Data Protection – Anticipating New Rules

On January 25th 2012, the European Commission released its proposals for significant reform of data protection rules in Europe (drafts had been leaked in late 2011). These proposals have been largely welcomed by the Information Commissioners Office , although it also recommends further thought over some of the proposals. The dramatic changes in the scale and scope of handling personal information in online retailing and social networking since the 1990′s, when current rules were implemented, is an obvious driver for change. The rise of “cloud computing” is a related factor.

What might this mean for the UK education system, especially for those concerned with educational technology?

On the whole, the answer is probably a fairly bland “not much” since we are, as a sector, pretty good at being responsible with personal data. Sector ethics, regardless of legislation, is to be institutionally concerned and careful and, providing enough time is available to adapt systems (of working and IT), this should be a relatively low impact change. There are, however, a few implications worthy of comment…

The Principle of Data Portability

Unless you know nothing about CETIS, it should come as no surprise that “data portability” caught my eye. EC Fact Sheet No. 2 says:

‘The Commission also wants to guarantee free and easy access to your personal data, making it easier for you to see what personal information is held about you by companies and public authorities, and make it easier for you to transfer your personal data between service providers – the so-called principle of “data portability”.’

Notice that this includes “public authorities”. Quite how this principle will affect practice remains to be seen but it does appear to have implications at the level of individual educational establishments and sector services such as the Learning Records Service (formerly MIAP). It is conceivable that this requirement will be satisfied by “download as HTML”, a rather lame interpretation of making it easier to transfer personal data, but I do hope not.

So: are there candidate interoperability standards? Yes, there are:

  • LEAP2A for e-portfolio portability and interoperability,
  • A European Standard, EN 15981, “European Learner Mobility Achievement Information” (an earlier open-access version is available as a CEN Workshop Agreement, CWA 16132)

These do not cover absolutely everything you might wish to “port” but widespread adoption as part of demonstrating compliance with a legislative “data portability” requirement is an option that is available to us.

It is also worth noting Principle 7 of “Information Principles for the UK Public Sector” (pdf) – see also my previous posting – which is entitled “Citizens and Businesses Can Access Information About Themselves” and recommends information strategies should go “… beyond the legal obligations” and  identify opportunities  “to proactively make information about citizens available to them by default”, noting that this would negate the cost of process and systems for responding to Subject Access Requests. I hope that this attitude is embraced and that the software is designed on a “give them everything” principle rather than “give them the minimum we think the law requires”. Software vendors should be thinking about this now.

There are some interesting possibilities for learner mobility if learners have a right to access and transfer fine grained achievement and progress information, especially where that is linked to well defined competence (etc) structures. Can we imagine more nomadic learners, especially those who may be early adopters of offerings from the kind of new providers that David Willetts and colleagues are angling for?

The Right to be Forgotten

This right is clearly aimed squarely at the social network hubs and online retailers (see the EC Fact Sheet No.3, pdf). It isn’t very  likely that anyone would want to have their educational experiences and achievements forgotten unless they plan to “vanish”. Indeed, it would be surprising if existing records retention requirements would be changed and the emerging trend of having secure document storage and retrieval services under user control – e.g. DARE – seems set to continue and be the way we manage this issue cost-effectively.

The right to be forgotten may be more of a threat to realising the “learning analytics” dream, even if only in adding to existing uncertainty, doubt and sometimes also fear. We need some robust and widely accepted protocols to define legally and ethically acceptable practice.

Uniformity of Legislation

The national laws that were enacted to meet the existing data protection requirements are all different and the new proposals are to have a single uniform set of rules. This makes sense from the point of view of a multi-nation business, although it will not be without critics. This is just one factor that could make a pan-European online Higher Education initiative easier to realise, whether a single provider or a collaboration. I perceive signs that people are moving closer to viable approaches to large scale online distance education using mature technologies, and possibly English as the language of instruction and assessment; looming “low-end disruptions” (see the Wikipedia article on “Disruptive Innovation“) for the academy as we know it. [Look out for an interview with Seb Schmoller which has influenced my views, due to be published soon on the JISC Observatory website.]

This is, of course, just some initial impressions on some proposals. I am sure there is a great deal that I have missed from a fairly quick scan of material from the commission and there is bound to be a lot of carping from those with businesses built around exploiting personal data so the final shape of things might be quite different.

British Standards in ICT for Learning Education and Training – What of it?

The British Standards Institute committee IST/43 – ICT for Learning, Education and Training (“LET”) – has been in existence for about 10 years. What does IST/43 do? What follows is my response as an individual who happens to be chair of IST/43.

In the first few years, IST/43 had a number of sub-groups (“panels”) involved in the creation of British Standards. It was a time when there was a lot of activity worldwide and many new groups created. What became clear to many people in IST/43 was that a much larger number of stakeholders had to be marshalled in order to achieve sucess than we had thought. In essence: we generally have to work at international scale if focussed on standards specific to LET and otherwise appropriate generic web standards. At present there are no standards under development in IST/43 and all previous panels have been disbanded.

So: where does this leave IST/43? In addition to creating British Standards, IST/43 is the shadow committee for European and international standardisation in ICT for Learning, Education and Training. These are known as TC353 and SC36 respectively. IST/43 effectively controls the vote at these committees on behalf of the United Kingdom. Full European Standards are called “European Norms” (ENs) and automatically become national standards. International standards created in SC36 do not automatically become British Standards; IST/43 decides one way or the other.

I will continue with a summary of current work programmes in TC353 (European) and SC36 (international) and indicate for each work item what the current position of IST/43 is. If you are interested in any of these areas, whether agreeing or disagreeing with the position that IST/43 takes as the “UK position”, you can nominate yourself for membership of the committee (email addresses at the end). Strictly speaking, it is an organisation that nominates; committee members represent that organisation. Comments below on the members of the committee should generally be understood to be representative of nominating organisations.

European

Work item:

BS EN 15943 Curriculum Exchange Format (CEF) Data Model

Comment:

This work, which allows for the exchange of subjects/topics covered in a curriculum, originated from work undertaken in the UK with support from BECTa and has had active support from IST/43 during its standardisation. Voting on the final standard is underway (Feb 2011).

Work item:

BS EN 15981 European Learner Mobility Model

Comment:

Members IST/43 and others in their nominating organisations have been significant contributors to this EN, which matches the requirements of the Bologna Process and European Union treaties on recognition of qualifications across the EU. A formal vote on the final draft standard will end in February 2011.

Work item:

BS EN 15982 Metadata for Learning Opportunities (MLO) – Advertising

Comment:

Members IST/43 and others in their nominating organisations have been significant contributors to this EN, which harmonises a number of nationally-developed specifications for exchanging course information (XCRI in the UK). A final draft has recently been submitted to the secretariat of TC353 and should be out for ballot later in 2011.

International

There are three broad classes of activity in SC36: those that create full International Standards (denoted “IS”), those that produce lower-status Technical Reports (denoted “TR”) and study periods. Study periods are not enumerated below.

WG1 Vocabulary

Work items:

ISO/IEC 2382-36:2008/Cor.1:2010(E)
ISO/IEC 2382-36:2008/Amd.1:2010(E)

Comment:

ISO/IEC 2382-36 is “Information technology — Vocabulary — Part 36: Learning, education and training”. These are corrections and amendments. There is little interest from IST/43 but a “yes” was registered at the last vote.

WG2 Collaborative technology

Work item:

ISO/IEC 19778-4 (TR), Collaborative technology – Collaborative workplace – Part 4: User guide for implementing, facilitating and improving collaborative applications

Comment:

There is no participation from IST/43.

WG3 Learner information

Work item:

ISO/IEC 29187-1 (IS), Identification of Privacy Protection requirements pertaining to Learning, Education and Training (ITLET) – Part 1

Comment:

There is no participation from IST/43.

Work items:

ISO/IEC 20006-1 (IS), Information Model for Competency — Part 1: Competency General Framework and Information Model
ISO/IEC 20006-2 (IS), Information Model for Competency — Part 2: Proficiency Information Model
ISO/IEC 20006-3 (TR), Information Model for Competency — Part 3: Guidelines for the Aggregation of Competency Information and Data

ISO/IEC 24763 (TR), Conceptual Reference Model for Competencies and Related Objects

ISO/IEC 20013 (TR), e-Portfolio Reference Model

Comment:

This collection of work items is of interest to IST/43 and has attracted new committee members during the last year or so. Substantial engagement and commenting on drafts has occurred and it has been proposed to convene a panel under IST/43 to coordinate UK engagement and make voting recommendations to IST/43.

The Conceptual Reference Model is near completion but the other work items are in the earlier stages of drafting. At present there are areas where consensus has not yet been reached in addition to a substantial amount of work being required in drafting and editorial.

Work items:

ISO/IEC 29140-1 (TR), Nomadicity and Mobility Part 1 – Part 1: Nomadicity Reference Model
ISO/IEC 29140-2 (TR), Nomadicity and Mobility – Part 2 – Learner Information Model for Mobile Learning

Comment:

There is no participation from IST/43.

WG4 Management and delivery of learning, education and training

Work items:

ISO/IEC 19788-1 (IS), Metadata for Learning Resources – Part 1: Framework
ISO/IEC 19788-2 (IS), Metadata for Learning Resources – Part 2: Dublin Core Elements
ISO/IEC 19788-3 (IS), Metadata for Learning Resources – Part 3: Basic Application Profile
ISO/IEC 19788-4 (IS), Metadata for Learning Resources – Part 4: Technical Elements
ISO/IEC 19788-5 (IS), Metadata for Learning Resources – Part 5: Educational Elements
ISO/IEC 19788-6 (IS), Metadata for Learning Resources – Part 6: Availability, Distribution, and Intellectual Property Elements

Comment:

The essence of “Metadata for Learning Resources” (MLR) is an international standard that over-arches Dublin Core metadata (which is already an ISO standard in an older version than the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative currently recommends) and IEEE LOM (Learning Object Metadata).

Opinions on the MLR work vary in the UK and it has been the subject of many discussions over the last few years. A series of comments and criticisms have been submitted to the working group on part 1 and dealt with to the satisfaction of IST/43 such that a “yes” vote was registered for the final vote on part 1. Parts 2 and 3 are at earlier stages and have also attracted recent “yes” votes (although “abstain” has been registered in the past when no views were presented to IST/43). It does not follow that “yes” votes will be registered for all parts.

Work items:

ISO/IEC 12785-2 (IS),  Content Packaging – Part 2: XML Binding
ISO/IEC 12785-3 (IS),  Content Packaging – Part 3: Best Practice and Implementation Guide

Comment:

This work is effectively standardising IMS Content Packaging. IST/43 supports the work and has adopted Part 1 (the information model) as a British Standard (BS ISO/IEC 12785-1:2009). Extended comments have been submitted into the working group.

WG5 Quality assurance and descriptive frameworks

Work items:

ISO/IEC 19796-1 (IS), Quality Management, Assurance, and Metrics – Part 1: General Approach
ISO/IEC 19796-2 (IS), Quality Management, Assurance, and Metrics – Part 2: Quality Model
ISO/IEC 19796-4 (TR), Quality Management, Assurance, and Metrics – Part 4: Best Practice and Implementation Guide
ISO/IEC 19796-5 (TR), Quality Management, Assurance, and Metrics – Part 5: Guide “How to use ISO/IEC 19796-1″

Comment:

The position taken by IST/43 on these pieces of work is largely passive; there is not strong interest but they are recognised as being of potential interest to some in the UK and it is believed that they are not in conflict with UK requirements. Parts 1 and 3 have been adopted as a British Standard.

Work items:

[not yet approved] Quality Standard for the Creation and Delivery of Fair, Valid and Reliable e-Tests

Comment:

This item has not yet been voted on by participating members of SC36 but the work item proposal is well developed and has been championed by a member of IST/43. This will be a proposal from the UK to SC36. See also a previous article I wrote.

WG6 Supportive technology and specification integration

Work items:

ISO/IEC 24725-1 (TR), supportive technology and specification integration – Part 001: Framework
ISO/IEC 24725-2 (TR), supportive technology and specification integration – Part 002: Rights Expression Language (REL) – Commercial Applications
ISO/IEC 24725-3 (TR), supportive technology and specification integration – Part 003: Platform and Media Taxonomy

Comment:

There is no participation from IST/43.

WG7 Culture, language and individual needs

Work items:

ISO/IEC 24751 Part-9 (IS): Access for All Personal User Interface Preferences
ISO/IEC 24751 Part-10 (IS): Access for All User Interface Characteristics
ISO/IEC 24751 Part-11 (IS): Access For All Preferences for Non- digital Resources (PNP-ND)
ISO/IEC 24751 Part-12 (IS): Access For All Non-digital Resource Description (NDRD)
ISO/IEC 24751 Part-13 (IS): Access For All Personal Needs and Preferences for LET Events and Venues (PNP-EV)
ISO/IEC 24751 Part-14 (IS): Access For All LET Events and Venues Description (EVD)

Comment:

This work has many roots in older IMS work on accessibility and the revisions are being fed back into IMS. Access for All has been actively contributed to be a member of IST/43, although his continued participation is in jeopardy due to lack of funding. Other members of IST/43 support the work but are unlikely to have the capacity to directly contribute.

Work item:

ISO/IEC 20016-1, ITLET – Language Accessibility and Human Interface Equivalencies (HIEs) in e-Learning applications: Part-1: Principles, Rules and Semantic Data Attributes

Comment:

There has been little participation from IST/43. A “no” vote with strong comments was agreed at the last IST/43.

Any work where “no participation” is stated will attract abstain votes without comment from IST/43 and is unlikely even to be discussed at committee meetings.

Tailpiece

Although the above indicates that there is currently no work on a British Standard in IST/43, the committee has discussed a new work item to create a British Standard that implements “BS EN 15982 Metadata for Learning Opportunities (MLO) – Advertising” along with an XML binding and vocabularies for use in the UK. This completes a cycle where the work of the JISC-funded XCRI projects was contributed into the EN process; the EN represents a core common language that each member state can conform with and extend for its local needs. Once the EN is approved, an “acceptance case” will be presented to BSI for this new work.

For more information:

This article is my own words and, although I believe it to be accurate, I ask readers to recognise that it is not approved by IST/43.

Anyone interested in joining IST/43 should contact the committee chair (me, a.r.cooper@bolton.ac.uk) or committee secretary (alex.price@bsigroup.com).

Future of Interoperability Standards – Technical Approaches

In anticipation of a workshop/discussion meeting we are holding on September 24th, I have produced a short position paper, “Suggested Principles for Structuring Standards” (PDF 580kB), to outline the approach I speculate we should take in future in creating specifications and standards for learning education and training.

Responses, alternative views etc are most welcome before, during or after the meeting. I hope other attendees contribute papers and expect to synthesise conclusions of the meeting shortly afterwards.

The Paradox of the Derivative Work

At last week’s  Future of Interoperability Standards in Education meeting, one of the issues that came up in the discussion group that I was in was that the creation of “derivative works” was a serious unresolved issue. I summarised this in the plenary feedback as “The ability to create derivative works is an ESSENTIAL issue. There are cases when divergence is damaging but also when [necessary] derivation is prevented. How to resolve this paradox?” This is rather cryptic as it stands so I will expand.

The paradox  is that derivation from one standard (I am using “standard” loosely to include pretty much any documented set of technical conventions) to create another is both desirable and undesirable. It is desirable because communities and applications differ, because standards mature, etc and one size will not fit all. It is undesirable because benefits are realised when more people do something in the same way, not to mention confusion arising from proliferation. It seems that there is a Network Effect with standards. I like describing this as a “paradox” as it conveys the idea that we might not be looking at the problem in the right way. An alternative description might be that there are “conflicting issues” in educational technology standardisation (see Dan Rehak’s position paper).

Having discussed this issue with a couple of people since the meeting and reflected a little, I would like to explore how we might start to resolve to the paradox (I do not aspire to actually resolve the matter into self-evident statements). My thinking has similarities to the capabilities and maturity model in Dan’s paper in trying to separate out tangled concepts.

I believe there are three strands to tease out:

  1. “Derivation” covers a multitude of different kinds of use. The term “derivative work” has an overlay of meaning from mainstream writing and publishing that is probably not appropriate for many of these “kinds of use”.
  2. There is a spectrum of intellectual contribution to a standard from the development of conceptual models to the creation of the published document.
  3. “Standard”  covers a multitude of different kinds of artifact.  Attempts to apply labels such as “formal”, “informal” or “specification” usually lead to fruitless argument.

Kinds of Derivation

I am referring here to derivation of a published document (and again using a loose meaning for “standard”). Looking at the different kinds of derivation, with labels-of-convenience that are not intended to following any conventional definitions, I suggest that some of the kinds of derivation that are relevant to standardisation are:

Ratify (cf. “ratify a treaty”)

The standard is taken as-is from its source. Although it may be re-published or referred to by a new identifier or name it is not revised. This form of derivation might be used to create a national standard that mirrors an international one. There would normally be a standing agreement that ratification can or should occur. It is immaterial from a technical point of view which one is used.

Adopt (cf. “adopt a child”)

The standard is taken on by a new organisation or ad-hoc group and the existing organisation/group relinquishes its ownership. “Ownership” implies full control over the future development, publication, transfer of rights etc. So long as the transfer is properly communicated, adoption should not necessarily lead to negative effects.

Spin-off

A snapshot of the standard is taken by a new organisation and reworked according to its documentation conventions. This is a kind of “re-work” (see below). The new work is compatible at a technical level (syntactic and semantic). The new organisation manages the creation and (editorial) maintenance within the bounds of technical compatibility while the originating organisation can continue to exert full control over its version. It is immaterial from a technical point of view which one is used at the point of departure but the originating organisation must accept more constraints on future plans as they cannot deprecate the spin-off (which will have its separate implementers).

Profile

A new work is created that includes elements of a published standard by reference. The new work may include extensions, value lists (aka vocabularies) and additional constraints. Profiling is only possible when the published standard is both persistently available (as a specific version) and structured in a way to allow for the necessary references to be made. This is not a re-work; it is more like original work with citations. While we may wish to avoid needless proliferation of profiles in the interests of realising a Network Effect, profiles are significantly less damaging than re-works as they make clear the points of reuse and divergence.

Re-work

A new work is created that takes an original and makes changes: additions, modifications and deletions. When both the original and re-work are in circulation confusion is created and the effectiveness of both new and original work is harmed. This is what I would expect would conventionally be referred to as a “derivative work”.

Spectrum of Intellectual Contribution

I am not an expert in intellectual property law and may have committed faux pas: use the comment facility.

The concept of “derivation” as expanded above does not apply equally to all of the stages of activity that underpin the publication of a standard. Here, I try to stereotype four kinds of contribution for which “derivation” is only relevant to the second two. The practical difficulty is that these kinds of contribution are often mixed together in the process. Maybe we should look to separating them into pairs and applying different processes. The stereotypes are:

Development of Conceptual Model

I recognise that following is rather shallow from a philosophical point of view and that I am adopting something of a social constructivist point of view.

Conceptual models are shared abstractions of the world. At some point in time a conceptual model must be documented in the standards process but the conceptual model is a social knowledge-construct independent of its representation/documentation. Hence conceptual models are not subject to ownership or intellectual property assertions. If it is just my idea it is not a shared abstraction: not a conceptual model. The development of a conceptual model requires broad participation and discourse to be accurate and hence useful. Evolution of a conceptual model that is documented in a published work should not be considered “derivation” of that work.

Development of Technical Approach

This would include the creation of information models, decisions on patterns and components to profile, technical trialling etc. This is the solution to a problem independent of its description. It is the knowing-how-to: techne. This kind of contribution is the realm of patent law. Contributors should expect to contribute under RAND or royalty-free terms but not to transfer all rights or they may choose to make public non-assertion covenants. A contributor is free to re-use their contribution (NB not the standard incorporating it) but not necessarily the contributions of others. This re-use is not “derivation” (as above).

Contribution of Prior Work

This category of contribution may be broken down along the same lines as “Kinds of Derivation”.

Creation of Published Document

The creation of content, review and editing of “the standard” as a published work is clearly the most concrete part of the process. Without the precisely documented expression, the underpinning conceptual model and technical approach are not directly useful as a standard. It is at this end of the spectrum that contributors should expect to grant ownership of their contribution to another legal entity. We are in the realm of copyright law and “derivation”.

Formal/Informal or Standard/Specification

I have a hunch that applying any of these labels or trying to define them is liable to cause or contribute to more confusion or argument than it is worth.

Can Grassroots Action “Save” the Education Technology Standards World from Itself?

In the approximately-ten years that most of the well-known Ed Tech Standards bodies have been in existence, it has been hard work to make but a little progress. Why is this? I believe one factor is that there was a premature rush to create high-status specifications and formal standards. There is, however, some light at the end of the tunnel as there is growing evidence (anecdote maybe?) that more grass-roots models may be effective.

I have written a short document to explore this and possible synergies between formal and informal approaches (MS Word) as a  position paper for a meeting on Jan 12th 2010. Other position papers may be found on the meeting page.

Meritocracy in Open Standards: Vision or Mirage

Few would argue for privilege over merit in general terms and the idea of “meritocracy” is close to the heart of many in the Open Source Software (OSS) community. How far can the ideal of meritocracy be realised? Are attempts to implement meritocratic principles in the development of open standards (using “standards” to include virtually any documented set of technical conventions) visionary or beset my mirages?

What follows is a first pass at answering that rather rhetorical question. I have avoided links as I’m not trying to point fingers (and you would be wrong in thinking there are any between-the-lines references to organisations or individuals).

A meritocracy requires both a dimension of governance and a dimension of value. The latter, “value”, incorporates both the idea that something should be measurable and that there is consensus over desirable measure and its association with positive outcomes of the endeavour. In the absence of the measurable quantity that could be applied in a bureaucratic way we have a hegemony or a club. The Bullingdon Club is not a meritocracy. I suggest the following questions should be asked when considering implementing a meritocracy:

  1. Have we recognised that a meritocracy must be situated in a context? There must be some endeavour that the system of merit is supporting and the suitability of a meritocratic system can only be judged in that context. There is no universal method.
  2. Do we understand what success looks like for the endeavour? What are the positive outcomes?
  3. Is there a human behaviour or achievement that can be associated with realising the positive outcomes?
  4. Are there measures that can be associated with these behaviours or achievements?
  5. Can this/these human endeavours be dispassionately evaluated using the measures?

Clear and coherent answers can be provided to these questions for OSS endeavours focussed on fixing bugs, improving robustness, improving performance etc. The answers become rather more vague or contentious if we start to include decisions on feature-sets, architecture or user interface design. Many successful OSS efforts rely on a different approach, for example the benevolent dictator, alongside some form of meritocracy.

So: what of “meritocracy in open standards”? Posing the five questions (above), I suggest:

  1. The context is open standards development. There are differing interpretations of “open”, generally revolving around whether it is only the products that are available for use without impediment or whether participation is also “open”. It only makes sense to consider a meritocracy in the latter case so we seem to have a recognisable context. NB: the argument as to whether open process is desirable is a different one to how you might govern such a process and is not addressed here
  2. Success of the open standards endeavour is shown by sustained adoption and use. Some people may be motivated to participate in the process by ideas of public good, commercial strategy etc but realising these benefits are success factors for their participation and not of the endeavour per se. I would like to place questions of morality alongside these concerns and outside consideration of the instrument: open standards development.
  3. This is where we start running in sand inside an hourglass. Anecdotes are many but simple relationships hard to find. Some thoughtfully constructed research could help but it seems likely that there are too many interacting agents and too many exogenous factors, e.g. global finance, to condense out “simple rules”. At this point we realise that the context should be scoped more clearly: not all areas of application of open standards have the same dynamics, for example: wireless networking and information systems for education.  Previous success as a contributor to open standards may be a reasonable indicator but I think we need to look more to demonstration of steers-man skills. The steers-man (or woman) of a sail-driven vessel must consider many factors – currents, wind, wave, draught, sea-floor, etc – when steering the vessel. Similarly, in open standards development we also have many factors influencing the outcome in our complex system: technical trends, supplier attitudes (diverse), attitudes of educational institutions, government policy change, trends in end-user behaviour…
  4. Not really. We could look to measures of approval by actors in the “complex system” but that is not a meritocratic approach although it might be a viable alternative.
  5. Not at all. Having stumbled at hurdle 4 we fall.

It looks like meritocracy is more mirage than vision and that we should probably avoid making claims about a brave new world of meritocratic open standards development. Some anti-patterns:  “Anyone can play” is not a meritocracy; it depends on who you know, its not a meritocracy. The latter, cronysim, is a dangerous conceit.

There are many useful methods of governance that are not meritocratic; i.e. methods that would satisfy an “act utilitarian”. I suggest we put merit to one side for now or look for a substantially more limited context.