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Dealing with COVID: 11 Tips for Sakai Admins During the Massive Move to Online

With COVID 19 emergency contingencies in place, most institutions are now offering all their classes online. So, how can you make the most of your Sakai LMS to facilitate this brave new world of remote teaching? Here are a few strategies that might help Sakai Administrators optimize the tools at hand. If you haven’t implemented these yet, there’s no time like the present!


Add a link in the Home site to your institution’s information page about pandemic response.

The Home area (formerly known as MyWorkspace) is the site where each individual user lands when they log in to the system. It is also a great place to put links to information or resources that you want all of your users to have handy. It is easy for Sakai administrators to add a custom link to this area. Placing a web link to your institution's emergency response information in Home can be an effective way to get the word out.


Add a virtual meeting tool to all of your course sites.

For classes that are accustomed to face to face meetings, using a virtual meeting tool in place of on-site instruction is usually the easiest way to rapidly adapt to a remote format. There are many different virtual meeting tools out there that integrate with Sakai, such as Zoom, Big Blue Button, Adobe Connect, Collaborate, etc.

Adding one of these virtual meeting tools to all of your courses system-wide makes it easier for faculty and students to find and use the tool. Users don’t need to worry about setting up separate accounts and pasting in room links when an LMS integration can do the heavy lifting instead. Your server administrator or hosting provider can do this in batch for all courses in a given term. This can make adding a virtual classroom to all sites practically effortless.

Consider adding the Contact Us tool to all sites as a way for users to quickly reach the appropriate help resource.

Contact Us can be configured at the system level to automatically direct messages to the appropriate contact at the institution. If it is a technical or how-to question, it goes to the email you designate for technical support. If it is a content-related question, it goes to the instructor/s or owner/s of the site. It’s a nice way to point users toward the best resource for help.

Considering all of the first-time Sakai users you may have at the moment, routing questions and support requests to the right place can increase support staff efficiency and help users get the answers they need more quickly.


Pro tip: The text on this page can be modified using the Message Bundle Manager tool if you would like to include different instructions or examples.


Enable the Statistics tool in all sites where login activity tracking is desired.

For classes where student login activity needs to be monitored, the Statistics tool provides user event data for the whole class. However, the tool only displays activity that happens after Statistics is enabled in a site. So, turning Statistics on by default is a good way to make sure that all activity is available to view.


Create a course template with the basic tools already added.

When faculty are being ushered online in a hurry, the last thing they want to do is spend time setting up a course from scratch. Sakai administrators can designate a course in the system to be used as a template for new course creation. Setting up the template site with a basic set of commonly used tools is an easy way to get new instructors up and running quickly.

Since many institutions are planning for summer, or even fall terms online, creating a course template now will save you time later.


Auto-create sites for all your courses and auto-enroll students and faculty into them.

Many institutions already do this as part of their normal procedures. However, some institutions prefer to let faculty create their own sites individually. If your institution isn’t already mass-creating sites for all courses by term, now might be the time to start. It is fairly simple to set up these automated jobs, you just need to configure Sakai to process data exported from your student information system.


Pro tip: One way to make sure that unused sites don’t cause confusion for students is to auto create all sites as “unpublished” and let faculty publish them individually as needed. Since the course is already there, and the students are already enrolled, publishing the site is as simple as clicking a single button.


Set up Sakai project sites for departments to share and distribute information.

Communication is key, particularly in times of crisis. A great use of Sakai project sites is to treat them as repositories for departments to share documents, resources, and information among faculty and staff. The communication tools in Sakai can also make it easier to reach all faculty, adjuncts, or TAs if you have everyone enrolled in a single site.


Use the PA System tool to keep people informed.

The PA System is an admin tool that is a fairly recent addition to the Sakai tool set. However, since it has only been around for a few versions, some institutions may not have tried it out yet. The PA System is perfect for alerting system users about current news and upcoming events. You can create banner or pop-up alerts in low, medium, and high priority settings.


Use Delegated Access for users who need access to all courses in a department, program, or school.

Delegated Access is another admin tool that is often overlooked by institutions unless they have a specific need to use it. It allows you to designate site access for users to a subset of the course hierarchy. For example, if you have a department chair who needs access to all courses in the Biology department, you could set up that user with Delegated Access to all courses in that department, instead of actually enrolling him in each of those individual sites.

Delegated Access also allows you to specify the role for the user when accessing sites, and tools that are restricted from viewing (e.g. the gradebook). This means that you could also use this tool to provide course access to note takers, help desk staff, or others in a student role, instructor role, admin role, or other custom role depending on what level of access is needed.


Pro Tip: You first need to set up a Hierarchy in your Sakai instance in order to use Delegated Access. Ask your support provider about how to set this up if it isn’t already configured.


Keep it simple - and encourage your users to stick to tried and true tools.

It should probably go without saying that now is not the best time to experiment. Now is a stressful time for everyone. Faculty and students unaccustomed to teaching and learning in an online environment are learning to navigate a whole new landscape. Likewise, support staff are providing services to greater numbers of users and working out of home offices. So, now is probably not the time to test out that new trick, or try a complex and different way of doing things.

Encourage your users to keep it simple, stick to familiar tools that are commonly used, and avoid edge cases. Pushing the envelope is all well and good, but during a pandemic, you probably want to keep crazy to a minimum.


Look for the silver lining.

One day soon, we will be able to look back on this world-wide health crisis and assess the impact it has had on education and society as we know it. For the time being, just remember that while our current state is only temporary, the disruption we are currently facing can be used to implement positive and lasting change. As John F. Kennedy once said,

“When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”

At the very least, the massive move to online and remote teaching is an unprecedented opportunity to introduce a whole new population of users to the LMS.



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