Sakai: A Virtual Research Environment for Social Science

A Development and Research Project at CARET, University of Cambridge


This two year project is funded under the JISC Virtual Research Environments Programme and is an Associated Project of the ESRC Teaching and Learning Research Programme.

Project Context

The Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies (CARET) at the University of Cambridge has been exploring the use of web-based online collaboration tools to support distributed research groups since 2000. In 2002 it deployed CamCommunities, an open-source community system (OpenACS) with a portal layer developed for MIT Sloan Business School (.LRN), for use on campus.

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At the same time, it was recognised that the functional overlap between this collaboration environment and the Course Management Systems we host (CourseWork from Stanford and BlackBoard) was sufficient that a common platform would be desirable. We had been tracking the CHEF project as a candidate platform when the Sakai Project was announced. Since Sakai offers support for research communities alongside course management, CARET joined the partner program. CARET also participates in JISC, NCeSS and other international efforts to advance the concept of the Virtual Research Environment.

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These activities complement other work with the ESRC Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP), who have been provided with online collaboration tools and a DSpace digital repository to promote data sharing and research dissemination. Because the programme has a major focus on ‘user engagement’ with the projects and their outputs, a new tool has been developed to dynamically create ‘interest-based’ or ‘themed’ web content using RDF metadata generated via the DSpace OAI-PMH interface.

Main Project Aims

The JISC VRE project involves the provision and support of the Sakai platform for large, distributed social sciences research projects within the Teaching and Learning Research Programme. The first focus of the project is on activities to investigate the needs of the TLRP researchers and to evaluate the extent to which Sakai meets those needs. We will work with other projects in this programme and elsewhere to track new tool development and to assess the utility of these new tools for the social sciences researchers across the TLRP. The second focus is development activity informed by the research and evaluation activities involving the TLRP researchers.

By the end of the project, we expect to have shared with the UK HE research community a detailed analysis of how the collaboration (and other) tools of the Sakai project can support and enhance collaborative research projects in the social sciences. CARET intends to share and embed best practice and will sustain the support environment for at least the life of the TLRP programme (to 2008) and expects to be vigorously active in building on the results of the project. We believe this programme will lead to a shared research support environment and we expect to be active in using and supporting that development.


For general information about the project contact John Norman, the Project Director. For information about the research and evaluation elements of the project, contact Patrick Carmichael and for enquiries about TLRP project use of the VRE, contact Richard Procter.