A recent gathering of the great and the good in e-portfolio development included a key note from the DfES. The main goal and driver for government was to build the supporting “information architecture”. Migration from school to college and from one university to the other, it was argued, necessitated a ULN or “Unique Learner Number”. However, I am not conviced the system requires this type of “MAC-Address” for users.
Is the aim of single sign-on replaced by multiple “numbers”: social security, UPN, ULN, the new ID-card, etc.? Where’s the gain for the learner and owner of the data?
The main driver for ULNs is identification of learner achievements with individuals avoiding false claims and fraud. Still, not enough reason for me to be convinced. Is it not in the person’s own very interest to benefit from their record of achievements? So for getting the benefit from my own records I would be stupid to pretend I’m not me.
There are then two other possibilities: Someone else tries to benefit from my educational record (good luck!). There are already mechanisms to verify that I got a genuine degree from a genuine university, that did not require an additional number. Secondly, there is data about me that is not so positive, but this I do not want to have shared with anyone without my permission. If we are talking “user control” then I don’t need a number for my own records – I know who I am.
Some other guy in the conference cleverly compared the e-portfolio business with the credit card system. Something very intimate between me and the bank I have chosen. This compares well, I think, with ULNs as no-one has so far thought of a “Unique Bank Customer Number”, and yet it has not stopped banks sharing information…
Conclusion: “I am not a number, I’m a free man!” (The Prisoner)
Legal issues are still an obstacle to online education. There is a confusing set of layers ranging from national IPR regulations to EU and international agreements on copyright. Processes within the university to support legal use of materials, such as IPR clauses in staff contracts, are underdeveloped.
Keeping to legal territory when authoring and publishing learning materials can be challenging, but there is more to it. My institution is a small and financially constrained university that promotes the idealistic philosophy of open course ware. I found the description of the rights clearance processes in MIT enlightening and very helpful. However, if one reads more carefully, two things become clear: Firstly, the MIT uses or employs lawyers with issuing licences, contracts and disclaimers. Secondly, they talk about their copyright clearance team! My university cannot afford both those commodities.