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October 21, 2006

Identity management and Learning 2.0

Plasticflowerscropped_1 David Recordon of Verisign has uploaded his Enabling Digital Identity slides (PDF) for the 2006 DC PHP Conference to the OpenID Web site.  The slides are largely about OpenID, but there's some contextual information about the wider identity landscape which is very helpful - making the audio of David's presentation available as well would be even better (hint, hint!).

I realise that I've mentioned OpenID in a couple of recent posts, so it probably looks like I'm pushing it as a solution.  The truth is that I don't think I understand the issues well enough to really comment yet.  But I do think it is an interesting development - and it's interesting because it helps to highlight some aspects of the transition that the UK academic community is currently making in terms of access and identity management.

Think back 10 or 12 years or whatever it was.  The university community had a pressing need for single sign-on (in some shape or form) to the growing number of external information resources being made available on-line.  The chosen solution was Athens.  Now, I defy anyone to argue that Athens has not been hugely beneficial to the UK higher and further education community and beyond in the intervening years as an enabler of access to content.  And it remains so.  Yet it was a completely centralised solution.  At the time, there was probably no real architectural alternative for practical reasons.  As a community, the JISC took centralised responsibility for our access and identity management needs (at least as far as access to external bibliographic and related resources was concerned) and sub-contracted the delivery of a solution to Eduserv (or one of its previous incarnations) in the form of Athens.

Over the last few years we have seen the beginnings of a more distributed approach by enabling integration between Athens and institutional identity solutions (LDAP directories or whatever) in the form of AthensDA.  More fundamentally, we are now seeing concerted attempts to move UK educational communities to a federated access management approach, through the use of SAML-based technologies (Shibboleth) and the UK Access Management Federation for Education and Research.  In short, we are seeing a transition from centralised to federated, with UK academic institutions taking responsibility for the delivery of their member's public identities.

But what of 5 or 10 years time?  Well, it seems to me that strategically the current federated situation is just a stepping stone on the road to a completely devolved identity landscape.  On-line identity will become an individual's responsibility and we will see a corresponding shift from a federated to an individualised approach.  Expecting students to turn up at a university in 10 years time and be told that they've got to use the identity provided by their institution will be as anachronistic as expecting today's students to turn up and use their institutional email account.  (OK, universities might still just about get away with mandating use of their email accounts - but surely not for much longer?).  Students (and staff) will expect (perhaps even demand?) to be able to use the same on-line identity that they use for everything else - the one they used at school and elsewhere before going to university and the one that they will use afterwards.  Academic institutions will be users of identity services, but they will not be identity providers.

This was brought home to me very clearly in the paper that Scott Wilson mentioned in his blog some time back.  It's a paper that looks at the notion of personal learning environments and is one that is well worth reading.  The paper considers the use of Web 2.0 social tools as a way of supporting learning in what has come to be known as Learning 2.0.  As I read that paper I couldn't help but ask myself, "How does Shibboleth help enable this kind of environment?".  I'm not sure that it does?

Image: Flowers in a gite in Pontivy, France (post-processed using something or other by Stan, my youngest son). [July 2006]


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» Identity Management and Learning 2.0 from Overdue Ideas
I think that you could argue (if you wanted to play Devil's Advocate, or are particularly partial to arguing) that Athens has actually been a bad thing in that it has been too effective, and actually held back investment in [Read More]

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Ive spoken on a number of occasions, in my role as a member of the LITA Top Tech Trends body, in my work with the University System of Maryland and Affiliated Institutions Library Consortium, and at CNI, about the need for libraries, particularl... [Read More]


Yeah, I'd love to do a recorded presentation though have never had the ability to do so. Maybe sometime in the future.


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