Forum OpenACS Q&A: OpenACES

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Posted by Alfred Essa on
Because of generous support by Philip Greenspun and the dedicated
work of Caroline Meeks, we at MIT's Sloan School of Management have
been using ACES quite successfuly to support administration,
instruction, and research. We are planning to add more functionality
and hope for convergences with other initiatives at MIT. We are
currently exploring funding a port of ACES to OpenACS 4.0. From a
functional perspective we think that we are getting close to
a "killer" elearning application. If OpenACES were to be come
available, what interest would there be in the developer community to
build around it?
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2: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Charlie Black on
There would be massive support. Learning is relevant to every organization. Additionally most high schools don't have a Oracle site license. Not that you need it, but MIT would also receive much goodwill.
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3: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Don Baccus on
Well...you already know this, but Furfly and Otter Group (if Michael and Kathleen don't mind my speaking out of turn) would love to see ACES on OpenACS 4.x.

In my case, it's not so much the business opportunity as the desire to  see this kind of technology made available to whoever wants it that drives me, personally (and here I am *only* speaking for myself).  That's why, after all, I spend so much time as a volunteer on this project.  If I weren't so damned stubborn I'd just work for money.

Of course, I also am currently making my living doing ACS-based (and ACES-based) consulting work, but I view this as the means by which I finance my OpenACS work.  Not that I'm seeking poverty or live an impoverished lifestyle.  It's just that I adjust my lifestyle to my actual needs so I can do whatever I can to make this (OpenACS) project  a success.  And making a top-notch extremely affordable e-learning solution available fits my personal agenda like a glove.

The nice thing about 4.x, when it is fixed (and indeed it does need fixing, and at the datamodel level at least aD and OpenACS are talking  about working together) is that the kind of ACES vs. "regular" ACS split doesn't need to happen.  ACES should be implementable as an overlay of packages that live on top of a standard OpenACS 4.x release.  This means that Sloan can leverage improvements by the OpenACS crew because they'll appear automatically in an ACES port (i.e. if the foundation's strengthened for OpenACS, that foundation becomes part of ACES 4.x).  Likewise, the community can retrofit ACES improvement into the OpenACS core if they're of a generalized nature (i.e. admin UI type stuff, vs. specific application-oriented changes or packages).

And we can always host ACES add-on packages and support them in the same was that we hope to host and support other add-on packages.  This  is something aD did right - in principle, at least.  Packages can be developed independently much more easily than was possible in ACS 3.4x, even though that version represented a half-step in the right direction.

So I think this has the opportunity to become a win-win as this community grows and matures.  I think our growing community here sees a similar win-win scenario, as many of us do ACS-based consulting work  and gathering our improvements and bug-fixes under one roof helps all  of us.  If I fix a bug, it isn't simply altruism at work - someone will save money because of it, and they might take that savings (money is time!) and fix bugs that save me (or my clients, making me more competitive) money.  That's the coolness factor of what we're up to.

So I don't think the issue need become "build around ACES" vs. "build around vanilla ACS 4.x" because the aD design for 4.x was to make such customization doable in ways that don't require kicking the heck out of the original code to such an extend.

I think the issue is more one of "can the OpenACS crew complete the 4.x design so it truly meets the original goals set by aD, including scalability, or not?"

If we can, your question becomes moot in a sense because the implicit choice between developing for ACES or for standard OpenACS 4.x isn't a  requirement.  The question becomes more one of packaging and providing informal and formal community support for an ACES suite of packages.  I can't imagine that such support wouldn't be forthcoming.
Certainly any organization trying to use the technology would be more than welcome to ask questions, pick our brains, search our archives, etc for answers to tech support questions they might have.

If we can't ... well, I'm self-confident and we have a bunch of very good people helping out here.  We will...

Oh - and before I forget, thanks for posting here, Al.  It's great to see a non-hacker USER here.  I'd love to see our community set up tools, forums being one possiblity,  for the less technical users of the toolkit to come for help, exchange of ideas, etc.

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4: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Rafael Calvo on
Al,

I am a lecturer in e-commerce at the University of Sydney. I plan to have some thesis students working on OpenACS next semester and some of the projects will be working around ACES.

We would be happy to collaborate in this as well as in other OpenACS modules. Since I am also in a University, having an open source "killer" elearning application is of major importance.

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5: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by David Kuczek on
Hello Al,

I really believe in a bright future of OpenACS and OpenACES, otherwise I wouldn't have spend that much time asking questions on this bboard. At this point I wanted to mention that although I never experienced a virtual open source community before, I somehow feel at home here. Thanks everybody.

The focus of our company in Germany is Knowledge Management and eLearning (or whatever PR people would call this effort to get knowledge to the right people at the right time) for students.

We will, with a lot of pleasure, contribute to making OpenACES a killer-application for learning on the net.

P.S. Thanks for the quick return email yesterday...

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6: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Michael Feldstein on
Responding specifically to Don's idea of setting up forums for non-hackers to contribute, I think the ACES project could be a perfect pilot for such a community effort. I know, for example, that GEN (Global Education Network)1 is a fairly large online community of educators that is very much interested in an Open Source eLearning platform. These are folks who are thinking hard about what they want in a platform and in some cases are pouring resources into it. I know one guy over there has done quite a lot of work on top of Zope, for example. I think these folks would be thrilled to join a conversation about ACES, particularly if it meant that they could get in contact with developers who could help them.

1 http://vu.cs.sfu.ca/vu/tlnce/PublicReg/PR_Register.cgi

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7: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Malte Sussdorff on
Hello Al,

from over here (Germany/Switzerland) you got your support and definitve interest. My students in Hamburg will start with ACES 2.0 end of May, using it for the Business department of our university, while fixing some bugs.

The University of applied science in Basles (Switzerland) is investigating in using ACES for their needs, but are a little bit frustrated about some bugs (which I hopefully can fix ;-). If this works out they want to spread their experience with the system to the rest of northeast switzerland (though they are fighting against a lotus notes based solution).

Taking in account that multilinguality is supported more strongly with an ACS 4.x based design, we'd love to work with an OpenACS 4.x education package. Furthermore we'd contribute our experience concerning different structures in other countries' universities as well as different language and localization (e.g., calendar needs to be rewritten, as the format is different in different countries).

Hopefully David K. and his crew can collaborate with us on that front.

As a sidenote, I'm giving some lectures concerning KM Systems. I'd love to see some of the requirements enabled in OpenACS 4.x and working together with the education package. Will translate my material to english if there is interest.

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8: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Don Baccus on
Malte - I think it's safe to say there'd be interest...
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9: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Peter Vessenes on
Al,

We're just finishing up a round of redesign on ACES to make it look nicer, and add some more functionality. (For instance, we've added testing which competes nicely with blackboard.com's testing, minus a few features.)

Do you want to come by for a demo? We're in Cambridge. Anyone else would be welcome, as well.. Otter group, obviously, as well as openACS folks.

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10: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Michael Feldstein on
If ACES gets ported to OpenACS 4.x, I would gladly put together a developer event outlining the potential markets for OpenACES, suggesting strategies for how to reach those markets and sell to them, and describing the functionality of competing (Open and closed source) education solutions. The goal would be to help you build businesses around OpenACES development.
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11: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Caroline Meeks on
Hi All,

I'm certainly all for ACES moving forward!!  Scott and I are currently modifiying ACES(3.4) (I'll use ACES 3.4 to designate ACES based on ACS 3.4) to create an extranet for HydroSki. We will probably have a new wimpy point package in a month or so, it would be nice to have a place to share it.

I think ACES has application well beyond educational communities. It is esencaily the next iteration of ACS 3.4 with an automated setup and all of the modules that are used separated out as packages.  It is a usefull platform for rapid development for any system where the members are in multiple different groups and you want a flexible portal user interface.

While I was at AD I worked closely with Mike B on the intranet team. In a fully developed 4.0 there would be little need for a separate education system it would just be a specific configuration of intranet.

However, since 4.0 intranet and modules are not yet done in any form what we have in ACES 3.4 is probably the most complete ACS functionality. Yes there are lots of reasons to move to 4.0 but there are also a lot of sites that can be developed quickly using ACES3.4 as a base. I would like to see an ACES specific forum on openACS as well as a CVS repository for the 3.4 oracle version, SDM and a repository where we could post newly developed or tweeked packages.

Peter, I would love a demo, hopefully before we move to RI on May 15. Is your code opensource?

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12: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Kathleen Gilroy on
I would be happy to join Caroline and others for the ybos demo
of the testing feature.
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13: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Rocael Hernández Rizzardini on
Hi all!
well, we are currently working a lot with the ACES, I see that it has a brilliant future.
At Viaro.net we will be very happy to work with all the interested people in the porting of ACES3.4 to postgres, and then porting it to OPENACS 4.x. if its necessary (Caroline says that is just about configuration).
I agree pretty much with what Caroline says about all the things that you can do with the ACES, not just for education, because its the best way to see (at least for us) all the power of the ACS in a portal system.

Peter, there is a way to check it out your version of ACES by the internet (we can't go personally there), and is your code open source? ;)

Caroline, the new wimpy point will be open source?

Malte, please translate your material!, also, we just started working in a desing of a tool to translate the ACES to spanish, but it should work with whatever language. So we need to get organized around this.

Michael, I'm agree with you, it will be neccesary to have a community of educators (bboard), the real people who can test it! And like you said, there is a lot of real inmediate potencial markets, we have been doing some marketing on ACES for real work, so we can share our experience with the community.

I would like to ask something else to the community:

As you can see, the ACES is a very important tool, so wich should be the first step to get organized in the development of new open source features for the ACES and the porting to postgres?
at least a forum for the begining...
Don, I would like to hear your answer...

My suggestions is not wait for ACS 4.x, as Caroline said, ACES now its a real complete tool for today use!

bye,
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14: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Mischa Schaub on
Hi All
I was very happy to hear such good news, namely, that there still seems to be such a strong community around for ACES. As Malte did describe, over here in our university in Basel / Switzerland there are great hopes to win a rather heavy fight against the Lotus Notes fraction through the convincing help of ACES. So please, do not let me alone in this, otherwise we all might weep for the next years in our university, to have missed a very bright future with the most promising platform around. By the way: what's the best, central, essential and overwhelming killerargument for ACES compared to NOTES?

Mischa Schaub
Head of Department HyperWerk
University of applied Sciences Basel FHBB
Switzerland
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15: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Kathleen Gilroy on
Caroline,

Has anyone talked to Devlogics recently about the use of ACES
in India?  The last time we talked they were working on adoption
at one of the Indian universities.  It would be great to hear from
them.

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16: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Rich Graves on
I'm very interested in meeting other people in the area interested in ACES; I can drop by MIT, Ybos, or host here. It'd have to be before May 17th since I'm taking a 3-week vacation.

Some people (well, one person, the only one who currently counts) are very committed to WebCT, but those of us who have to support it would rather not.

We hired Ybos to help with the initial launch of http://samantha.unet.brandeis.edu/ a while back. I don't think I have any funding to do that again but I do have two good student programmers experienced with the toolkit.

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17: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Rich Graves on
Oh, the thing I don't like about ACES is how closed it is. A login is strictly required to see anything. The older http://6916.lcs.mit.edu/ is much more inviting than http://sloanspace.mit.edu/

I'd definitely want syllabi and probably course calendar to be public.

As the aD soap opera continues, I've been looking at other packages as well... such as http://www.cnavsystems.com
which appears to be more of a series of Gettysburg-specific hacks and vaporware than a "product," but it has some interesting ideas, such as allowing students to create accounts for their parents, and decide what they're allowed to see. ACS usually assumes that everyone's an adult who wants their participation in the community to be public.

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18: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Dirk Gomez on
Mischa,

OpenACS is free and open source. To me this sounds way more
university-compliant than an expensive pre-packaged and closed
solution (though I suspect that Notes will be free for universities).

There's no reason why universities should support the evils of closed
software ;)

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19: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Michael Feldstein on
If I were you, Mischa, I would focus on the specific functionality and user interface as it pertains to online learning. Comparing ACES to Notes, by itself, is not a fair comparison. ACES is really designed to be an education-specific solution (although it may have wider applications), while Notes is general-purpose groupware. You have to look at the specific functionality and UI of the customized Notes app you'll be competing against.
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20: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Michael Olan on
When I directed a WebCT enthusiast at the college where I teach to the ASJ article on ACES he was very impressed & excited. We plan to install & experiment with it soon.

I myself would be glad to get involved in the Open efforts of this project.

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21: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Michael Feldstein on
Speaking of WebCT (and other potential competitors), here are a
couple of links that can give us some context for the
development effort:

Online Educational Delivery Applications: A Web Tool for
Comparative Analysis
http://www.c2t2.ca/landonline/evalapps.asp

A Framework for Pedagogical Evaluation of Virtual Learning
Environments
http://www.jtap.ac.uk/reports/htm/jtap-041.html

Also note that there are a number of threads on these boards
which show a very strong synergy between a potential
OpenACES port and the goals of the broader OpenACS
community:

https://openacs.org/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=0001WI&topic_id=11&topic=OpenACS

https://openacs.org/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=0001aI&topic_id=12&topic=OpenACS%204%2e0%20Design

https://openacs.org/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=0001ZO&topic_id=12&topic=OpenACS%204%2e0%20Design

https://openacs.org/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=0001Zu&topic_id=12&topic=OpenACS%204%2e0%20Design

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22: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Alfred Essa on
I want to thank everyone for their responses to my question. I will be recommending to our Dean that MIT Sloan fund the port of ACES to OpenACS. I expect that it will be approved shortly.
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23: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Malte Sussdorff on
Out of curiosity, where do I post bugfixes for ACES? I mean, it is nice to have them on my disk, but I'd like to send them back. Furthermore, what is the best way to keep a sync between fixes in the ACES and the german version of it ?

Explanation: We have ACES out of the repository running at our server. Now we stumble around the occasional bug, fix it in the english version. Starting next month we will translate part of the codebase into German. Now, how do we integrate functional changes and bugfixes in the English version into our german one {that could be solved by runnig cvs diff on the english version to see what changed in the last month, and then incorporating those changes, as needed). ANd more importantly how do we bring those changes back (while not keeping an english, cvs@arsdigita checkout version running on the system).

But maybe it doesn't matter anyhow, as noone is working on ACES 2.0, and everyone is eager to get their hands on OpenACES 4.x.

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24: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Tzu-Mainn Chen on
Hi Malte,

If you send me the fixes, I'll try and make sure that they make it into the ACES CVS repository.

Thanks,

Tzu-Mainn Chen

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25: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Allan Regenbaum on
We have integrated wimpypoint with simple survey to the extent that we can link questions back to Wimpypoint slides, and also the ability to batch wimpypoints to create multi module courses.  I have an interest in getting a version of ACES which applies to K-12 schools...  I think there is a huge need in that area. In this vein I would offer any of our available programming resources at our cost price to such a project. (We use experienced offshore ACS programmers so this would be pretty cost effective. Our people have good experience in acs/openacs 3.x and 4.x classic )
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26: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by Michael Williams on
I am currently experimenting with OpenACS and the education module in my school district ( http://www.haywood.k12.nc.us ) and trying to set up same for ( http://www.k12linux.org ). Would love to see OpenACES become available.
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27: Response to OpenACES (response to 1)
Posted by David Kuczek on
Hello Michael,

I don't know when the ACES will be out exactly, but Don said that the community won't wait much longer...