registered Oxford users have logged in.

They have opened (enabled?) search via Google. The content is open, and so is available to other institutions, with 31% of accesses not from Oxford. They mentioned this was advantage over Blackboard (BB), as BB’s license was only for use within an institution and did not allow access from outside the institution.

They can include student groups, and “societies” in the system.

What they liked about the system included fine-grained access control, flexible roles, and open-source. The open-source alllowed them to extend (add?) tutors and researchers, and support for users from other institutions.

Use (user?) case: hierarchy and access control; shared logbooks; personal MyWebLearn (private space). System allows deep linking from the front page.

Oxford offers M.Sc. in e-learning. For this they make the first few modules public, but close off the rest of the system so it is available only to enrolled students.

Can share logbook with other people.

Each user gets their own space, which can be used to support their own web site.

Future plans: need favorite feature(s) in Sakai; looking for integration of tools and services.

Next, Matthew Buckett spoke about “Integration Directions.”

He is one of the Oxford “techies.” Bodington in Java, with servlets. There is concept of portal similar to the usual notion, but it is more tightly integrated.

The service layers are tied together. They are investigating possible strategies for integration in the short term.

They are porting tools (I think this is not “tool” in the usual sense): events, permissions, hierarchy, search, presentation, preferences.

Sakai tools are inside Sakai, porting over Bodington tools. Adaptor linking and placement; Sakai users mapped to Bodington users; remove security (Sakai), since breaks when they add their notion of hierarchy.

Bodington has tight integration, based on database.

As an aside, it was clear teir notion of hierarchy is very important to them, and they are seeking to implement it within Sakai. It will be an interesting test of the Sakai architecture if they are able to bring this off.

To do Sakai tools in Bodington is harder. Issues include database integrity; iframe, need to “fake” Sakai placement; no site, users.

Data migration issues: import/export; works with tool overlap; Sakai import already done.

They support large sites. Oxford opens content to large grou, 30,000+ users. Sakai doesn’t scale well to this size.

The next speaker was Dr. Ian Boston of the University of Cambridge, on “Hierarchy.”

The hierarchy service: organization of users and groups within a site; organization of tools and resources in a site.

Bodington: instance organized hierarchy; resources placed at nodes in hierarchy; tools operate on resources.

Oxford: 10,000 nodes.

In Sakai, 2.1 defined hierarchy. but the notion was new and never quite made it into the production version. There are many ongoing discussions, as we work to add this to Sakai.

There is a gap in Sakai in groups and permissions. Sakai needs to add hierarchy to its notion of permissions.

We are working on the current implementation of Sakai to provide simple hierarchy service; JDBC based for simplicity and performance; full path is a priimary key (PK); us Sakai to overcom MySQL limitation.

Inheritance: resolution is expensive; Per request service, inheritance leads to depth of tree search per node, many reads and few writes; publish resolution on change.

Last speaker was Sean on “Federated Sakai,” linking together multiple Sakai instances. They have project, Guanxi, The name comes from the Chinese word for a trusted 3rd party that is used to establish a relationship between two potential business partners. They are using the “shibboleth” technology.

A Live CD with Boddington was distributed as part of the presentation. I have a copy but haven’t yet had the time to try it.


First, aside from Sakai, just this brief overview of Bodington provides good evidence of nearly a decade’s work of work on eLearning in the UK, work involving a number of universities and other educational institutions, and work that has enjoyed wide use and acceptance.

More importantly, the Bodginton community is not going to continue on a solitary path, but is trying to incorporate the novel aspects of their work into Sakai, and to provide tools that will assist conversion to Sakai and otherwise promote interoperability.

I think it worth noting that this joint work is only possible because both projects use liberal Apache-style licenses and so are able to share code without concern about license roadblocks. A related observation was made at the Indianapolis Licensing summit by an attorney in Barcelona who had been engaged to assist in an extended collaborative effort around open-source involving a number of universities in Catalonia. He said that early enthusiasts had promoted the use of gpl, and this had held back progress in the project, and he was still trying to sort this out.


  1. Posted December 22, 2006 at 04:57 | Permalink | Reply

    Came across your weblog through the ‘famous’ Technorati search engine. Pity we didn’t meet in Atlanta…. I wrote a couple of stories on the conference in our weblog at
    Regarding your to do for the e-Framework: just go to and you are off into the world of JISC and e-Framework etc.
    Happy Holidays!

  2. Posted December 22, 2006 at 11:06 | Permalink | Reply

    JISC, , is an important group. I first became aware of it at the Indianapolis Licensing Summit. Several folks from JISC were there, as was Randy Metcalfe, of OSS-Watch, , another important group.

    These groups are not as well-known in the US as they should be, and I would encourage anyone not familiar with them to visit their websites.

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