January 2010

Student mobility is on the raise in Europe, and the Bologna process is moving along.  Student records need to move with the students, and students need access across borders (and federations).

RS3G (Rome Student Systems and Standards Group) is “a self-established group of software implementers and stakeholders in the European Higher Education domain which is focused on contributing to the definition and adoption of standards and procedures for the exchange of data to facilitate student mobility and lifelong learning.”

Every year large numbers of students move from one institution to another, and their student records need to move with them. Today this happens on paper, which is silly given that all the information is treated electronically at both universities. The RS3G has set up a mobility project to sort out these issues and FS (student registry in Norway) is chairing the architectural work.  The basic experiences that lies at the hearth of the project is explained in a EUNIS paper Web-services for exchange of data on cooperation and mobility in  higher education institutions.

Project goals include:

  • Reduce administrative inefficiencies/problems in handling mobility data and procedures (intra-university)
  • Streamline the communication flow among partner institutions (inter-universities)
  • Interconnect universities in a international network
  • Digitize mobility documents (secure, authentic, transparent, tamper-proof)
  • Produce reliable and accessible mobility statistics (EC interest)

This work solves a concrete problem in the identity layer today, but a solution will also put us one step closer to solving the provisioning issues, and it may help on the overall person-information flow that we have started work on with the standardization effort on PIFU (NS-4170). Our goal is to make integration of systems easier, by working on interfaces for data exchange.

January is the month for reporting on last year, and the biggest change in the way I used Internet last year was the headset.  I never leave home without it, either a discrete white one for my cell phone, or a clunky one with a good microphone for my laptop.

Why do I bother to drag a headset around?  Because podcast and phone conversations are really important to me.  And I have started to watch video systematically, and include video search in my information searches.  When I had to stay around for 20 minutes after my swine flu vaccine shot, I could watch an interesting YouTube video about learning metadata standardization on my cell phone.

When are headsets useful:

  • Headsets make the Internet available in noisy situations, and my life is sometimes noisy.
  • Headsets make me available to the world, and filters information for the others since they avoid the noise in my surroundings
  • Headsets support person to person communication, and I like talking to people
  • Headsets support feelings, since the sound of your voice gives me a lot more information than text and emoticons
  • Headset comes with the cell phone, which is a body part

Late summer 2009 the swine flu scare caused us to investigate a scenario where 40% of the work force and students in higher education has to work from home because of quarantine rules and parents staying home to care for children.  Main advice: buy headsets for everyone! Video is not all that important, but sound is critical.  Other issues that we investigated includes services for shared authoring and phone meeting infrastructure.  Luckily the scenario never materialized, but the advice stands: buy a good headset!

One thing that bugs me: the lack of federated authentication and good authorization mechanisms for conference facilities.  Phone conferences and many video conferences are set up by sharing secrets.  Other multi-party conferences are managed by social networking facilities where people have to be contacts or friends to be able to join a conference.  Some facilities rely on the good ol’ Security-by-obscurity for access, where being wide open is useful but risky.  Another thing that bugs me is gatekeepers for video conferences, they are just plain nasty and non-communicative.  And some of the video conference user interfaces should be taken out behind the barn and shot, to get them out of their misery.

Our local bus company is part of the t:kort public transport ticket system.  In order to get a bus card, I had to part with quite a lot of information, among this was my home postal address.  And then I lost my bus card.  Someone nice found the card and handed it in to the bus company.  And they kept it, until I dropped in on them to get a new card.  Why they did not send it to me I do not understand.  They had never thought of it, but it would be “difficult”.

And this gets me to the point: why do they register information about me that they have no intention of using?

Having said that, their inept web pages, the really sorry circles you have to jump through and the overall weirdness of their customer support may influence the overall impression I have.  My first run-in with them was when I was unable to order online their card (and I am not a novice Internet user), and phoned them.  The reply was that if I navigated a list of 16 steps, I could order online and then wait for 3-4 weeks as the card was printed and delivered from Germany.  Or I could travel down to their office and get the card in hand within 5 minutes.  In their office they were also willing to take money, since payment is separated from the card with some interesting checking (including the process that will keep refusing you to input money to the card unless you have the correct birth date registered at 2 different locations).  For a while it was impossible to get a card for children, or to pay into someone else’s card.

Let me get back to the point: why register information when it is not used?  Because it seemed like a good idea at the time, and no-one will bother to check if it is used or even complain about lack of use.