Thursday, January 17, 2013

Connecting Sakai to Wordpress

LMS platforms have fairly long been consolidated at universities as on-line learning support tools. For a long time they were exposed to disappear because of the low level of interoperability to third-party services they offered. Finally, as a result of that need together with the mobility nature of teachers and students between institutions (and consequently on its LMS), interoperability mechanisms were implemented to bring the required tools to their users.

Tool interoperability allows to connect remote tools inside LMS environment, keeping them contextualized by the courses or activities from they are called. There were some attempts like IMS-TI (IMS Tool Interoperability) or Campus Project, but it was not until the emergence of IMS LTI  1.0 (IMS Learning Tool Interoperability) that TI technology became more popular.
Nowadays, you can find several examples of LMS that implement IMS LTI  like Angel, Moodle, BlackBoard, D2L, etc. Many of these LMS, in addition to consuming LTI tools are also able to provide their own tools to the rest of LMS through IMS LTI.  We can find multiple scenarios like a teacher using Sakai with Moolde tools and viceversa; Moodle consuming a tool from a payment service like Piazza, etc.

Now, I will guide you about how integrate Wordpress into Sakai using LTI. Wordpress is an open blog platform that can be installed or used as a hosted service. Blog functions are not related to pure pedagogical uses, but the need of keeping students involved in the course building process, made these tools to take active part on LMS's live.
Although many LMS already have their own blog tool, they don't provide as features as a dedicated blog products like Wordpress offers. Thanks to LTI and the Wordpress connector developed by  +Chuck Severance and subsequently improved by people of Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), we can enjoy a Wordpress space for each Sakai site.

The following guide will take you through the necessary steps to install and connect a Wordpress in your institution's Sakai.

Previous requirements

Before installing Wordpress you need:
  • Apache Web Server 2.2 or above
  • PHP 5.2.4 or above.
  • MySQL 5.0 or above.
    Download Wordpress from its web page:

    Also, you must download the LTI Wordpress plugin:

    Install and configure Wordpress

    You must follow the "Famous 5-Minute Install" instructions at to install and configure Wordpress.

    After that, you should activate the Wordpress multisite feature. Open the wp-config.php and set up the variable WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE to true, just before the stop editing mark.

    You should have something like that:
    /* Multisite */
    define('WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE', true); 
    /* That's all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */

    If you did it well, you will find a new item called "Network setup", on the "Tools" section on the left-hand navigation menu.

    If you go to this section, you will see the available options to setup your Wordpress as multisite (directories or domains). Let's use directories mode.

    If you press on "Install" button, you will see the configuration files paths you should update to enable this feature. Remember to grant the privileges again to apache user on these files.

    Maybe, you should set up the main Apache configuration file to allow overriding site behaviours through .htaccess files.

        # AllowOverride controls what directives may be placed in .htaccess files.
        # It can be "All", "None", or any combination of the keywords:
        #   Options FileInfo AuthConfig Limit
        AllowOverride All

    Once finished, you will see a new item "Network settings".

    If it didn't work for you, you should consider taking a look at the following instructions:

    Install lti plugin

    Unzip the content of the LTI plugin package into "plugins" directory on Wordpress. Remember to grant privileges on these files. Then, on the "Network Admin Dashboard" -> "Settings", you will find a new section called "LTI consumer keys".

    You should specify here a new key to be used on Sakai Basic LTI consumer tool.  For instance, you can use:
    • Consumer key: my-sakai.consumer.key
    • Secret: my-sakai-secret
    Check the 'active' option, before saving.

    Connect Sakai to wordpress

    If you are 'maintain' or 'Instructor' of a Sakai site, you are able to set up a tool instance on that site that connects to an external tool. You can do it going to "Site Info"-> "Edit Tools" and checking "External Tool". Now, press "Continue" and  write a name for that tool.Press "Continue"  and "Save" on the confirmation screen. 

    Now, you will see a new page on your site. Go there and press the edit icon on the top-right corner  to set up the tool.

    Provide the parameters:
    • Remote Tool Url: Your Wordpress url  (
    • Remote Tool Key: my-sakai.consumer.key
    •   my-sakai-secret
    Also, check the options:
    • Send Names to the External Tool
    • Open in a new window (Optional)
    Now, you can see a new Wordpress site for that Sakai site, and its members can publish posts on it.

    If you want to show Wordpress site on the same frame of the tool, you should uncheck the "Open in a new window" option  on Sakai LTI tool, and install the "Allow From X-Frame-Options" plugin on Wordpress. You can get it at

    Copy the content of that zip on the "plugins" directory of your Wordpress and activate it for all Sites going to "Network Admin" Dashboard -> "Plugins" (left menu) -> "Installed plugins" , and press "Networt activate" link option of that plugin.


    I really recommend you to take a look at the following sites to understand better all the process:


    Thursday, January 3, 2013

    Are MOOCs just a fad?

    Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platforms have burst into the lives of millions of people.  The concept was born in 2008 by Dave Cormier and Bryan Alexander inspirated by the course "Connectivism and Connective Knowledge" designed by George Siemens. But the true impact came in the fall of 2011 with the "Artificial Intelligence" course offered by Stanford University. Since then millions of people have received courses in any of the platforms that have emerged (coursera, udacity, edX,...). Now, the burning questions that people ask are: What is the pedagogical value of this course? Are we simply dealing with a fad like already happened with Open Course Ware (OCW)? There are already a lot of responses and formed opinions, but I will give you my own.

    I don't see MOOCs like a fad. I see that more like a normal, necessary and inevitable step to the new learning model.
    In my opinion, the really interesting thing of MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is not in these four words, but in the way courses are being implemented within these containers.

    Based on my little experience (I have followed two courses and snooped around two more), these courses have supported in learning methodologies based on the collaboration of the participants. It is undeniable that the development of that courses are still guided by the content and its structure, but its success doesn't lies here.

    In these learning spaces, I see the teacher like the captain of a ship, in which participants do not have the role of passengers but are the boat itself. The teacher must manage and take advantage of all this participation (which is very high due to its massive and open nature) to make the experience awesome.

    The success of these platform, is due to several reasons. On the one hand we find that these courses are made by elite universities not accessible to everyone. Receiving lessons  from the best teachers in the world is an opportunity that nobody wants to miss. We must remember also that in many countries the access to the studies is hard to get for different reasons. The gratuity of MOOCs have made it accessible to many people.

    On the other hand, we can observe the MOOC use as a way to continue training once you have finished your official academic studies. A revealing fact is that the audience aged between 25 and 35 years old is the most present in some of these courses. That detail confirms the need by people that has already completed his formal training, but even are building and maturing their job profile.

    Current LMS platforms such Sakai CLE, Moodle, BB or D2L can leverage this feedback to improve its model. It should not only include  performance improvements, but also to give more importance to the tools that allow the student take more responsibility on the course development, allowing them to translate videos, share notes, create study groups, designate advanced students as consultants or even build the course goals and content. In the close future we'll see how this new eLearning paradigm merges with the reality of social networks. A very promising project is Sakai OAE. I will talk about it on my future posts.

    If you want to know more about MOOCs and its future I really recommend you