Apereo Foundation Strategic Planning - Draft For Consultation (2018)

Last Revised 3rd June 2018



Apereo, founded in 2013 to help educational institutions “collaborate to foster, develop and sustain open technologies and innovation to support learning, teaching, and research,” is five years old. After a period of consolidation and the growth in numbers and adoptions of Apereo software communities, it is appropriate that the Apereo community takes stock and orients itself to face the coming period. The Apereo Board is therefore issuing this short document on the strategic orientation of the Foundation as a draft for community consultation. It is intended that this consultation will culminate at Open Apereo 2018 in Montreal, and that the document will inform and guide Foundation direction for two years.


The Higher Education Context

Recent surveys of students, faculty and institutional IT leadership by EDUCAUSE, a US based non-profit organization which seeks to advance higher education through the use of information technology, provide a useful snapshot of the sector in North America, with several salient findings having global validity and direct relevance to open source software communities. Even a brief skim over the surface of the findings provides a picture many in the Apereo community will recognize:


Concerns around the affordability of higher education remain prominent amongst institutional IT leaders, and are acting to limit available resources. This is coupled with a desire to transform service delivery to enhance the student experience and contribute to the development of a student centered institution. Analytics and big data techniques are seen as a critical element in this transformation, supporting both business intelligence at an institutional level, and learning analytics as a path to student success. The latter theme is picked up strongly in the ECAR (EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research) student survey, undergraduate students being “overwhelmingly pleased” with the availability of early alert tools, despite the fact that the parallel ECAR faculty survey reports that many faculty do not use those tools. Lecture capture topped the “want more use” list in the ECAR student survey, and both students and faculty surveys raised significant issues with available Learning Management Systems. Student satisfaction with the LMS drops as sophistication of use rises; in other words, there is greater satisfaction with the basic features of an LMS, and less satisfaction with more complex uses. The Faculty survey reports, somewhat startlingly in what is generally regarded as a period of LMS market instability, that ‘The LMS that is implemented at an institution has little impact on faculty members’ use of it or their satisfaction with that use’. Both these points feed the extended conversation EDUCAUSE initiated almost three years ago around the nature of the “Next Generation Digital Learning Environment”. 


There are several notable omissions in the EDUCAUSE survey results. Above campus or cloud provision is not a particularly prominent issue – this is perhaps the result of normalisation – although it is implicitly raised around IT staffing and organisational models in the IT Leaders survey. Similarly, whilst information security and effective data management in general are prominent in the results of that survey, there is little mention of data privacy specifically – a major issue in Europe and other parts of the world. This may be a facet of geography and the timing of the survey, but the application of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to all entities seeking to provide services in the EU is likely to raise the profile of privacy, management of consent, and provision of a reasonable effort to ensure meaningful consent of users whose data is subject to processing.


Education and Open Source Software

Against this backdrop, the relevance of open source software – and its adoption in higher education – is thrown into sharp relief. There are obvious connections, for example, between Opencast, an Apereo lecture capture and media management suite used at scale in one of the largest lecture capture and distribution efforts in higher education  http://www.opencast.org/users/adopter-highlight-university-of-manchester, and the reported student desire for more widespread lecture capture. Several institutions that use uPortal are experimenting with the use of a flexible portal framework to deliver student centered services. Elements of the Apereo analytics stack, although still in incubation, are being deployed as part of a national service in the UK, and are serving several large deployments in the US. Sakai, the Open Academic Environment, ELMS:LN and Tsugi – together with other Apereo sponsored tools such as Xerte, Opencast and Karuta – are directly relevant to the extended conversation around the “Next Generation Digital Learning Environment”. This list is not exhaustive; all Apereo sponsored software is designed to meet an educational need, because it designed and built by education, for education. 


Above all, open source software speaks to issues surrounding affordability, cost, capacity, and control in education. This is just as true today as when Apereo was formed. Open source software is not free from cost, but whether deployed locally, or at an above-campus level, it is free from license cost, allowing institutions to focus resources on retaining the capacity and control required to shape their own destiny. There are other approaches to cost-saving. The term “cloud first” is often applied to a strategic approach which seeks to lower costs by exploiting scale as part of an outsourced offering. Others https://www.informationweek.com/cloud/is-a--cloud-first--approach-right-for-your-organization/a/d-id/1328565? have commented on how easily this approach becomes distorted into “cloud only”, acting to reduce choice and limit the creation of flexibly architected solutions. Those who seek to retain flexibility and choice have often made the distinction between “core” and “chore” services; “chore” being largely generic services that are not specifically adapted to meet and educational need, and “core” being those services which lie close to the heart of the academic mission. As we enter a period of likely significant change in core, mission-related services such as those represented by the LMS/VLE, agility, flexibility and rapid iteration may be required. A “cloud only” strategy, against this backdrop, may be a significantly limiting factor. As the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment is brought into being, “cloud only” approaches are likely, in consequence, to be rebalanced towards more flexible approaches. Collaboratively produced - and possibly collaboratively deployed - open source software, capable of cloud or local deployment, offers value in terms of flexibility and retention of institutional capacity andchoice


Developing Apereo: Strategic Themes

In setting out a series of strategic themes and objectives, the Apereo Board of Directors wishes to make clear that these themes are generalised from experience and research, and apply to the organization as a whole. They are not intended as a prescriptive instruction set for constituent Apereo Software Communities, but rather a series of proposals for refining and improving the services Apereo provides for its members and those communities, in the spirit and letter of the Apereo mission, to help organisations “collaborate to foster, develop and sustain open technologies and innovation to support learning, teaching, and research”. Apereo is a voluntary association of institutions and software communities – a network within a larger network – rather than a “top down” hierarchical organisation. The Board frames these proposals in the spirit of enhancing collaboration, and offers them as an initial draft for consideration and comment by the broad Apereo community. Encouraging voluntary community participation is a key to effective development of all elements of this strategy.


1. Membership, Financial Health and Fundraising 

Apereo is a membership organisation, and relies to a very large extent on member dues to support the services it offers. Having established itself as an international, community-driven organisation, In 2018 Apereo will focus on recruiting adopters of Apereo software and other educational and commercial organisations into an expanded foundation membership. At the same time, Apereo will continue to encourage and support constituent software communities as they consider fundraising via the supporting subscription mechanism, and other approaches. Both these strands of work will demonstrate cognisance of the differing financial contexts of the geographical areas in which Apereo operates, and seeks to grow into. 


 2. Partnerships

Apereo is both a networked and a networking organisation. Existing partners include ESUP-Portail in France, a consortium representing 80% of French Higher Education, the LAMP Consortium, representing a collaboration of some seventeen smaller institutions in the US and one in Costa Rica, and PESC, a standards organisation that sponsors the EdExchange incubating project. Apereo will continue to seek partnerships with organisations with missions that overlap its own, or are complimentary. We will act to promote LAMP as a solution for smaller institutions, and deepen our collaboration with ESUP-Portail, as it continues to grow the adoption of, and contribution to, an increasing range of Apereo software in France.

3. Development Opportunities and Recognition Programs

Apereo is a voluntary association of educational institutions and commercial partners, collaborating to produce great software serving education. Within that voluntary organisational commitment there are many individuals who "go the extra mile" in terms of creative uses of software, and commitment to open source. Our ATLAS (Apereo Teaching and Learning Awards) and Fellows Programs have carefully expanded from their Sakai roots to encourage participation across the Apereo community. It is appropriate that we review progress so far to encourage and resource further development, and additional strands of these activities. 2018 will also see the exploration of a series of developmental activities for Apereo community participants, beginning to unlock the potential for further sharing of expertise across the broad community.

4. Communications, Outreach and Engagement

Networking good practice remains a key to both effective communications within the broad Apereo community, and to effective outreach within the constituency Apereo seeks to serve. Working with partners where appropriate, Apereo will expand its communications efforts across five principle audience axes  - specific to role (CIO, Faculty, Learning Technologist, Student, Researcher), to interest area (specific software, theme or topic), and geographical region or country. Above-campus or cloud-based service provision, and its interaction with open source software, is a theme of specific interest that will be assigned priority in the coming year, particularly in terms of approaches taken in different parts of the world. Communications and outreach is a critical enabler of objectives around membership and financial health. In particular community members will be encouraged and equipped to represent their engagement in Apereo activities, and use of Apereo software, as they engage with other associations they are active within - EDUCAUSE, AXIES, ALT etc. The Foundation will continue to support a range of global, regional and individual software community events over the course of the coming year, seeking economies of scale by combination or linkage where appropriate, and working with partner organisations to increase effectiveness and reduce costs.


5. Software Community Health

Apereo was established as a facilitator of individual software communities, not a mechanism for their top-down control. Strands of activity such as our incubation process do much to assure adopters that new projects are viable, and have worked to meet common accepted criteria - that they have undertaken, for example, appropriate legal and licensing steps. Similar explicit and transparent criteria may be useful in persuading would-be adopters of more established software. Working with software communities, and using external reference points such as those elaborated by the Apache Foundation, Apereo will explore the potential for a light-touch framework for expressing and communicating the health of constituent software communities during the course of 2018, as a contribution to greater transparency and adoption.


6. Foundation Services & New Ideas

It is important that Apereo retains the ability to challenge accepted wisdom and groupthink, and continues to grow against the backdrop of an evolving educational landscape. 2018 will see a review of key Apereo services to support the community, together with the elaboration of a process for introducing new services and areas of activity, and reviewing - and potentially retiring old onesPromotion and growth of the open@apereo.org list as a forum for new ideas is an essential - but not the only - component of this strand of strategic development. The Apereo incubation process, an important target of the merger of Jasig and Sakai, has now been established for 3 years. Since the merger, a further initiative to effectively crowdfund additional features for existing software - FARM (Funding and Resource Management) - has also been established.  Both will be further developed over the course of 2018.


Practical plans around these themes will be develeloped in advance, in the open, to facillitate volunteer engagement.