UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Not Your Father’s IT Innovation!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 May 2009

Yesterday a leader column in The Guardian suggested that the current global economic crisis is “Not your father’s recession“. Rather than being simply the latest downturn  in a economic cycle which has been with us since 1945 the leader writer feels that this recession is very different from those we (and our parents) have experienced in the past.

On the same day Andy Powell on the eFoundation’s blog invites us to consider The role of universities in a Web 2.0 world? Andy feels that the Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience (CLEX)’s report on “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” should have sought to address the question”what is the role for universities in a Web 2.0 world?” rather than “how do universities best use Web 2.0 to enhance their current practice?

Similarly Andy feels the the recent CILIP2 Open Session missed an opportunity to address the fundamental issue of”What is the role of an organisation like CILIP in a Web 2.0 world?” instead discussing the much safer question of “how should CILIP use Web 2.0 to engage with its members?“.

Andy’s post concludes by suggesting that “if Web 2.0 changes everything, [he] see[s] no reason why that doesn’t apply as much to professional bodies and universities as it does to high street bookshops“. Or to put it another way, it’s not just about sometimes slow-moving institutions eventually accepting the importance of the IT innovations which the early adopters have been talking about – and using – for some time now. Rather we don’t just have to develop the “best practices for institutional engagement (or not) with Web 2.0” which I suggest. This needs to be done (and I’ve very pleased that the CLEX report and the CILIP community seem to have accepted this) – but we also need to look closely at the roles which our institutions have traditionally played and the services they have provided and questions whether these are still needed.

On one level support services in our institutions need to question their traditional roles.  Is there a need for IT Service departments, for example, to continue to provide and host mainstream services such as email. In her blog Chris Sexton, Director of Corporate Information and Computing Services at the University of Sheffield and UCISA chair has described proposals to move its email service for students to Google – and the comments from the users on her blog seems very positive. And how should academic libraries respond to the wide range of information sources of available ‘out there’ . The traditional approach has been to ensure that information literacy provision allows users to be able to differentiate between quality controlled sources of information, such as academic journals, and widely used services such as Wikipedia which don’t provide such managed approaches to quality. But as we have recently discovered that publishers of research journals such as Elsevier publish fake academic publications, it would seem that such traditional notions are already questionable.

Put as well as the provision of services such as email we also need to question whether it is desirable for  institutions to provide email addresses for  staff and students. Since email is used to authenticate registration and subsequent changes for many Web 2.0 services, what will happen when people leave the institution and thus can no longer use their email address? Wouldn’t it be sensible for institutions to advice students on short course and staff on short-term contracts to use an email account which can still be used when they leave if they wish to use Web 2.0 services, whether for social or academic purposes? And if so, how short is a short course? A  diploma, lasting a few months? A 1 year MSc? Or a 3 year undergraduate course?

This is part of a wider discussion about identify in a Web 2.0 world, and the focus of another post on the eFoundations blog. “Identity in a Web 2.0 world is not institution-centric” argues Andy, a view strongly supported by Paul Miller. Joss Winn explores these issues in more depth in a  blog post entitled “The user is in control” in which he describes a blueprint outline which recognises that “University students are at least 18 years old and have spent many years unconsciously accumulating or deliberately developing a digital identity” and will increasingly question and resist the idea that the institution will impose a new digital identity.

What, then, “is the role for universities in a Web 2.0 world?” to revisit Andy’s question? And will a combination of the continuing economic recession, possible implications of global warming and the availability of  Open Educational Resources does the traditional higher education institution have a future?  And if you point out the failure of the UK eUniversity (see The Real Story Behind the Failure of U.K. eUniversity – PDF) to argue for a continuation of the status quo I’ll suggest that that provides a valuable learning experience, illustrating some of the ways approaches  to radical transformation of the sector which we now know to avoid.

Web 2.0 is not just the latest in a series of IT developments (ranging from mainframes, mini-computers, workstations, standalone PCs, PCs on a LAN, PCs with Internet and Web access to today’s mobile devices) which institutions have successfully absorbed and integrated into the mainstream, I feel. It’s not your father’s IT innovations – it’s something much more radical. And if you deny this aren’t you behaving in a similar fashion to the music industry,  which refused to acknowledge that developments such as the Internet, mobile music players  and P2P networks  fundamentally changed how the industry needed to operate?

Or is this a tongue-in-cheek post, which I’ll be happy to distance myself from in a few year’s time? To be honest, I don’t know.  What do you think?

7 Responses to “Not Your Father’s IT Innovation!”

  1. Nicole Harris said

    I think the question ‘how much should institutions be in the business of provisioning identities for its users?’ is fascinating. Also, how important is that affiliation to the user? This can be seen in public statements of identity – the fact that I am connected to JISC in my e-mail address is important…is it for It is also important in private, secure expressions of identity – my scoped affiliation of from the JISC Executive is the only way I can get access to certain resources….in this sense, affiliation is unavoidable and necessary. It is the age old question of authentication and authorisation being separate processes. The real issue is finding a way for an institution to effectively broker a user-centric identity to add affiliation information when it is required…and also revoke it when it is no-longer appropriate. Now that would be a magic bullet. Alternatively, we have to think about coherent ways of account linking or the less satisfactory approach of passing user-centric IDs as an attribute within the institution-centric model.

  2. OMG Brian… only you know if it is tongue-in-cheek and if it is, then you are distancing yourself from it now, not at some point in the future. I thought this was a great post UNTIL YOUR FINAL SENTENCE which manages to wipe away the whole thing with a throw-away remark. Put forward a position, tell us what you think, stick to it (at least for the duration of a single post).

    Your desire to seek the views of the community is admirable, but you don’t have to sell yourself short by calling your own views into question in order to do that.

    Sorry to be blunt… but I find your regular use of “I don’t know? What do you think?” frustrating in an otherwise great blog.

  3. Hi Andy – in many of my posts I do have a view which I am prepared to communicate and argue. But I’m also willing to accept that the world is more complex than I can understand and and so will also welcome alternative views. I know that some blogs (and mailing lists) make it difficult to put across dissenting views and I want to avoid that.

    But in this case, as I said, I don’t *know* if HEIs will need to radically transform themselves in light of Web 2.0. I may say they should – but does this just reflect the close proximity (in the physical and online world) I have with those who have these views? I reserve the right to not have strong convictions on some issues, to be uncertain on others and to willing to be convinced on others. And this is one subject in which I am prepared to say ‘I don’t know’!

  4. Revisiting Andy’s request for me to explain my position and Nicole’s comment about the trust provided by the domain name in an email address such as in Nicole’s case and in mine) if my circumstances changed (i.e. I left UKOLN or UKOLN’s name changed) I would probably move to a GMail account for professional purposes, as, indeed, CETIS’s Scott Wilson did after CETIS moved from Bangor to Bolton University. And I’d expect my trust and authority in many circumstances to come from a distributed range of publications.

    *But* that’s a personal view and doesn’t necessarily reflect a wider community or have any significant impact on the future for institutions – which was the focus of this post.

  5. Peter Barnes said

    Perhaps the question is not ‘how much should institutions be in the business of provisioning identities for its users?’ but rather ‘would students resent HE institutions crowding in on the identities they’ve established online?’ Is the case perhaps students regard Facebook groups etc as their space and don’t want old farts crashing the party?

    I see another danger in constructing services around third party social networking services – the preferred service du jour seems to be pretty volatile: one year its MySpace, the next its Facebook, then Twitter comes along … Perhaps its down to the old farts crashing the party – time for kids to move onto fresh pasture – or perhaps it’s just become an extension of fashion.

    It will be interesting to see if the PLE concept ever takes off.

  6. Interesting. I wrote a further piece after commenting upon Andy’s post BEFORE reading this. Independently I also finished by inviting comment. We must be careful not to have “one view” of the way the future may pan out, hence my desire to get feedback. I guess Brian felt the same!

    On the other point about affiliation and identity which Nicole also tweeted about earlier today, I’m getting a bit confused o that one myself. I never use my institutional/organisational identity when commenting in a personal capacity and as the model I feel we’re moving towards is a personal learning environment it follows that its my personal identity that I’m more comfortable in using. However, the organisations I want to collaborate with, or have access to their resources require far more than the assertion of Google that I’m the “real thing” – so Federated Access Management is the way forward and a dependence on credentials from a trusted Identity Provider essential.

  7. […] way?  I was thinking about this in the context of a comment made recently by Nicole Harris who described how “the fact that I am connected to JISC in my e-mail address is important…“. As I […]

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