EIfEL becomes a MultiplePortfolio (MeP) organisation

Until now, the issue of ePortfolio interoperability was mainly considered within the framework of documents export/import, hence the focus on data structures and the lack of appetite, except for EIfEL and very few others, to fully embrace identity and access management (IAM) as the central locus for ePortfolio interoperability.

In order to contribute actively to the design of state of the art interoperability solutions, EIfEL has decided to become a MultiplePortfolio (MeP) organisation, i.e. an organisation where each of our member will be able to choose their own ePortfolio platform while still being able to fully interact with the organisation and their peers to support their continuing professional development and recognition as professional members of the learning community. In doing so, EIfEL aims at being a life testbed, a benchmark for interoperability.

As an organisation wishing to represent all the actors of the ePortfolio community, unlike other organisations, it was not possible for EIfEL, even if we have our personal likes and dislikes, to select a particular platform to support the continuing professional development of our members. Moreover, many of our members already have their own ePortfolio system that they use within their organisation or institution and several already have to deal with multiple ePortfolio systems — e.g. a member of the Institute for Learning (IfL) who uses REFLECT, based on PebblePad, for his/her CPD might work at a college using eXact Portfolio to support teaching and Multi-Port to support the delivery of NVQs (just to name the 3 Gold sponsors of the 2009 Learning Forum London conference!).

Committed to become a fully functional MultiplePortfolio organisation, EIfEL will work with all the ePortfolio and learning technology publishers and providers to demonstrate the feasibility and benefits of an interoperability framework where individuals are free to choose the components of their own ePortfolio system while being capable of interacting with a number of different institutions across time (diachronic interoperability) and space (synchronic interoperability). A MultiplePortfolio approach is a necessity to territorial approaches, i.e. to the implementation of systems working across multiple institutions within a city, a district, a region or a state.

EIfEL’s MultiplePortfolio environment will be dedicated to supporting the continuing professional development (CPD) of our members validated through peer review of their CPD ePortfolio. Reviewing other members CPD portfolio is part of members’ own professional development to demonstrate assessment skills and gain an opportunity to explore a range of different professional practices.

EIfEL will provide its members with an environment to publish their ePortfolio(s), select the reviewers for their CPD portfolio and publish the outcomes of the review process —a choice of ePortfolio platforms will be offered to those needing one. EIfEL staff will mainly support the quality improvement of the review process, and interoperability.

As MultiplePortfolio organisation EIfEL will go through the following stages:

  1. At the initial stage, each ePortfolio platform will be independent from each other, so the reviewers of peers’ ePortfolios will have to register on different systems. The focus on interoperability will be on the ability to publish ePortfolios using RSS/Atom/RDF feeds, based on multiple formats (LEAP2A, HR-XML, Europass, microformats, FOAF, etc.) and packaging ePortfolios (ZIP, IMeP, etc.) for archive and verification —quality assurance. We will also be working on the systematic exploitation of unique resource identifiers (URI) to competency definitions hosted in shared repositories of occupational standards, so definitions will be independent from ePortfolio platforms and could be used for many other purposes, e.g. to post a job, set a 360° assessment, etc.
  2. The second stage will be the implementation of single sign on mechanisms (SSO), so a member already identified by EIfEL platform will be able to use the same identifier to review a colleague’s CPD ePortfolio. This will require ePortfolio providers to support IAM standard frameworks.
  3. The third stage will be the implementation of circle of trusts and attribute sharing. At stage 2, the granularity of access is the whole ePortfolio, while at stage 3, elements of ePortfolios can be shared with other members of the EIfEL community —and others. This is very convenient when members work together on a project and want to share evidence from their respective ePortfolios. Sharing evidence is one of the means to increase the trustworthiness of individual ePortfolios.
  4. The fourth stage of interoperability will be the provision of ePortfolio readers independent from the idiosyncrasies of the different platforms, so a reviewer will be able to browse multiple ePortfolios created on multiple systems, while having the same navigational and informational interface. This will be particularly relevant in specific processes such as the accreditation of prior learning (APL) when an assessor needs to review evidence against a number of occupational standards of competence.
  5. The fifth stage of interoperability will be the ability to create a seamless space between the different components of one’s digital identity in an Internet where individuals exist as autonomous and empowered entities, lifelong and lifewide.

Of course, EIfEL will be working on these different stages in parallel, in cooperation with ePortfolio publishers, clients and users, exploiting the outcomes of existing and future projects (like TAS3). We will be looking at establishing a quality mark for the ePortfolio and ePortfolio-related solutions that have demonstrated their interoperability within EIfEL’s MultiplePortfolio environment.

The MultiplePortfolio initiative will be launched during Learning Forum London, the international ePortfolio conference, 22-24 June 2009. Demonstrations will be made during ePortfolio plugfest and participants will be invited to contribute their reflections to this ambitious and challenging project.

The Identity Centric Framework

The tremendous work done by organisations such as the Oasis Group, Liberty Alliance and Open ID on specifications and standards for digital identity call for a profound transformation of the Internet, moving from the “Internet of documents” to the “Internet of Subjects.” In an Internet of Subjects, we don’t want our actions to be limited by existing social network services provided by a third party, we want to be able to create social networks on the fly, just like in real life —and undo them without losing any data. We also want to be able to keep in one place (possibly distributed), a place we own, all the publications, contributions and various artefacts and tracks generated during our Internet activities.

Publication mechanisms like trackback demonstrate that it is possible to publish a blog entry or a comment in a personal space to make it visible in another one, so if a specific aggregation of blog entries/comments is not supported anymore (let’s say that this instance of Blogger disappears), then the entries and comments will still be available in my personal space (today I use a Word copy as save). Of course, the use of trackback has been impeded by pirates trying to circumvent anti-spam software, but this general mechanism (or equivalent) could be revived and systematised in a trustworthy environment, using social computing to support reputation mechanism.

In order to give a genral framework for these reflections, I’ve come up with something named the “Identity Centric Framework” (ICF) with the intention to to codify a set of fundamental principles to which any identity architecture should conform to be universal and sustainable. This framework can be seen as a derivation of the Microsoft’s identity metasystemand laws of identity. The principles can be summarised by the acronym “ID TOUCH.”

A universal identity centric system should be:

  • Independent: it should be sovereign and independent from commercial or partisan interests; it should be based on the existence of multiple, competitive, operators and technologies.
  • Dependable: it should have a provision to guarantee that personal data are free from potential loss or theft as well as identity attacks.
  • Transparent: it should provide accurate reports and statistics on how one’s personal data is being used by third parties. It should also provide negotiation and discovery mechanisms for social interaction and data exchange.
  • Opaque: it should provide mechanisms to fine-tune external visibility of personal data, up to the point of total opacity and anonymity —except for legal or regulatory requirements. It should include encryption and other techniques to limit the risks of undesired disclosure.
  • Unifying: it should provide a seamless experience across contexts (e.g. healthcare, education, employment, leisure, mobility) and identities while keeping a clear separation between independent contexts and multiple identities.
  • Communal: Identity systems must recognise and exploit the social nature of identity. Mechanisms such as reputation and trust should be native features of identity systems.
  • Humanist: the underpinning values of an identity centric system is a humanist vision of technology refusing the reification of human beings and promoting an open and free society.

What have we learned from ePortfolio and Personal Health Records?

We have learned from ePortfolios and personal health records that:

  1. Being digital transforms the nature of documents and associated practices.
  2. By making people the managers of their personal data, the fragmentation of personal information is dramatically reduced, leading to an improved quality of communication across people, departments and institutions, as well as a better performance of the system as a whole.
  3. Giving people a sense of ownership of their personal data improves their understanding, self-esteem and ability to achieve their goals, as learner or patient.
  4. The separation of personal data records based on institutional boundaries (e.g. learning records and health records) are not relevant to the individual and is eventually counter-productive for the institutions.
  5. The nature of learners and patients is social, so is the contents of their personal records: patients records are evidence of performance of medical staff as individual ePortfolios evidence of performance of education staff, e.g. for quality assurance purpose. And profile data can be used to create communities of interests, lobbies and communities of practice.
  6. Experience shows that we cannot trust private or public organisations to host securely personal data. Despite all security measures, if one organisation is allowed to have massive amount of personal data, there always the risk that someone will loose a DVD in a train or sell the data on eBay.

The use digital technologies with portfolios or health records, has lead to a much greater transformation than the mere dematerialisation of documents. ePortfolios are not just paperless portfolios, nor are digital personal health records, paperless health records. Both are transforming the practice of their owners as well as that of the professionals working with them. When empowered with the management of their personal data, learners like patients tend to take more responsibility with their own learning or healing. Relationships with and among teachers / doctors are also transformed, as well as that with fellow learners / patients.

Moreover, personal health records can be viewed as some kind of learning records as patients need to learn new facts, procedures and reflect on their behaviour —and before being a patient, proactively maintain one’s own health and contribute to that of others. And for athletes, healthcare data are also evidence of their learning and material for reflecting.

From the point of view of the individual, there is no clear separation between a learning record and a healthcare record. They both are an aggregation of attributes, some of the attributes are common to both aggregations: for example, work patterns are of interest to doctors and dietary requirements useful to other than doctors —e.g. conference organisers…

In terms of privacy, publicity and security, both share the same constraints. There is a need to manage the level of privacy from totally private data, to data restricted to certain groups of people and professionals, up to publicly available records —e.g. qualifications / blood type. But we cannot allow that organisations, private or public, host massive amount of personal data on a server without being under a strict control of individuals and making the massive export of data impossible to achieve or exploit —e.g. by making each individual record jammed with individual real-time encryption keys provided with the informed consent of individuals (with a ‘break the glass’ policy, if the principal is unconscious, something addressed by TAS3).

Just like patients have to deal with different professionals at different points in time, learners and workers have to deal with a number of different institutions. One can be working as an IT professional in a company, be a member of an IT professional body like the British Computer Society, teach at a university and provide support to local businesses, all this contributing to his/her identity as ‘IT professional’. The way systems are set today, this IT professional will have a number of accounts, at best federated, dealing with the idiosyncrasies of various information systems to keep-up with his/her personal data. His/her identity will be fragmented.

While current implementations of federation of identities and services allow one person to unify a number of fragmented accounts, an Internet architecture “subject centred” should allow one person to have a unified account (a kind of ‘digital safe’) that would be used in a number of different transactions. For example, I would have one ePortfolio repository and each of the different institutions I am interacting with would pull/push data from/to this repository (probably distributed, for security reason) encrypted by one or more public key.

A subject centred Internet should allow us to regain control on how our personal data are being stored, accessed and managed.

From digital identity to socially connected free subjects

While the tools and architectures developed to support digital identity as a means of managing access to data (authorisation, authentication) and ensure that the policies attached to those data are being enforced (privacy, preventing identity theft), the general architecture of the Internet has not fundamentally changed. Federated identities (single sign on) and federated services (sharing identity attributes across domains) mark undoubtedly a progress for end-users as well as service providers. On the Internet, a space where there is no real face to face, it is now possible to establish a level of trust similar to that of the real world —including the possibility of being deceived or stolen… The translation in the cyberspace of real-life documents (identity cards) and practices (authorisation and authentication) could be described as the result of an assimilation process, a first order change.

Although, to a certain extent, we have been able to replicate in the cyberspace the documents and behaviours required for managing access to personal data —and a number of initiatives, like TAS3, are working on technologies that will increase the level of trust in transactions involving personal data— we are still far away from an Internet that could be qualified as Internet of subjects. Digital identity technology is only part of the solution that will fully empower individuals as active subjects of the Internet.

If we want to fully exploit the benefits of an ‘Internet of subjects’ based on the free association of self-conscious and self-controlled connected identities, a second order change is required. While this second order change will most likely build on the technical foundations led by consortia such as the Oasis Group, Liberty Alliance, OpenID and Open Social, the full power of these foundations need to be expressed within a new conceptual framework, a conceptual framework for digital subjects.

ePortfolio and Digital Identity….and Google birthday… still a long road for digital identity…

For its tenth birthday, Google has put in place a tool to do research with results such as how they look like in 2001.

Take a look at results of a search on ePortfolio and learning or ePortfolio and resume or how EIfEL looks like in 2001.

More seriously we are seeing here the risk for user personal identity if organisation such as Google is able to conserve/backup indexes for further use (this one as up to 1,326,920,000 web pages indexed) !!! How could I really manage my own digital identity ??

For example you could do backward research on other digital identity, look at Serge Ravet, CEO of EIfEL , fortunately for us the first result link Serge with… NVQ ! 😉
(I’ve tried with my name but I’ve seen that I was not born digitaly in 2001, even in French :))

But others could have less chance if a recruiter or his manager use this…

In our concept of user centric ePortfolio managed by the ePortfolio owner himself we are seeing here the need of concept such as IDentity Governance. Liberty Alliance is digging on this as well as european project such as TAS3 but even if technically we could imagine to put in place in a short future concept such as “Identity Watchdog” as we need also to be present on the web (so be part of Google) we clearly have to help students and future generations to better understand this issue and take care of their own digital identity…

New Liberty Alliance Group Focuses on Identity Management in the Education and Human Resources Sectors chaired by EIfEL

EIfEL is please to announce its participation in this new Liberty special interest group that will help to foster adoption of Europass initiative with support of privacy and digital identity !
The launch meeting will take place in Maastricht on 22nd October afternoon.

PARIS, October 15 /PRNewswire/ —
– Public Group Targeting Interoperability Across Education and HumanResources Applications and Services

Liberty Alliance, the global identity community working to build a more trustworthy Internet for businesses, governments and people worldwide, today announced the launch of the public Liberty Alliance Human Resources and Education Special Interest Group (SIG). The goal of the group is to foster interoperability, security and user privacy across online identity-enabled solutions in the global education and human resources sectors. The HumanResources and Education (HR-EDU) SIG will hold its first public face-to-face meeting on October 22 at the ePortfolio & Digital Identity 2008 conference in Maastricht, the Netherlands.
Members of the SIG include representatives from EIfEL, Entr’ouvert, EuroCV, IMS Global, iProfile.org, the French Ethics & Recruiting Association, the French Recruiting Syntec Syndicate, the OpenID European Foundation, Stepstone, Symlabs, Synergetics, 3s Unternehmens-beratung GmbH and the University of Kent. The group is working to advance the adoption of proven interoperable, secure and privacy-respecting Liberty Alliance specifications in education and human resources, and collaborating with other communities and specifications bodies to promote open standards and best practices fordigital identity management in the education and human resources sectors.
According to Marc Van Coillie, CTO with EIfEL and chair of the new Liberty Alliance HR-EDU SIG, “The formation of the new Liberty Alliance group marks an important milestone in bringing the education and human resources industries together to foster interoperability across online applications and services.”

About the Liberty Alliance HR-EDU SIG
Liberty Alliance members form special interest groups to solve regional, national, international and vertical-specific identity management challenges. The Human Resources and Education SIG is Liberty Alliance’s ninth open-to-the-public special interest group. During the October 22 face-to-face meeting members of the HR-EDU SIG will establish priorities for advancing interoperability and data portability among education and human resources applications. All individuals and organizations in the data portability, identity management, education and human resources sectors are encouraged to attend this public event.

More information about the HR-EDU SIG, including how to join the group’s mail list and how to register for the October 22 meeting, is available by visiting the group’s wiki at:

English: Russell DeVeau russd@projectliberty.org
French: secretariat-hr-edu-sig@projectliberty.org
Liberty Alliance

ePortfolio & Web 2.0

In a recent post on Web 2.0 & commercial ePortfolios, Helen Barrett commented an article in Campus Computing on commercial e-portfolio systems. She writes: “free Web 2.0 technologies could be a threat to some of the commercial tools, since students could replicate ePortfolio/PLE functions of many of the commercial tools using these Web 2.0 tools.”

In my view, this is debatable as I think we should differentiate between:

  • ePortfolios — that are documents, full stop
  • ePorfolio authoring systems — the tools used by the author
  • ePortfolio management systems — that are tools used by institutions

I formulated this distinction a long time ago in a position paper “For an ePortfolio enabled architecture.” The problem with many discussions on ePortfolios is that by using the same noun to express 3 totally (but connected) objects, it makes it very difficult to reach a common understanding.

For example, let’s take the discussion about “assessment ePortfolios” that some claim alter the “true nature” of ePortfolios — and I’m always a bit wary when people refer to the “true nature” of man made things! One one side, there would be the “good portfolio,” that belongs entirely to the individual, who manages it from start to finish (until death do us part) and, on the other side, the “evil portfolio”, owned by the institution who uses it as support to the grading system. What I claim is that this is like comparing pears and a stove then claim that all stoves are evil as they can be used to transform pears into “Poire Belle Hélène” — I agree that chocolate can be evil!

Let’s take the United Kingdom where around 500,000 qualifications (NVQs) are delivered each year to people who have built a portfolio — and more and more of those are now electronic. These portfolios won’t probably stand out for their creativity, and flowery designs might not be the norm. Nevertheless, these portfolios have provided an opportunity to millions of British citizens, who might have had no previous qualification, to have their contribution to society, their learning, be recognised. So, an assessment portfolio is not necessarily evil especially if it empowers people in their social and professional life.

In order to produce their NVQ ePortfolio, candidates use a platform, an ePortfolio Management System (ePMS) whose main function is to manage the assessment and verification workflow. And in order to facilitate the work of the candidate, these systems provide the basic functions of a contents management systems with one very useful feature: cross referencing (link each piece of evidence to competency statements, range and criteria and link each competency with evidence). The audience for this type of ePortfolio being assessors and verifiers (subject matter experts nominated by an warding body) it is important to elicit what is important to them (authenticity and range of evidence).

So, I’m not going to hold my breath until someone demonstrates how this kind of process will be made better, cheaper (individually and socially) with Web 2.0 tools. What could happen on the other hand is that Web 2.0 tools could transform the need of formal recognition, through a qualification, with the possibility of placing more emphasis on informal recognition by peers and communities of practice — I’m always amazed how the advocates of informal and non-formal learning, when discussing the issue of ‘recognition’ generally have ‘formal recognition’ as sole horizon…

On the other hand, if we accept that there is a clear distinction between ePortfolios and ePortfolio management systems, between individuals and organisations, then it is perfectly possible to have systems that are at the same time 100% centred on the individual and 100% centred on the organisation (or society), having Web 2.0 based individual ePortfolios and ePMS exploiting the information collected and organised in those ePortfolios — micro-formats is a good example of a standard that can be used locally in a document to facilitate interaction with external applications.

In the debate on whether an ePortfolio system should be centred on the individual or the organisation, my position is that it should be 100% focused on learning — the learning individual, and the organisation as a learning entity as well. ePMS should be part of the organisational learning infrastructure, creating a bridge between individual and organisational learning. But this should be a discussion for another post.

The ePortfolio is dead? Long life to Digital Identity! (2)

In a previous post (The ePortfolio is dead? Long life to Digital Identity! (1)) I expressed the idea that a fully developed ePortfolio is in fact a digital identity and that most of the so called ePortfolios are little more than paperless portfolios. What I would like to do in this post is reflect on (some of) the consequences in terms of technologies and solutions and respond the the questions: do we still need ePortfolio Management Systems (ePMS)? Or, formulated differently, do we need to replace ePMS with DIMS (Digital Identity Management Systems)?

First, I would like to reassess something that I’ve been repeating for some time now and formulated in a position paper: there is a general misunderstanding on the difference between ePortfolios (which belong to individuals) and an ePortfolio management systems (which belong to organisations) — here I use ePortfolio in the restricted sense of the term, not as synonymous to digital identity. In order to create you own digital portfolio, you can do a simple bricolage using any kind of digital tool, from a simple blog to a sophisticated website publisher.

The limit of bricolage appears quickly when a certain level of management is required:

  • exchanging data with a potential employer or a job board (having a portfolio HR-XML compliant will be a necessity)
  • managing a large number of ePortfolios in an institution or in processes requiring quality control — think of the NVQs (National Vocational Qualifications in the UK) where nearly 500,000 qualifications are delivered each year on the basis of a portfolio — and a growing number of ePortfolios

If the level of management required is for a small group then a simple RSS aggregator (many tools provide RSS feeds) might be sufficient to monitor the changes in almost real time. If you need to manage multiple level of accesses (for parents, teachers and pupils in schools, for peers, colleagues and managers in a company) then a bricolage might not be effective. If you live in the UK and you have some responsibilities in the field of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs), a bricolage is definitively not an option if you care for quality control and are costs conscious.

I see a bright future for ePortfolio platform providers. Organisations, regional authorities will need tools to facilitate the management of large cohorts of pupils, students or employees, they will require software solutions dedicated to the management of specific documents (portfolios) and processes.

I see an even brighter future for DIMS (Digital Identity Management Systems). Just have a look at current social software (Gaia online, FaceBook or Linkedin) and you might have a hint of what I mean…