Stakeholder perspectives

Over the last Hotel Lobbysix months the Logins for Life team members have been interviewing stakeholders on campus at the University of Kent. We wanted to know what views were held by staff from all University departments and from some of our other partners here on campus, on the project’s proposals. Some of our informants were extremely techie and some of them not techie at all. We have now published an analysis of the interviews .

We encouraged people to be frank and open and promised anonymity. As a result we got a pretty wide range of views. From the extremely positive to the downright negative. But certainly more leaned towards the former rather than the latter.

There was lots of support for integration of social networking tools – especially for prospective students browsing the website – and most thought there were clear benefits in continuing to supply an email service to alumni. Many raised the issue of dealing with users who have multiple roles in the organisation – for example, students who do also part-time work for the university – and whilst it was agreed that it could be frustrating to have to log off and then on again to change roles, there was some opposition to combining both roles in a single log on. Many thought that having to go through the log on process whenever a person changed roles helped to remind them of the different responsibilities and rights associated with each role. It was also thought that the central administration of single identities with multiple roles would be fraught with difficulties. Often local, departmental  knowledge would be needed to protect sensitive data whilst allowing sufficient access for efficient working.

The report is now online.

As we enter the last few weeks of the project it is becoming clearer what the team will recommend for Kent.  Kent has already started to roll out alumni email and it seems there is a business case for this – for ex-staff it is perhaps not so clear though there is definitely demand for it. There are, however, many models which could be used for the provision of email to those no longer physically attending the university so many HEIs may well find a good fit.

The linking tool being developed by the School of Computing – which will allow users to access some of their university data using credentials other than their Kent IT credentials – is in the final stages of development and early feedback is very good. It certainly seems like a tool that will improve the user experience – especially if we also adopt a policy of allowing initial registration with the same social networking application credentials. It has security benefits too – especially when university data is accessed from public computers.

One observation on how rapidly the worlds of work ethics and social conventions change: It seems not so long ago that the  argument was raging as to whether email was as valid as the printed word. Many were asking questions like:  Is email appropriate for all types of communication? How formal should our style be when we communicate by email? Can you give bad news by email? Well that battle was won – or lost depending on your viewpoint – and now the big question seems to be:  Is Facebook appropriate for work/academic communication?!

It seems the most popular answer to that is sometimes but never exclusively.

It is easy to forget that the social networking aspect of the Logins for Life project is not just about Facebook – in fact the project states that it will ‘investigate incorporation of exisitng digital identities with University accounts’.    I admit it is usually easy to find Facebook related issues to blog about so I am in part to blame . It is quite difficult to get away from Facebook. At the moment the list of digital identities that can be linked using the tool developed by Kent’s School of ComputSocial networking logosing is as follows:

  • Google,
  • Twitter,
  • Facebook,
  • OpenID
  • and the UK federation

But the tool only links the Kent IT account to these applications. Kent does not require a user to subscribe to any of these applications to interact fully with on-line services. And if a new candidate comes along to steal Facebook’s crown – then we could link to that too.

Too much information?

shredded paper
photo by Dave Bleasdale

The Logins for Life project proposes allowing the use of social networking tools and other third party applications to register with the University of Kent website – in order to request a prospectus for instance. The School of Computing have also developed a linking tool which will allow a member of the university to associate a Kent IT account with certain third party applications thus allowing access to some restricted resources without always having to present Kent IT credentials. Note that so far in this article, as in many of the reports produced in connection with the project, I use the phrase ‘social networking tools and other third party applications.’ But if I can be candid for a moment, let’s admit that currently for the vast majority of Kent’s users that is going to mean just one thing – Facebook. With over half a billion users worldwide Facebook is everywhere. What percentage of users arriving at the website of any UK or US higher education institution will not have a Facebook account? I would guess less than ten per cent. Considerably less than ten per cent.

It may also be that a very high percentage will also have an OpenID – if they have a Google or Yahoo account they will get one by default – but how many will even know this let alone use it?

In a survey of current students carried out by the Logins for Life team in the summer and autumn of 2010, we discovered that 35% of respondents spent more than 5 hours a week on Facebook. Amongst the autumn 2010 intake of new students less than 2% claimed never to use Facebook.

So if Kent is ‘encouraging’ the use of Facebook it makes no difference does it? As most of our students have got it already.

Well I am not so sure on this point. At very least I think we have to accept that we are endorsing Facebook if not actually encouraging it. Though I am not, as yet, saying this is a bad thing! We are clearly not advocating that the university ever reaches a place where a student is forced to have a Facebook account but if we offer easier methods of access through Facebook and a large percentage of students use this method then it will have its own momentum.

If we make Facebook a powerful tool that is available to students – making it easier for them to log on, creating and supporting ‘official’ university pages, putting Facebook Share buttons on our website – many would argue we are encouraging its use. Some schools at Kent now ‘officially’ state that they use Facebook and Twitter for official announcements, though not exclusively of course, and this makes a lot of sense. During the recent bad weather Twitter and Facebook were a very good place to look for ‘instant’ updates on what was happening on campus. Some of these feeds were supplied officially by staff and some, on an ad-hoc basis by helpful students and staff in an unofficial capacity. The University of Kent like many other HEIs has a Facebook page and we know prospective and current students find it useful. We feature Facebook Like buttons on some of our blogs.

So is this wrong? I don’t think so but I do think we have an obligation to make sure our users know there are alternatives that do not involve social networking applications. I also think our students need to be made aware of the privacy issues involved in using applications like Facebook and just how much data is gathered on their activities.

screen shot from Facebook

Universities are not alone in embracing Facebook, Twitter et al. Government websites feature ‘Follow Us on Facebook’ and ‘Bookmark Us on Facebook’ links. The NHS goes one step further – their advice pages contain ‘Facebook Like’ buttons. If you are so inclined you can visit the NHS advice page on Smelly Feet and click the Facebook Like button. Facebook will then tell your friends, via your profile page, that you ‘like Smelly Feet at’ There are worse afflictions you could choose too. This is where things start to get a bit murky. You might think no-one in their right mind would click the Facebook Like button on such a page but in the wonderful world of Web 2.0 we are used to giving feedback. What if a visitor thought they were just helping with a ‘I found this page useful’ type input? If you have visited the gender disphoria or the STI help pages, even out of curiosity you may not want all your Facebook friends to know this. Smelly feet might be not so serious and a little bit funny but you can see where I am going with this – and it’s not funny at all.

But it’s OK as long as you don’t click the button, right? Well not exactly. Even if all you do is visit the webpage, if it has a Facebook Like button on it, and you have not logged out of the application, Facebook will receive notice that you have done so. Currently Facebook say this data is anonymised and they do not sell data to advertisers in a form which could identify an individual. Still feels a little uncomfortable.

None of this will not be news to those of us who work in IT related areas but how aware are our students of the trail they leave as they surf the net and what that data might end up being used for? We have a duty to inform our users not only of the advantages of using applications like Facebook but also what the unintended consequences might be too.

Keeping the paths open

An interesting meeting yesterday with the Former Staff Association. I had been invited to give a short presentation on the aims of the Logins for Life project which I was happy to do. I was even happier that it presented an opportunity for me to hear the views of this group.

Access to University resources, particularly email, was important for most Kent veterans. There was hardly a dissenter to the view that hanging on to your email address beyond your time as a staff member or student had many benefits. For some it was about maintaining social links with former colleagues for others also about still ‘feeling part of the academic community’.

This was not the only item on the wish list though. Many academics continue their research or at very least maintain a great interest in their subjects throughout their lives. This group were frustrated that they no longer had access to relevant online journals. Understandably, there was less interest in this for non-academic ex-staff.

Particularly if there was likely to be a cost attached. And there’s the rub.

That is not to say that a reasonable charge for the use of University’s on-line services was thought to be un-acceptable. But people did not want to pay for services of no interest to them. So the discussion moved on to the possibility of a tiered system whereby a subscriber could opt in or out and the subscription price would vary accordingly. Suggested menu items were:

  • Email re-direct only service
  • Full email facility with storage
  • Access to online journals
  • Access to departmental research data
  • Help desk facilities

Setting up a potentially complex system like this would require re-negotiations of many licences and perhaps extra staff hours would be needed if help desk facilities were to be included. The ex-staff I spoke to were appreciative of the service they had received from IT and Help desk staff and would very much welcome the opportunity to have such a service available to them again – even if it had a cost. An interesting idea though very carefully worded SLA’s would be needed.

Handled well, a scheme like this could also raise our profile and enhance our reputation amongst an influential and well-respected section of the community.  Is there also potential here for a new income stream for Universities with the added bonus of a reliable contacts list for ex-members? Or do we risk tying up University resources addressing the needs of a group that are one step removed from our core customer group?

My opinion is that this feels good and adds balance to the work the project is doing looking at the needs of our users at the other end of their careers. Both groups are a valuable part of the wider University of Kent community.  Maybe not all those wishes are achievable but certainly worth exploring.  The devil as ever is in the detail.

What’s not to like?


Six months into the project and we are starting to look at and analyse some of the very useful data from the surveys and interviews I have been doing. One of the most interesting things to emerge has been the variety of responses to the ‘social networking integrated with educational resources’ question. We asked whether a facility which allowed use of social networking credentials to gain access to some of the University’s online resources– and let’s face it Facebook is going to have the lion’s share of that – was a good idea and likely to be useful. We also sought opinions on streaming information like timetabling data, lecture reminders and library loans into Facebook, Google, Yahoo etc .

I think if I had been asked to guess I might have said that many of the staff and managers of systems would be somewhat cautious and that the overwhelming majority of students would have said something along the lines of ‘Duh! Why are you even asking?’

Yes please 🙂

I have learnt once again the dangers of stereo typing.

Very few staff raised objections to the concept though as one would expect many did add provisos about the necessity for appropriate levels of assurance and perhaps some reminders about not leaving Facebook logged in in the communal kitchen.

I’d prefer if we didn’t encourage even more social networking. I’m one of those people who find it all quite nauseating’

Whilst it is true that a majority of students did think it a great idea it was not a landslide. Somewhere around 40% were unequivocal in their support for it with around 30% being decidedly against the idea. The remainder sat on the fence or seemed a little confused by the idea.
Comments left by the students ranged from excited encouragement to a few rather rude suggestions as to what we could do with social networking applications. Many responses displayed a disarming honesty and a work ethic which the tabloids would have us believe non-existent in anyone under fifty. ‘It would be too much of a distraction’ ‘I’d prefer if we didn’t encourage even more social networking. I’m one of those people who find it all quite nauseating’ ‘You’d be making it too easy and tempting to procrastinate!’
With a plethora of articles recently about Facebook privacy – or perceived lack thereof – it was no surprise to find concerns about that too. Some didn’t seem to trust the University not to delve into what they were getting up to with whom and others didn’t trust the applications not to start harvesting data about their academic records or what clubs and socs they belong to.
Still despite all this I think the trend is towards having everything you need in one place – that place usually being on a smart phone. Of course no-one will be forced to have a Facebook account before they can come to university. On the other hand amalgamating university and social life will only encourage the onslaught of Facebook – and the chance that those who don’t FB will feel marginalised.
So should we rethink the whole idea? Do we ride that snowball or try to leap out of the way as it rolls by us?

It’s not an Open and Shut case

Just returned from the JISC Innovations forum – taken aback by the huge quantities of positivity and enthusiasm from delegates – despite these straitened times.

The word that one seemed to hear every few seconds was open.  Open data, open source, open knowledge. It got me thinking about what we mean by open.  Lots of people try to qualify it – ‘open does not mean free’ was one phrase I heard. Not sure I agree with this. Is something still open if you start to attach conditions to it which may exclude some from being able to use it? It is still open to some – those who can afford or wish to pay for it – but it is no longer open to all. The definition of  open knowledge given by the Open Knowledge foundation is:

A piece of knowledge is open if you are free to use, reuse, and redistribute it — subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share-alike.”. (c) Open Knowledge Foundation

Which explicitly says it must be free.

This leads me to thoughts about another use of the word : OpenID . Part of the Logins for Life project is looking at the possible use of technologies like Open ID and Facebook Connect as acceptable credentials for access to HE on-line resources. 

Is going this open wise?

I should say from the outset that no-one is proposing we let just anyone with an OpenID roam at will through the entire online resources of  a University or College.  But it could be a useful tool all the same.

OpenID would allow those applying for a  prospectus or even just browsing the web site to easily establish a digital identity with the provider – no forms to fill in, usernames to invent, email verification etc. The vast majority of users will already have an OpenID – though it is probably still true that many won’t realise this – through previous registration with Google, Yahoo, Flickr, MySpace and many other popular websites.

There are obvious advantages –

  • interested parties immedately gain a sense of ‘belonging’ or ‘membership’.
  • the host organisation has the opportunity for email contact with these potential students or staff.
  • the user does not end up with one more  username/password combination to remember.

But are there disadvantages too?

If these prospects do join the university then it would be possible to link their OpenIDs with their Kent log on credentials and allow access to at least some online resources.  A liberating open attitude or the on-line equivalent of leaving the key in the door?

Anyone out there already using OpenID within the Higher Education world? Or planning to?

Talk to me

The Logins for lifeproject, in the next couple of weeks, will enter the Requirements Gathering phase. Matthew Slowe (initially) and I  will be approaching  system owners and users both on and off campus to help with our research. A  short presentation of the aims and scope of Logins for Life will be followed by a series of questions on what this could mean for stakeholders.

We are keen to hear from as many people as possible so if you want to get in touch or make a comment please don’t hesitate – you don’t have to be at Kent or a staff member – in fact we are particularly keen to hear from those who don’t currently have connections with the University – but may do in the future – and those who used to have a connection with the university but don’t any longer.

Or maybe you work or study at another Higher Education establishment and have already adopted  a  ‘Logins for Life’ type approach?  Our surveys will seek answers to set questions – what resources currently available to you would you like to retain when you leave the University?  how important is mobile access? –  but we are also interested in the bigger picture.

Does the future for access to on-line learning resources  lie with integration into social networking technologies, such as Facebook?

Is there a demand for HEI’s to provide a  life long email service?

How can we deal with users with multiple digital identiites?  One or more of which they may already have on first contact with the HEI.

A Day in the Logins for Life

Members of the project team met yesterday in the Templeman Library Hub to spend the whole day revising the work packages. This turned out to be a very useful exercise and left us all feeling ‘revitalised’.  We listed the milestones and firmed up our plans and schedule for the management of the Logins for Life project.

The discussions were wide ranging and although we didn’t have all the answers – yet – we did feel we at least knew what most of the questions were.

Logins for Life is exploring not only how HE organisations can maintain and manage a life long relationship, through a digital identity, with those who come in to contact with the organisation.  It is also about how access to on-line resources can be facilitated and simplified through the use of existing technologies such as social networking and account linking services. Obviously this raises many concerns including, but not limited to, safeguarding data, protecting privacy, security of systems and deciding on and implementing appropriate levels of assurance for different classes of user.  These are complex issues.

Logins for Life will engage with many stakeholders to help determine how to tackle these complex issues.

We compiled a list of departments, offices, facilities, partners etc and from there a list of known systems within the University and tried to rank them in order of how much Logins for Life could potentially affect them.   This led on to who we would need to talk to about each system and were there others out there that we had missed?

We  looked at what we hoped to gain from interviewing different classes of stakeholder and from there made a start on the questions we would ask. Although there will be some questions relevant to all interviewees there will also be questions specific to users and others specific to system owners. But which should come first ?- questions to the users or questions to the system owners as the former may feed in to the latter – or vice-versa.  We agreed that seeking help from the experts in the field, with framing the final questions would be a very good idea.

From these interviews we will develop use cases.

We listed existing authorisation technologies which would need to be evaluated eg OpenID, OAuth, MS Cardspace.

We talked about what a life long email facility would need to offer if users were going to continue to use it beyond their time as a student at Kent.

There were some big issues up for discussion too

  • do the users actually want what Logins for Life is offering?
  • what if the users want something that goes beyond what  system managers have hitherto been willing to offer?
  • how do we deal with users with multiple concurrent identities eg a student who is also on the staff

A good and productive day with an excellent view across East Kent from the Hub’s windows on a sunny but slightly hazy day   –  and doughnuts too!

Logins for Life workshop

With all members of the team now in place we held a workshop to share views on our understanding of the broad issues around identity management and how it is and should be implemented in higher education establishments and more particularly at the University of Kent.

Probably the most obvious insight to come out of this workshop was the need to schedule weekly workshops for the next month or so. While obviously extremely useful , this sort of forum does highlight just how  many issues need to be considered by the project team.

Areas discussed today included:

  • compiling a full list of categories of user who may come in to contact with Kent and whose needs should be considered.
  • sub-categories of users whose needs may be different eg academic and non-academic staff
  • HE establishment pre-requisites for adoption of Logins for Life
  • accepted current perception of the concept of identity and and how this could be improved
  • Incorporation of unique identifiers eg HUSID number, Unique Learner Number and etc
  • Linking identities and roles.

The workshop agreed that the JISC Identity Management Toolkit was a useful framework for the project.

Hmm hard to believe I used to be a photographer…..

New team member

After ten days on board, I thought it might be time to introduce myself. I am Leo Lyons, new member of the Logins4Life team and I will be based in the Cornwallis South building here at Kent for a year.

At the moment I am still immersed in the assimilation process. Pleased to be picking up plenty of hints from papers already published – what’s been done, what not to do and who to talk to. Plan is to make sure I know what I am talking about on the current state of ID management and single sign on  (OpenID, Shibboleth and other methods) and then come and talk to a lot of people out there to see if we can identify improvements and avoid the pitfalls.

Scope creep: stopping it before it starts

This morning we spent some time talking through the different levels to which the concept of a “Login” could be applied from

  • organisation: this could be a school, college or university
  • sector: HE, FE… education in general
  • public life: including such services as the NHS or Inland Revenue
  • private life: Facebook? Twitter? Google Mail?
  • the utopian view of identity where every person has only one and everything just works off that 🙂

Where to draw this line is obviously a very important decision and one we’ve not yet made. I have a feeling that we’re going to be using the expression “in an ideal world” an awful lot…

We discussed a lot more about the fleshing out the work-packages in the project and where to drop particular tasks into place as well as going over all the intricacies of how to manage identity within an organisation — more on that later…