[Deploying Sakai] Requesting Help In Copying Courses from One Semester to Another (without breaking links)

Valenti, Andrew P. Andrew.Valenti at tufts.edu
Fri Jan 6 11:30:09 PST 2012

Hi Sakai Colleagues!

Happy New Year!

I am writing to solicit ideas, suggestions, and solutions to problems that occur when links to tools & content in one course site are created using the Import from Site tool to bring content into a new course site.

The Problem
In the Tufts instance of rSmart Sakai CLE 2.7 (which we call Trunk), we do not use Sakai Course Management.  A new course is created each semester, automatically triggered by the appropriate SIS information; under our course management process, course shells are not reused from semester to semester.  In some schools, it is a common practice that instructors create a syllabus using an HTML page in which they insert links to their course materials using the FCK editor and these links will be "absolute" meaning they point to the resources contained in the original course site.  The first time the course is created there's no problem as the instructor/site owner has permission to access them.   Let's suppose that in a subsequent semester a new instance of the course is created and the instructor decides to populate it  using the Import from Site tool.  If the instructor selects the check box for importing Resources (along with whatever else is needed), the tool will bring in the syllabus and the course materials.  If no further action is taken to modify the links that are in the copied syllabus, the following will happen.

To the instructor clicking on a link in the copied syllabus, the instructor is able to access the content and everything appears to be working.  To a student, confronted by an HTTP access error message, the links appear "broken";  what has happened?  The "absolute" link in the copied syllabus points to the course material in the instructor's original course site for which the student does not have permission to access.  Thus, the instructor can see it but not the student.  Interestingly, the course material copied from the original site is "orphaned" with no links pointing to it.  Emerging from discussions with our internal support team and our Sakai vendor, rSmart, were three alternatives:

Option 1 - Use a non-production site as a Sakai "content repository"

a.       Create a root site that serves as a content repository and make the content "public".
b.      In the original course design, ensure that the syllabus uses links pointing to the desired content in the repository site
c.       When the course is copied over, the links in the syllabus will work because they correctly point to content that has been made public. Since no actual course material has been copied to the new course site, there is no "orphaned" content.


  *   Instructors don't have to be aware of "relative" vs. "absolute" addressing
  *   Maintains single copy of course materials in a repository


  *   Requires thinking though an "information architecture" design for content stored in Sakai in order to oversee and maintain protection of copyrighted information
  *   Difficult to prevent multiple repository sites from proliferating which adds to content management woes
*         Ultimately, we'd like content to be stored in a repository outside of Sakai which will allow us to provide more sophisticated content management services such as, access control, capacity planning, and more sophisticated search capabilities

Option 2 - Copy content/fix addressing

  1.  Change the FCK editor so that the instructor creates "relative" links to course material when initially creating the syllabus.
  2.  When the course is copied using the Import from Site tool, the relative links correctly point to the course material copied into the new site.


  *   Material is kept in course sites which simplifies the management of copyrighted information
  *   Doesn't require instructors to be too aware of "relative" vs. "absolute" address and doesn't require them to set up a non-production repository site.


  *   Changing a pervasive tool such as the FCK editor can have unintended consequences which even thorough testing may not surface.  It also creates a fork in the application code tree that we'd have to maintain.
  *   Course material is duplicated from site to site, gradually consuming file storage
  *   Moving to an external content repository will be require scooping up information from individual sites

Option 3 - Use Duplicate Site tool


  *   The tool maintains the proper link addressing and might be the simplest solution.


  *   In our current design, the duplicates sites would not be automatically populated from our feed.  We'd have to undertake a manual process to populate them with the roster.
  *   Currently instructors don't have access to this tool. We'd need to think through this workflow.
  *   Continues the duplication of course material.

Why we need your help
Each solution has advantages and disadvantages which might be balanced differently based on an institution's LMS strategy and course management process.  Since the course duplication seems like it would be a fairly common process across the higher education Sakai community, we'd like to know what approach your institution has taken to populate new instances of a course and how you've overcome the aforementioned problems.  If there are additional options that we've not identified, we'd certainly like to hear about them!

Thanks in advance for the time you've taken to help a fellow peer institution!



Andy Valenti, MSc., PMP
LMS Project Manager
Educational & Scholarly Technology Services
University Information Technology (UIT)
Tufts University
108 Bromfield Road
Somerville, MA 02144

Tel 617.627.3814
Email andrew.valenti at tufts.edu

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