Being just a pleeb who doesn’t work for anyone with an EACR membership, I’ve only been able to read the public ‘key findings’ document from this recent ECAR study, “Identity Management in Higher Education: A Baseline Study” (and hey, I’m not really complaining that much, it is nice that they make the highlights available for free). So maybe the fuller report speaks to some of my concerns, but what I found striking about this report was the apparent disregard in the institutions surveyed for many of the internet-wide identity projects currently struggling to be borne (e.g. sxip, openID, etc.) Actually, that’s not surprising at all, we’ve longed seemed to prefer to invent (or at times re-invent) our own wheels in higher education, thinking our situations to be so different or needing to ‘own’ the results for academic or political reasons. Where this gets interesting for me, though, is the whole push within what I call the ‘loosely-coupled learning tools’ camps for instructors and students to simply adopt free or centrally provided services that exist out on the internet already (e.g. flickr, blogger, etc.) This push is not going away, nor should it, but it currently drives many IT directors and other campus service providers nuts.
It was about 2 months ago now, during the course of a private conversation about ‘loosely coupled or openly integratable leearning management systems,’ that I half-jokingly threw out the intellectual stink bomb that campuses could in the future easily turn to service providers like Google or Yahoo or Microsoft for their central identity services. It was literally a few days later that announcements about Gmail offering domain-wide hosting services (and I thought Microsoft too, but maybe this was old news, I can’t find the reference). Don’t get me wrong, I am not ADVOCATING this as a solution, only saying that a) you will see more offers like this from big ‘free’ players outside your organization to start coming ‘inside’ your organization, and along with the free services come implications of who owns what and where should it reside, so you had better already thought through how to talk to your CIO/CEO/President about this, because on a sheer cost basis it is going to be hard to justify why not and b) it is a GOOD thing for institutions to start to consider that their students have lives and identities that preceed and extend far beyond the time they attend their institutions, and that being able to easily fit into that student’s online identity (rather than the other way around) is going to be an increasing expectation.
So, good overview of the state of affairs in higher ed, and maybe the full report touches on some of these issues, but it didn’t read like a vision for the future for me. – SWL