Monday, November 23, 2009

Fifth Meeting RS3G, Uppsala Sweden

Uppsala, Sweden November 16-17th, 2009

The fifth meeting of the RS3G Rome Student Group was held at the Uppsala University, Sweden on November 16-17th. It was a two day meeting gathering business users and IT representatives from across the European Union focused on data portability and services.

From IDea to action. Day one; Work-day on the mobility project. Day two; RS3G-workshop that covers issues about Identity and Access Management along with new reach-outs to related projects/organizations in Europe and United States.

Uppsala University

Uppsala University is a public research university in Uppsala, Sweden. Founded in 1477, it is the oldest such institution in Sweden and the Nordic countries, and for centuries has been one of Europe's most renowned research Universities. Eight Nobel Prize Winners have helped make Uppsala University known throughout the world as one of the top universities for research and a first-class education.

As a main center of higher education in Europe, the university rose to significance at the end of the 16th century and was then given a large donation of King Gustavus Adolphus in the early 17th century to sustain itself.

Uppsala also has an important historical place in Swedish national culture, identity and for the Swedish establishment: in historiography, literature, politics, and music. Uppsala belongs to the Coimbra Group of European universities. The university has nine faculties distributed over three 'disciplinary domains'. It has about 40,000 students (20 000 full-time eq.), and about 2,000 doctoral students. It has a teaching staff of 4,000 (part-time and full-time) out of a total of 6,000 employees.

Architecturally, Uppsala University is centered on the Uppsala Cathedral dating back to the 13th century on the western side of the River Fyris. Despite some more contemporary building developments further away from the centre, Uppsala's historic centre continues to be dominated by the presence of the university.

For more than 500 years, Uppsala University has been a distinguished seat of learning with rich opportuntiies for students and researchers at all levels.  The history, according to brochures I picked up, is part of it's strength, but sights are always on the future.  Perhaps the most important and revealing tradition at the Univeristy is that of rejuventation.  How many institutions last 500 years?   

Steering Committee Meeting

In the morning, after waking up at 9:00, I rushed to get out of the Park Inn Hotel room, slammed down a couple of hard boiled eggs with a roll and rushed out to find my way to Uppsala University and where the Steering Committee was scheduled to meet from 9-12. I had written down the room as 'Lärosal III’, a small seminar room in the Main Building on the main floor. Found the building, but could not find the room. I asked five or six students and they tried to help me, but I realized there was no room marked with a III but there was I, II, IV and greater. III was missing. My poor penmanship haunted me and I quickly recovered finding the seminar room II where Simone Ravaioli, Jonathan Dempsey, Herman de Leeuw, Jan-Martin Lowendahl, Manuel Dietz and Mark Stubbs were already meeting. So, I got there just as the conversation was covering sustainability, funding and organization of RS3G.

Most of the morning, we discussed the current projects underway and the liaison arrangements with EAIE, EUNIS and PESC. We agreed to pursue a SIG with Herman’s assistance and discussed the proposed workshops planned in September 2010. We also discussed the Mobility Project and scoped out the afternoon meeting.

We continued the Steering Committee’s conversation through lunch up the street at a nice Swedish restaurant hosted by Gunnar Backelin and Jonnas Brorsson from Ladok Consortium. The restaurant was called Hyllan, Svenssons Krogar in the old Market hall by the river about a five minute walk from the University Main Building. I had a well prepared Salmon with potatoes and salad.

Day 1 - RS3G Mobility Project started at 13:30 in room 'Lärosal II', a seminar room on the 1st floor of the University main building.  The room was not large enough for the meeting, but that did not matter.  Every seat was taken.  About 40 participants traveled long distances (I think my travel topped everyone coming from the US).  There were many new faces.  About half of them came to explore what RS3G was about, to learn about the Mobility Project and to see where they fit into the emerging data access and exchange discussion.  Still, for so many new faces, the discussion and meeting was lively.  There were no moments of silence.

University Welcome  Ann Fust, University Director Uppsala University gave a warm welcome to the RS3G 40+ workshop participants and supported the important work underway helping to define the data and process specifications that are needed to support student mobility.  Then, we went around the room and had quick introductions.  That took about 30 minutes.  As RS3G travels to different countries, the attraction and convenience to local institutions and organizations shows with more participants coming from locals.  Still, about half the meeting had repeaters.

RS3G Introduction Simone Ravaioli, KION put the meeting into context. He reviewed the prior four meetings and our work leading to the Mobility Project.

EU Mobility Business Logic

Yiannis Salmatzidis, Aristotle University Thessaloniki outlined in a brief presentation the business logic and flow between sender, receiver and student actors for Study Abroad.  This was more a review of prior material, but it was a good refresher revealing the business case and need for data and document exchanges to support the workflows of application, assessment, assignment and agreement.  All "a"s. Others call it a nomination process, but that does not begin with an "a". 

Mobility Project Prototype

Janina Mincer-Daszkiewicz, University of Warsaw outlined the status of the proto-type web services developed and deployed by the University of Warsaw to support the Study Abroad workflow from sender/preparer to receiver institutions. A short demonstration followed.

QS unisolution model

Manuel Dietz, QS unisolution outlined the general work flow supported by the moveon network application including the general description of web services engaged to integrate their internal application.

Workgroup Creation

We spent the remaining afternoon discussing possible breakout groups to focus on the WSDL, Architecture, Identity Management, Security and Business Issues such as funding and project coordination. About thirty organization representatives volunteered.

Reception and Dinner started at 20:00 Tor Fridell, former president of ECCA made the opening remarks at the University Botanical Gardens built in the 17th century following the specifications by Professor Carl Linneaus who taught botany and medicine. The dinner was well prepared with numerous selections for varying tastes. There was something for everyone, including special plates for vegetarians if requested. I chose two prepared Salmon dishes and Beef Filet with Carrots from the buffet. The Salads, Pasta and Breads with Humus were perfect. The South African wine went well with the meal. And, the fellowship was topped off by warm remarks and a bit of history.

Day 2 – RS3G Updates started at 09.30 in room 'Lärosal IX', a larger auditorium on 2nd floor from the University main building. The room was very spacious with about four levels of sitting and a stage. On the left wall hung a rather large seamed rug with twelve pictures with contrasting colors. We learned it was a representation of geology artifacts. Initially, I thought it was pictures for an anatomy class since red was the most prominent color.

Europass Mobility System (CEDEFOP) Nicolas Vahlas presented the new Europass Mobility Tool being distributed to representative counties linking back to the central version hosted by CEDEFOP. The tool is designed on a federated delivery model linking all the State Governments together. The tool provides for the production and dissemination of the diploma supplement. It can be generated outside the student system of the sender institution and sent to the receiving institution. Currently, the tool delivers and retains the artifact in document form, not XML.

The RS3G Mobility project update was next on the agenda. Janina Mincer-Daszkiewicz summarized her report from the previous day including her work from the University of Warsaw on the Student Sudy Abroad Application prototype. The discussion of the WSDL, XML Schemas and status of the proto-type were mixed in with the discussion on forming and organizing the work group to build the production system, seek pilot participation and determine how best to proceed. We agreed to post all materials on the RS3G Wiki and begin using the shared space to facility feedback on the proto-type and artifacts.

European higher education Identity and Access Management update" (Valter Nordh was sick) Jan-Martin Lowendahl stepped in and gave a nice overview of the issues. He used some of the slides from prior workshops and added and update on current issues.

Update on the MLO/ELM processes presented by Mark Stubbs, from JISC and the University of Manchester, UK. CEN (Committee European de Normalization - European Committee for Standardization) endorsed both a Workshop Agreement and a commitment to develop it into a European Norm (EN) for Metadata for Learning Opportunities (MLO).

MLO defines a common model for expressing information about learning opportunities such as the courses available at a university such that they can be aggregated by other services such as advice centers, search engines, or brokerages.

So what is MLO? MLO is a standard model and vocabulary that represents the common subset of several existing specifications used for advertising courses. This includes XCRI from the UK, CDM from Norway, CDM-FR from France, EMIL from Sweden, and PAS1068 from Germany. The common subset consists of four classes and 13 properties that are common to all or most of these existing specifications, plus references to other properties commonly used from Dublin Core – see below.

PESC liaison report - EDUNIFY launch was then discussed by David Moldoff, PESC and AcademyOne, USA, giving the background. The evolution of application architecture is now spanning localized solutions into the cloud. As such, cloud computing is like an access method to store and retrieve data much like servers and local disk served an OS request (Operating System). PESC is initiating a special Task Force Meeting December 17th in Washington DC to develop a simple registry and lookup service that automated programs can utilize to find services, payloads, versions and methods either in abstract form or in deployed modes. A video cam will be made available of the meeting.

New liaison initiatives ‐ EAIE SIG, ECAM, ECCA was then discussed by Herman de Leeuw and Simone Ravaioli. RS3G has proposed to become a SIG with EAIE and a new set of presentations are being prepared for the September 2010 meeting.

Simone thanked Gunnar and Jonas for their efforts organizing the RS3G meeting logistics. The meeting was a great success with participation, goodwill and collaboration rooted in sharing a common goal of developing open systems with sharable data.

Next workshop - Joint workshop RS3G - ECAM, Valencia March 2010 (TBD)

My travel observations to Uppsala Sweden

Traveling from the United States, I left on Saturday November 15th flying thru Frankfurt Germany and then on to Stockholm. My first task was to convert Dollars to Cronin. I pulled out $305 and received about 1,800 Cronin. Given I was traveling to a European Union country; my first thought was about Sweden’s choice not to adopt the Euro. That lingered with me the whole trip.

Traveling east is always tough. Most find the time zone change challenging. But, that is not what makes it hard for me. I like the artificial pressure of trying to stay on my home time zone. During my travels, I attempt to keep my clock and body turned to my home time on the eastern shore. I refuse to change my watch. It is sort of a game I play on my mind and body, trying to trick it into less sleep I guess. It allows me to get back on track on my return.

There are always complications. We can’t escape Murphy’s law. On the flight segment to Frankfurt from Philadelphia, I was careful to select an aisle seat and was fortunate not to have anyone sit next to me giving me plenty of space to stretch out. But, about five rows up, at the bulkhead row, there was a young mother with twin girls and her mother. The children looked about two. Well, they were not prepared for the flight and spent the night alternating screaming and waking each other up. I tried everything to distract myself with movies and ear phones to buffer the noise. Usually, on this type of flight, you could sleep about four hours. Not this one. So, landing in Frankfurt could not have come faster. The relief spreads throughout your body as the foreign stimulant was eliminated.

The Lufthansa flight landed on time and I exited the plane without incident or any memory worth sharing. The passengers took buses to the international terminal with the first stop at Customs. The line went quick as the procedural stamping of the passport took just a few minutes. I strayed and found the Lufthansa Business Lounge allowing me to cleanup and grab a light continental breakfast. I also connected online to send home a message on my arrival. After an hour, I went on to my gate for the connecting flight on Scandinavia Air to Uppsala. Going from International to commuter flights required passengers to revisit security. The queuing of the security line was slow. And, it felt like an hour wasted inline. It did not seem necessary, given the number of TSA agents floating around at 9:00am in the morning.

But, the experience did have a positive. As the ritual of undressing all metal from your body took place, I noticed how the security counter had an automated container system attached to the tables. This allowed each counter to have about twenty large plastic rectangle containers to hold luggage, computer and possessions. There was no stacking of containers, wasted space or haggling over the last one. It was easy to take the container from under the counter and fill it up. As a container was taken, another one appeared. Having the automated containers made it easier for everyone, but it did not impact the delay since there was only one line with attendants.

My connecting flight to Stockholm was also uneventful. Arriving in Stockholm, I proceeded to the first travel information desk, took a number and waited for my turn. The reception was warm and after a few minutes, I got my chance to ask how I would get a train to Uppsala. The answer was quick as the attendant warmly said you can buy the ticket here. She sold me a one way ride for $130 Cronin. After getting directions to the train platform, I proceeded down three long escalators into what looked like a black hole. The train platform under the airport was clean and carved out of the rock. The entire ceiling surface was painted flat black while the platform contrasted with a bright orange/yellow. There were hundreds waiting for the northern train. The anticipation was short lived. The train arrived for loading and we were off on time at 2:30. The train was crowded so I stood near the entrance/exit and met a nice couple from Uppsala as they returned from holiday. In fifteen minutes, I was getting off at Uppsala and walked to the Park Inn across the train station. It was dusk at this point and the clouds filtering much of the light made it dreary on arrival. It was also wet with a steady drizzle.

The Park Inn was a nice modern hotel about eight blocks from the University. I checked in to the room and unpacked. My first floor room was appointed with light grained wood and the bathroom was smaller than my powder room at home. The shower and toilet shared the same floor space with a movable plexxy glass divider was hinged on the wall. I took a shower and decided to venture out to find dinner.

Most of the sidewalks were cobblestone. Which, when wet, are a bit slippery. The roads seemed pretty empty at 4 in the afternoon. It looked like 9:00pm to me, but it was 4:00 in the afternoon. Several bicyclists passed me by covered well with rain gear, scarf’s and hats. I found a nice bistro down the main road from the hotel and ventured in. The tomato salad accompanied by a nice red cabernet from South African wine was perfect. Considering I was in Sweden and near the coast, I ordered fresh fish and pasta and topped off the meal with a raspberry sorbet crusted with caramelized herbs. What a great way to celebrate my trip to Sweden.

I ventured back to the hotel and fell asleep only to wake up around 12:30. Since my internet connection timed out, I ventured down to the reception to request an extension of time (they restrict internet access to eight hours daily). Simone and Fabio from Kion were sitting in the lounge after dinner. We chatted for a few minutes and I promised to meet them in the morning for breakfast which I missed because I overslept by an hour.

My way back to the USA

I got up at 4:00am Wednesday morning. Packed up and organized my things to get ready to depart. I promised to meet Manuel Dietz at 8:00am. After a nice continental breakfast at the Hotel, we checked out and left for the train. Manuel bought two tickets for the 8:15 train to the Airport.

We learned there were some train delays. And, then we learned there were several companies using the same train tracks. Deregulation has brought alternatives and a bit of confusion. Our tickets were for the wrong train, but were honored by the conductor.

The ride back to the Airport was a quick fifteen minutes. Upon arrival, I checked in and left Manuel for my trip to Chicago, USA. It was uneventful. Had the chance to watch some movies like the Outlander which was apropos given where I was leaving. Nine hours and I was sitting at O’Hare thinking where I was headed to next. After sorting thru my papers, I found I had to simply take a cab a few minutes to the Intercontinental Hotel at O’Hare where the CAEL Conferences was being held. The weather seemed about the same as Uppsala with light rain, clouds and about 10 degrees Celsius. It was comparable. I guess that is what much of work reveals. No matter where we are, our circumstances have similarities and differences - and we can learn from one another, by challenging our assumptions.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fourth Meeting RS3G, Santiago de Compostela, Spain

The fourth Rome Student Group Workshop meeting was held in Santiago de Compostela Spain, June 22-23 2009, in Association with EUNIS 2009 Conference, held at The Faculty of Medicine, University of Santiago.

The RS3G June 2009 workshop included representatives from 17 counties, 42 organizations and 62 participants gathered at the annual EUNIS 2009 Conference. As in the past, I have ventured to participate in these workshops to keep apprised of the progress and events unfolding in Europe following the Bologna and Copenhagen processes. I am also afforded the opportunity to share my ideas and observations, which have been many.

This workshop was held in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain midst the surroundings of ancient convents, monasteries, churches and buildings in the old city that dates back 2,000 years. Interestingly, there is a striking juxtaposition in Santiago of centuries-old buildings and cutting-edge modern architecture and outdoor sculpture. The influence of the Arabs, Romans, Moors, English and French can be seen in the architecture, infrastructure, names of roads, places, and even the art. The long history is worn into the stone walks and alleys layered over time and aged by the humid air and rain because Santiago sees 300 days of rain on average per year. Santiago is about 30 miles from the coast and is on the downhill slope from the mountains. The old city has narrow alleys filled with small stores, banks, cafes and restaurants trying to squeeze business from the random street traffic passing by foot. For 1000 years, the faithful follow a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It is known in English as the Way of St. James and in Galician as the Camiño de Santiago. Over 100,000 pilgrims travel to the city each year from points all over Europe, and other parts of the world. The pilgrimage has been the subject of many books, blogs and television programs notably Brian Sewell's The Naked Pilgrim.

The University Of Santiago de Compostela (USC) is over 400 years old. It has an expansive campus blending the ancient baroque and antique world with the modern study offered by a major Spanish university. I found the Faculty of Medicine an interesting building. It is located only a few blocks from the main square of the old city including the Plaza do Obradoiro where the Royal Hospital was founded in 1499 and is now operated as the oldest Hotel in the world. The buildings reflect an architecture born from marble and granite stone. The foundations are built on stone paths layered by huge blocks. Each building was built to last forever even though the interior spaces have undergone renovation and renewal. In the Faculty of Medicine building, traces of chalk boards have been replaced by white erase boards and projectors. Expansive lecture halls have been wired with electricity. The halls are wide and open. And the sterile feeling still permeated the formal building as it boasted anatomy, radiology, physiology and neurology departments.

The marble staircase inside The Faculty of Medicine, worn by students and faculty stepping to class over centuries, reminds me of the objective of education as we ascend new knowledge with optimism listening to lectures and studying. There had to be at least fifty large steps turning up the staircase worn by millions feet who strived up and down before me. The challenge to exercise our brain, heart and bodies must have been taken into consideration by those who designed the Faculty of Medicine including the staircase as a central access way. The rush of blood from my pumping heart stimulated by walking up or down the marble steps between sessions, stimulated my brain to absorb more content and observation. I was very alert during my stay. And, I attribute that to the constant walking and climbing around Santiago. I can just imagine what students and faculty felt as they raced to make class times and lectures. I also can’t stop thinking about the unintended benefit the architect layered into the building with treads spread apart, forcing everyone to take the stairs, since elevators would steal the value of the exercise and stimulation.

Another interesting observation compared to visiting other schools of medicine, were several plaques and statues commemorating past faculty. What I did not see were large portraits of past faculty or art work reflecting the progress of medical research. I did not see all the rooms so I may be amiss on this. There was a small easel holding a formal and uniform collage of faculty pictures from the nineteen century near the lectern.

The lecture hall housing the RS3G workshop meeting was a large expansive, modern appointed classroom, outfitted with folding tray tables and comfortable theater chairs. It offered an elevated stage and power for the presenter using the overhead high resolution projector. It had a large electric screen. I was not using my PC at the workshop so I was not concerned with power. Others were, as they stretched extension cords and power to their chair. Wireless was provided which of course allowed participants to stay connected to their office and their world. But, I was not concerned about staying connected while giving my attention to the workshop and participants.

EUNIS, the European Union Information System Association invited RS3G to host this fourth workshop as part of their annual conference after the last workshop in Stuttgart, Germany. It was confirmed by the Steering Committee in Amsterdam April 16th 2009 after we drafted the manifesto for RS3G. We also discussed the ideas for the workshop agenda focusing on the mutual desire to support growing conversations about collaborations and networking that has proven popular in past workshops. Attending this workshop afforded two meetings. First, I wanted to participate and continue my support of RS3G. Second, I wanted to get introduced to EUNIS and reflect on how it has evolved serving its membership.

On the evening of June 22nd, The RS3G steering committee met with members of the EUNIS board led by Jean-Francois Desnos and Jan Madey to discuss the various options of collaboration and association. The meeting was held at the HOTEL VIRXE DA CERCA at 18:30 in the well shaded court yard. The décor was appointed with artifacts from water wells and mills. My research about the history of the meeting site revealed it was formerly a bank and prior to that, a residence for the Jesuits in the 18th century. There was a deep well about three meters wide covered with a thick glass sheet right in the bar and lounge floor on the first floor leading into the special room arranged for our gathering. You could peer down the ancient well into the black hole. After the steering committee meeting with EUNIS, the RS3G social network meeting and dinner commenced at 9:30PM. About thirty attended the dinner and social event continuing to reinforce the importance of relationships.

The menu consisted of four courses, red and white whites and wonderful service as the day melded into night. Food was served family style allowing everyone to share. I sat next to Victor Ravaioli, the Managing Director of Kion from Italy and Jan-Martin Lowendahl from Gartner and we took the chance to catch up on global education issues. I was a bit travel weary by the time we had dinner the evening of the 22nd. My journey began 24 hours early getting on the USAIR flight from Philadelphia to Lisbon at 8:30PM on the 21st with my 87 year old Dad. He has accompanied me on other trips including Rome, Italy when the first RS3G Workshop was held.

Traveling to Santiago de Compostela
After landing at 8:30am on the 22nd, my Dad and I left the plane with our luggage. First, we had to pass through customs. That was an interesting experience as we entered the massive hall, lined up and began waiting slowly for the customs agents to review our passport. There must have been a thousand people in line for visitors coming to Lisbon from all parts of the world. Separate on the left side of the hall, I could see the automatic entry portal for those citizens and residents who have the electronic Europass ID. There was no line and people could go right thru as efficient as walking thru a doorway.

We were not so lucky. Waiting over two hours and still very little progress getting thru the line, started to make me wonder if this delay would impact our next segment of travel. And, I was getting worried my 87 year old dad could not stand much longer or that he would have to have access to a bathroom soon, given his previous medical conditions. So, I did what any arrogant American would do, I flagged down a customs agent allowing young families and travelers who need special assistance because they had connecting flights and pleaded with her to let us get through the special line, given the circumstances. She agreed, and we skipped out of line ahead of at least two hundred people. I felt bad about that, but I hope my economic contribution to the Lisbon economy would suffice to compensate for my decision.

After getting thru customs, we quickly found a bathroom and then exited the terminal in search of the Lisbon train station. There were very little signs directing travelers to ground transportation options. There were no information booths either that I could find. That was surprising, since travelers need signs and assistance given their unfamiliarity with any new facility. But, who thinks of them? Like students without an advocate or mentor, we searched and searched, finally realizing there was no train connection in the airport directly. After trying to ask a few airport workers, we realized we needed transportation to the train station.

We took the airport bus shuttle after asking an airport worker on a smoking break how to get a train north to Porto. She pointed us to a bus that was loading passengers and had graphics on it that offered a path to a dozen city stops downtown. We approached the waiting bus and asked the bus driver about getting a train north to Porto. He acknowledged the first stop was what we wanted. I should have better prepared for this part of the journey.

So, we paid the bus fare and boarded the standing room only bus crowded with commuters. About ten minutes away from the airport, we were dropped a few blocks away from a train station. We walked our luggage over cobbled tile sidewalks to the train station and had to climb down about twenty stone steps. The building was not senior friendly or offered handicap people any special entrances to navigate. So, it took me a while to help my Dad get down the steps. After entering the train station, I ventured to one of the ticket windows to learn we were in the wrong train station. The metro train station the airport bus driver thought we wanted was obviously a mistake. It was hard to communicate the specifics using hand signals and gestures. We needed to go to Lisbon’s main departure point for international destinations and central/northern Portugal called Santa Apolónia Station located on Avenida Infante Dom Henrique, eastern district of Alfama, on the Tagus River banks. On reflection, I should have asked how do we get to Santa Apolónia?

Oh, I need a Taxi. Of course I was not surprised we selected the wrong train station by my question and guidance we were provided in a rush standing in the bus door, my deficient translation skills and my lack of preparation. So, we walked back to the street level, up the stairs and hailed a taxi cab for the Santa Apolónia train station that could take us to Porto, Lisbon. The taxi ride was about ten minutes. Our taxi cab driver knew where to go, and he actually took us back toward the airport, dropping us off in front of the main train station.

The main Lisbon train station looked modern from a distance, but seemed built for a different era. Small room size cement boxes looked like bunkers from WWII were scattered on the first floor, each with its own purpose. Some were lounges by train type and others were ticket booths where agents behind thick glass windows would peer out and serve customers seeking assistance. We bought two first class tickets on the CP train after finally finding a cement box that was selling the north/south train tickets. After waiting about an hour, we boarded the train north to Porto Lisbon from the second floor platform. I was most relived.

At first, we did not know we had assigned seats, and sat on the last car we boarded. The ticket was coded and I could not figure out how the class or seating was represented. When the ticket conductor collected out tickets, he moved us to our assigned seats in the next car, even though the train was half filed and there were plenty of seats in the cabin. So, I had to pull two sets of luggage and followed my dad to the correct seats. First class did not appear to offer any other convenience over a regular fair – other than assigned seats closer to the café car. Unlike trains in Germany, I felt we overpaid for first class seating and derived no real benefit from it.

On the way to Santiago from Lisbon, just about everyone we met spoke very little English, so I resorted to hand signals and simple words to frame my questions or answers. I tried to use words from an internet dictionary, but found my accent embarrassing and awkward. Plus, the delay and my latency were just too slow to respond to conversation.

The train ride north to Porto, Lisbon was much smoother than the Amtrak Excellar on the East Coast of the US. There must have been twenty stops along the way, slowing down the effectiveness of the train’s power and speed. We finally got to Porto and after three hours. Entering the Porto train station, I began searching to find where to buy train tickets that would take us on to Santiago, our final destination. I waited in line and asked the customer service agent where to acquire tickets for Santiago and they pointed to the end of their counter line. So, after waiting a few more minutes and trying to convey our destination, the customer service representative told us there was no direct train to Santiago today and that we would have to take two trains getting us in well past my target time of 18:00. This would have meant I would miss the RS3G steering committee meeting altogether.

Oh, I need another Taxi. After a rush of anxiety, we pulled the Portugal/Spain maps out and started considering options. Within a few minutes of looking like puzzled travelers, a middle aged man asked if we could use a Taxi. His name was Alfredo Vincenti. I replied by asking if he could take us to Santiago directly. Alfredo replied yes as he used his hands to convey two and ½ hours - pay by meter. It was over 500 kilometers. I figured it would be about 300 EU. So, in my anxiety and frustration, we agreed to take a Taxi instead of venturing to find a train to Santiago or rent a car. We pulled our luggage over to his taxi cab and took off for the highway. It cost $320 EU for the taxi ride, an entertaining way to see the roadside along highways A-8, A-3 and AP-9. We passed thru Via Nova de Famalico, Braga, Ponte de Lima, Valenca, Porrino, Vigo and Pontevedra like the Star Ship Enterprise passes planets on its way to its destination in another star system. The vineyards and mountainside were plush green as we ventured north. The coastal cities smelled of sardines and the sun drenched road was spotted with toll booths metering traffic along the high speed parkway.

We arrived in Santiago de Compostela while it was still light around 18:00 (6 PM). Alfredo dropped us off quickly in front of the Hotel Compostela and helped us with our bags. The Hotel was book shelved between two banks on a major corner of Rua de Horreo and Rua da Fonte de San Antonia. It was a quick check-in and we rode a small Ottis elevator to the first floor where we found our rooms.

The Hotel housed within the Plaza de Galicia, an UNESCO heritage site dating back to 1499. The interiors are beautifully renovated with a very contemporary feel. The sleek lines, attractive wooden furniture and modern lighting highlighted with chrome and marble features were far superior to large box hotels made of concrete slabs and cookie cutter rooms. The rooms display wooden floors and soothing, organic colors.

After washing up and changing cloths, I walked up the street to HOTEL VIRXE DA CERCA for the RS3G steering committee meeting afraid I was going to be late. It was easy to find. I walked down from the street entrance to the first floor, through the lounge and saw familiar faces sitting around the patio table enjoying the sunshine. I joined the table, pulled up a chair and began listening to the remarks.

After the RS3G steering committee meeting, I returned to the Hotel Compostela for my Dad. He was fast asleep, exhausted from the travels and asked to skip the evening dinner. So, I returned to the HOTEL VIRXE DA CERCA on my own for dinner that lasted until after midnight Spain time. The meal was Galizian cuisine enjoyed in a relaxing atmosphere with a variety of the "tapas" and local wine. By end of dinner and after several glasses of wonderful Spanish wine, I was ready to hit the sack and was thankful my hotel was only a few blocks away on the same road. It would have been so easy for me to get lost.

Registering and attending EUNIS and RS3G Workshop
The next day began at 8:00am after a quick and satisfying buffet breakfeast in the basement of the Hotel Compostella. The traditional continental breakfeast included local orange juice, fruits, meats, breads and scrambled eggs. I left the hotel for the Faculties of Medicine to find the EUNIS Conference with my local map. It was a hardy walk past the Cathedreal and Parador de Santiago - Hostal Reis Catolicos. I was a bit winded as I rushed to continue on to my destination. Along my path, I met Pierre Ageron from the University of Lyon, France as he was navigating his way to the conference. We shared the path to the conference together.

Combining history, art and tradition, the goal of pilgrims and the emblem of St. James, the Hostal dos Reis Católicos, in the Plaza do Obradoiro, forms together with the cathedral one of the world’s most remarkable, and most visited, urban settings. The Hostal, which first saw life as a Royal Hospital in 1499 to house the many pilgrims arriving in Santiago, today still invites the traveler to enjoy this universal and fascinating city. Considered the oldest operating hotel in the world, it is also one of the most luxurious and beautiful. Later, I ventured into the foyer just to check it out. The tall ceilings, carpets and furniture, emblems of the day, reflected the rich history and thousands of patrons who walked in my steps with intrigue. I peered into the restaurant and gift store, and then returned to my path.

Up the street from the Plaza do Obradoiro, the Faculty of Medicine stood parallel to a row of proprietary stores and cafes serving tourists. The EUNIS Banner hung over the main entrance of the Faculty of Medicine. I ventured in and found the marble staircase and small posters pointing to the second floor. My first pass up the marble staircase was quick and it led me right to the registration area for the conference. After waiting a few minutes, the EUNIS staff gave me the checkin bag, tickets, name tag and material for the conference. From there, I ventured down the hall to the Aula Castelao room where the RS3G workshop was scheduled.

After taking my seat, I ventured through the conference bag and materials. Scanning the registration material, I found the Workshop introduction and agenda:

The Fourth RS3G Workshop
Harmonizing Higher Education: “Standard” perspectives in support of the Bologna Process toward the creation of a European Higher Education Area.

This workshop builds on the previous activities of the Rome Student Systems and Standard Group (RS3G) around standards and procedures supporting digital student data exchange in Higher Education Institutions. RS3G has been focused on putting into perspective how standardization efforts can help solve the challenging interoperability problems paving the road toward the harmonization of Higher Education at international level. One of its distinctive traits is to provide a context for understanding international standardization activities, contributing to them in a practical way, and engaging in international collaboration projects. RS3G is dedicated to addressing issues such as the critical “adoption dilemma” as well as key success factors like “bridging the gap” between standardization authorities and the implementation community. The workshop will also showcase real ongoing projects and their expected impact on Bologna Process while providing references for further investigation and opportunities for direct involvement.

The RS3G Workshop Agenda and ProgramSantiago de Compostela, Spain, June 23rd 2009
Welcome by EUNIS Vice-President - Jan Madey (10:00 - 10:15) RS3G update (10:15 - 11:30)
Intro (numbers and previous events) - Simone
Steering Committee presentation - Jonathan
RS3G Manifesto - Manuel
Liaisons: EAIE SIG - Herman, EUNIS Task Force - Jean Francois
Focus on Identity Management - JM
coffee break (11:30 - 12:00)
The Big Picture: Identity Management and Student System Standards - a tag team that must work (12:00 - 13:00) JM
lunch break (13:00 - 14:00)

Update on European Learner Mobility project (14:00 - 15:00) Cleo S.
Status Update
Data Model review
Looking forward & forward looking
call for services !

International Collaboration Projects (15:00 - 16:00) Janina D.
Mobility data exchange between university consortia and HE system providers: a MUCI - CINECA call for participation
Other proposals - initiatives, EU funded projects,
coffee break (16:00 - 16:30)
Discussion and Closing (16:30 - 17:30)
Final Remarks, comments, proposals
EAIE workshop (September 16th 2009)
Next RS3G workshop in Sweden (Nov. 2009)

Review of the Workshop and My Observations
Welcome by EUNIS Vice-President - Jan Madey (10:00 to 10:15)
Jan Madey (Poland), Vice President of EUNIS provided a short introduction for the RS3G Workshop. He mentioned the importance of adoption and the development of standards (specifications) to support student mobility.
Jean Francios Desnos (France), President of EUNIS echoed Jan Madey’s comments and welcomed all to the workshop.
RS3G update (10:15 - 11:30)
Intro (numbers and previous events) - Simone
Steering Committee presentation - Jonathan
RS3G Manifesto - Jonathan
Liaisons: EAIE SIG - Herman, EUNIS Task Force - Jean Francois
Simone Ravaioli, KION (Italy) along with Jonathan Dempsey, Digitary (Ireland) provided the RS3G update. Jean Francios was introduced and added a few comments about his efforts with the RS3G. He attended our first Steering Committee Meeting in Amsterdam when I first met him.

Simone proceeded to review the history of the RS3G with a powerpoint. It was effective to reflect back on the start of RS3G, especially for new partipants who made up over 50% of the audience from my casual observation.

Simone summarized the past travels in building RS3G awareness across the european continent spanning 6,000 kilometers between Rome, Stuggart, Dublin and Santiago.

Simone also tested the audience with a slide showing a huge number on the background of the Santiago Shell lodged in a stone block. The number was 601742. Many guesses were made from the number of mobile students to the number of days since the turn of the milemium. The number represented 60 participants from 17 countries and 42 organizations were pre-registered for the workshop. This was a significant increase over the prior three Workshops – revealing what Simone believes is a growing interest in the group and it’s mission.

Jonathan focused on the RS3G Manifesto, Governance and Mission of RS3G:
RS3G is an international group of stakeholders of HE contributing to:
Facilitate student mobility and lifelong learning by:
Building community to share news and experience in student systems
Identifying and sharing opportunities to establish interoperability
Providing expertise to the development of business cases driving specifications
Contributing to, endorsing and facilitating uniform adoption towards standards
Fostering contacts with formal entities such as EC, EUA, ENQA, CEN *
Liaise with communities of interest like EAIE, EUNIS **
Showcasing outcomes of RS3G activities

RS3G Steering Committee
Steering committee members
Gunnar Backelin, LADOK (SE)
Jonathan Dempsey, Digitary (IE)
Jean Francois Desnos, EUNIS (FR)
Manuel Dietz, QS unisolution (DE)
Herman de Leeuw, EAIE (NL)
Simone Ravaioli, KION (IT)
Advisors to steering committee
Jan Martin Lowendahl, Gartner Research (SE)
David Moldoff, PESC and Academy One (USA)
Mark Stubbs, Manchester Metropolitan University (GB)

RS3G Mission: RS3G (Rome Student Systems and Standards Group) is an established group of software implementers and stakeholders in the European Higher Education domain which is focused on contributing to the definition and adoption of standards and procedures for the exchange of data to facilitate student mobility and lifelong learning.

The Big Picture: Identity Management and Student System Standards - a tag team that must work (12:00 - 13:00)
Jan-Martin Lowendahl (

The presentation made by Jan-Martin was a very good overview of why Identify Management Systems (IAM) should matter to Higher Education. With mobility, come the business drivers to address how we collect identity attributes, how we secure them and how we validate them. Trust and the movement across physical and virtual borders is a tag team that must work together. Higher Education has a constant feed of new learners, faculty and generate alumni annually.

Gartner has invested in a great deal of research on IAM. And, Jan-Martin shared some of the insights gained from the research including business drivers for local solutions. The highest ranked reason organizations implement IAM is for user convenience. Much of IAM focuses on security and provisioning user access to computing resources. What was nice about the charts Jan-Martin presented was the regional comparison across AMEA, North America and Asia/Pacific.

IAM is a complex subject. So, surveys often reveal variations of response, based upon perceptions, differing glossaries and understandings of what IAM covers. Simple questions are still helpful. In 2008, nearly 50% of organizations are in process of implementing IAM. 37% say they are implemented IAM.

Jan-Martin then presented a complex diagram representing all the components and functions of IAM. It covered Identity Auditing, Identity Administration, Directory Technologies, Identity Verification, and Access Management. This solution oriented view was from the perspective of an organization managing IAM, serving requests from others or integrating with other environments.

The identity process begins with proven identity, creating identity, changing identity, using identity, monitoring identify and retiring identity spanning multiple tools and functions. Jan-Martin then reviewed the vendor world and how tools overlap the IAM space.

Evolution of IAM was reviewed from the legacy single sign-on to, directory services, web sign-on, real-time federation, real-time authorization, identity administration, to audit. A typical university environment was reviewed.

Jan-Martin discussed three paradigms of IAM using pictures. One was an isolated Rock reflecting an organizational perspective of managing identity, one was Stonehenge (federated IAM) where a community shares a common infrastructure to manage identity, and one was pebbles (user centric) where consumers, creators and certifiers work across the connected cloud of systems and tools through services.

The role of governments in IAM is evolving. It is the oil or sand in the gears, depending on your perspective. Europass, passport control, protecting and promoting the freedom of mobility, commerce and regulation (oversight) are part of the process and examples of how the ecosystem is evolving. Higher education is one aspect of the IAM ecosystem creating identity, using identity, certifying claims and providing a learning environment helping people expand their abilities, knowledge, competencies, etc.

The axioms of identity were reviewed. Identity is subjective. Identity changes over time (claims change because people evolve), Identify allocates risk.

On the absurdity of owning
one’s own identity...
Bob Blakley

Levels of assurance is the basis of trust, proofing, legal impact, secure transmission, variety of form and confidence. What is the cost of assurance? What is the latency? What is the value/benefit?

Jan-Martin transitioned the conversation to thinking about identity and IAM is really about managing claims. He introduced the claims ecosystem – forget identity and focus on claims management across consumer, creator and certifier. The future roles will be fulfilled by services exposed through standard data exchange or access. This is why it is part of the conversation and foundation of our work to develop specifications and drive for data standards. The protocols of exchange and process are overlaid with IAM.

The right person, in the right place, to enable every student to reach their full potential – whether in the real or virtual world – this should be our community focus. As we move more and more commerce to virtual, interconnected systems and services will rely on IAM in the cloud. Trust will be federated to mitigate cost and risk – through assurance and connectivity – compared to disconnected and isolated systems - which obscures trust and difficulty in assessing risk because claims can’t be certified easily.

Personal, business and societal goals will be achieved if we address IAM from a political, governance, institutional and consumer perspective.

How do we progress? Key recommendations: work on government’s role, understand the development of standards (specifications to adoption to standards) real and defacto, develop interoperability – which means we need to recognize there will be multiple protocols, methods, technology, etc. Recognize identity and identity assets as real assets. We all need to find our place in the claims ecosystem.

Update on European Learner Mobility Project (14:00 - 15:00)

Status Update
Data Model review
Looking forward & forward looking
Call for comments!
Call for services!
ELM (European Learners Mobility) - is the standardization project (Europass) ongoing within CEN (Central European Normalization)Overview: Cleo did a fantastic job summarizing a very complex ELM project and process which is creating a Diploma Supplement XML domain model. Cleo had a 35 slide Powerpoint deck and references to an ELM wiki to convey the material and progress to date. Check out: European+Learner+Mobility

The ELM project is expected to last 14 – 16 months in the development stage including collecting public comment and adjusting the specification to satisfy community concerns. Cleo did not outline the expected window of time it will take to achieve adoption of the Diploma Supplement (DS) specifications and the challenges to persuade service providers and developers to adjust their product roadmaps to incorporate the specifications across the ecosystem – for producing and consuming the DS in electronic form versus the paper form. This includes the protocols for request/reply, semantics, security, access methods, whether the infrastructure will be decentralized or federated across countries, systems and institutions. The ELM-DS is being developed independent of all the technical implementation issues at the moment, which has positive and negative implications. The more important and positive view of ELM-DS is that it is the first step augmenting Europass with the added data definitions and schemas that long term will evolve to address learner claims and identity management (creation, collection, certification and recognition of claims) and offering the services to stakeholders seeking access to them.

A question continues to come up in my mind, and one I have been shared with my European colleagues since getting involved in RS3G - is the focus on producing the ELM-DS without a real set of user stories explored on the consumption side and transforming the paper form to an XML form. So, it is leaving the actors wondering or imagining how will the ELM-DS impact future tools and system functionally? Obviously, the ELM-DS will be used for assessment of prior learning from an overall level – similar to the transcript – from an institution’s perspective or from an employer’s perspective. But, having it in paper form, electronic document form like a PDF or complex XML form, does not address how the information rendered in the ELM-DS will improve functionality, including fact checking and certification, handing the evolution of data as an individual claims for “credit” evolve and managing the instances of data as a result of attendance and learning engagements lifelong across many theaters. Transforming the DS into XML as outlined in the project is a valuable step, but I infer it will have to go thru the context of use in more granular steps, where further requirements will unfold and impact the speed or slowness of adoption. The tendencies of many will be to delay and postpone, reflected in a normal adoption curve of new technology. The hype cycle and timing of adoption will depend on many unknown variables.

About 7 months have expired since the start of ELM-DS and the project has developed the first draft of the abstract and conceptual models leading to name spaces and domains for basic data schemas making up the Diploma Supplement. This is fantastic progress to date. A reference set of other specifications are noted. I did not review the details of the specification yet, but plan too. Missing on the surface is the review of HR_XML and other person data specifications that would overlap and compete with software tools and services already in place using them. The domains of ELM-DS are:
n a Person instance, representing the learner/holder of the qualification,
n a Provider instance, representing the awarding institution,and, optionally,
n a Diploma instance, comprising information about the learning opportunity, at programme level, leading to the described qualification, as well as the actual result for the specific person
n a Transcript instance, containing LearningOpportunity instances representing the component units, each of which contains provider, credit, and result information.
n Additional Information property containing a description of additional achievement information.

The enhancement of learner mobility and employability is a high priority within the European Education Area. That is why CEN is funding the ELM-DS project. The establishment of the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) and Europass as a framework for the transparent description of qualifications and competences provides the common basis for well-structured recording of life-long learning events including European higher education structures and learners' private / institution-owned information.

This leads me to another observation: the PESC work on the Academic Progress Event Model spans institutions, program and offerings and overlaps the ELM-DS in a more granular form. The ELM-DS offers a means of sharing aggregated information (claims, collection, assessment, validation and certification) throughout life-long learning, not just between entry and exit points and not following a functional use model. For instance, the applicability of part or all of the DS to support dual enrollment, study abroad and transfer will be seen in the next presentation by Janina Mincer Daszkiewicz – who takes a more practical and functional approach toward using data exchange between two institutions across countries – reinforcing, the entry and exit points of life-long learning are not the only uses of the DS and its granular parts. Events inside the academy can be supported as new tools evolve to support dual enrollment, study abroad, placement and academic progress. This is more a suggestion I guess.

The goal of developing the ELM-DS specification is to support the development (or really the desire for new tools) of a new generation of technology-enhanced services for learners (learning and employment opportunities exploration), higher educational institutions administrations (certification or augmentation of learner information), employers (work-place descriptions, recruiting and development of learners' competencies) and other stakeholders of learning, education and training throughout Europe, as the European Union and Commission, the Member States and their governments and ministries, etc.

The Diploma Supplement (DS) is considered one of the most important Europass documents, having an essential role in the transparent interpretation and recognition of academic and professional qualifications (diplomas, degrees, certificates) across the diverse European educational systems map. In particular, the E-DS aims at:
- Promoting transparency within and between higher education systems;
- Providing accurate and up-to-date information on an individual's qualifications;
- Aiding mobility and access to further study and employment abroad;
- Providing fair and informed information relating to qualifications; and
- Facilitating academic and professional recognition and thus increasing the transparency of qualifications.

The entity domain model is an overview of the major areas of the ELM-DS.
The DS constitutes an instrument upon which a high level of agreement on the content and structure has been achieved among the EU member states. Indeed, most of the European countries have taken up the DS initiative and have specified their national variants of DS, in most cases being minor variations of the Europass DS. However, currently the DS is mostly issued in paper-based format. In cases where it is issued electronically, the DS is represented in a proprietary manner. A major problem is now the lack of interoperable tools, impeding the recording and/or reuse of data in existing learning management systems for the production of an electronic DS and the exchange of information among interested parties. I don’t think having the XML version will address the proprietary delivery and use of the DS until a delivery mechanism or transport infrastructure evolves as part of the specification or in tandem. That of course is my opinion.

The ELM-DS is a proposed (specification) supporting the recording and exchange of DS information among learner information systems, as well as the aggregation of information by third party suppliers. New tools will evolve to present, prepare, access and assess the content of the DS once the specification is finalized. That is the expectation.
The ELM-DS has been developed as:

- a lightweight standard taking into consideration existing and emerging business processes
an easy-to-implement standard in order to ensure a rapid uptake by stakeholders of learning, education and training throughout Europe (Higher Education Institutions, learners, employers, service providers, etc.)

- The ELM-DS is based on a data model expressing information of a learner's qualification, in full compliance with the Europass requirements, needed for the general purposes of:
the exploitation of academic achievements abroad: in continuing education or in seeking job opportunities

- the admission of students or graduates in home and European universities: acknowledgment of credits or transfer of credits accumulated in home institutions moving from one university to another.

- the expression of the level, content and nature of qualifications to potential employers both nationally and at a European level.

- the enhancement of internal and European student mobility, from a university to another, or from one branch of studies to another.

- the proper integration of foreign workers into a country's employment setting.

- the normalization of higher education qualifications, either in academic or non academic paths.
the establishment of good practices in the recognition procedures of qualifications among Higher Education Institutions.

Check out the ELM-DS wiki for more information or review the PPT on the website.

International Collaboration Project (15:00 - 16:00) Janina Mincer Daszkiewicz
Mobility data exchange between university consortia and HE system providers: a MUCI - CINECA call for participation

The third RS3G workshop presentation covered a pilot designed to serve user functionality and data exchange between institutions driven by very specific requirements. It was not a standard or community developed specification such as ELM-DS that is abstract and conceptual. The presentation was a static demonstration of the potential power of rendering common data exchange protocols, semantics and methods to support functional uses with negotiated data packages between institutions sending and receiving learners.

Janina Mincer Daszkiewicz presented WEB-SERVICES FOR EXCHANGE OF DATA ON COOPERATION AND MOBILITY BETWEEN HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS. Janina presented a grounded approach using a SOA (service oriented architecture) with web services framed to support a set of application methods with well defined data payloads rendered across the institutional boundaries and systems to serve functions required by end-user needs. The pilot demonstrated how collaboration and application of technology are not the barriers to a wider scale implementation of data exchange and interoperability, but the will and governance to foster the motivation to overcome the challenges of sharing common infrastructure, definitions, methods and specifications – and, in a broader context, re-tool systems to support new enrollment patterns of mobility.

Motivations and incentives must be aligned to avoid the “not-invented here”, which often creates differentiation and lack of portability of systems and data – due to the nature of innovation and the human desire to create the state of the art. Second, the application functionality must compete for resources and localized support, to enable success across institutions. There are thousands of applications and functions spanning academic and administrative departments within an institution. They all compete for IT resources and support. Creating a functional approach is often the fastest and easiest path demonstrating the value of IT’s investment, but it lacks reuse across other functional areas, resulting in a more costly model to support.

In other words, requesting the course and program history from a student system (for example) can be used across multiple applications and multiple uses. ERP and student systems evolved with managing basic person data, course data and organization data as a hierarchy across functional areas to optimize storage and retrieval. Instead of creating an abstract and conceptual approach across user roles, access and functions, Janina and her team took a very pragmatic method of building exactly what her team felt they needed to address student mobility across institutions and academic programs as a demonstration project. This is not intended to be a negative. But, one has to make a choice to create community specifications that can have broader use or focus on specific uses and examples. The latter, will require greater cost of integration long term and attract many to duplicate with varying levels of reflection, given the direct impact on self interests and motivations to solve problems that are here today. It also reveals how architecture and methods are the focus, not the actual data payloads and the effort to transform point to point implementations – which will be taxing to accommodate, but possibly more realistic than expecting everyone to re-tool systems following new specifications.

So, the pilot revealed great potential regarding the use of web services and functional design, supported by the sharing of a common infrastructure. This could be a future model for other functional uses and developers - one that can satisfy short term demands. Finally, it is a more granular approach toward data exchange, designed to support user stories and expectations to lower cost, improve productivity and service to mobile learners.

RS3G Discussion and Closing (16:30 - 17:30)
Final Remarks, comments, proposals
EAIE workshop (September 16th 2009)
Next RS3G workshop in Sweden (Nov. 2009)

Overall, I think this workshop was the best out of four so far. I think the presentations and discussions that were stimulated were well received by the participants. Even the standing breaks and lunch, offered everyone adequate time to follow-up on thoughts, network and find time to catch up on email.

The next workshop is scheduled for Sweden November 2009. The actual dates will be published and emailed to participants with an invitation. Please share the invitation with others when you receive it.

My final remarks about the workshop and RS3G progress: our incremental approach is respective and thoughtful of past work while focusing on influencing the next generation systems that could support interoperability, collaboration and the evolution of data standards. We are working from the shoulders of others, leveraging and recognizing their efforts with mutual respect. Our hope is, we can serve the market better sharing and working toward what we have in common, even in the face of competition. Our goal is to foster the real and virtual ecosystem around education through a common purpose which will help institutions serve people better, putting the right person, in the right place, to enable learners no matter where they are or where they want to go, reach their full potential.

Simone: thank you for a great job organizing the RS3G workshop. And Jonathan: thank you for being the foundation to support open and frank conversation needed by RS3G to be successful.

My other activities outside of the RS3G Workshop, Simone scheduled a wonderful dinner at a semi-private restaurant called Casa Marsla, a block off the Plaza do Obradoiro on the evening of June 23rd 2009. The dinner started at 21:45 (9:45) and covered nine courses with a variety of wines I could not keep track of. We had fennel soup, popcorn covered whipped goose livers, asparagus salad, hake fish, lemon sauté’ sardines, filet of beef, two different sorbets with cherries and strawberries, and a frozen sugar convection along with homemade breads. We rambled back to our hotel at 1:00 in the morning.

EUNIS 2009 activities and sessions spanned two more days. There were keynotes and parallel sessions throughout Wednesday and Thursday. I attended a few sessions and networked during lunches. I slept late on June 24rd, given the late night before.

Harmonizing Higher Education – A Special Concert
On the evening of June 24th, EUNIS hosted a special Concert and Dinner. The concert musicians from the Real Filharmonia de Galicia (RFG) were:
Violin: Anca Smeu Viola: Ionela Ciobotaru Violoncello: Thomas PielDouble Bass: Carlos MendezFrench Horn: Xavier RamonBasoon: Manuel VeigaClarinet: Saul Canosa

The concert included Beethoven Septette in E flat Major and as encore, the tango "Por una cabeza" by Carlos Gardel, arranged for septette by the basoon player. How appropriate and well done!

The Beethoven Concert at EUNIS was wonderful stimulant. It got me thinking. Yes Simone -the parallels to our need to develop and adopt data exchange standards to support the academy is related to listening to Beethoven in a country far away from my home.

Even though the RS3G is a small community of implementers and system developers, we can make a big impact like Beethoven did who lived and worked three centuries before us. The services we should render as ‘implementers’ is like musicians playing a Beethoven score. Do we all have to write our own specifications? Or, can we share a common score, transforming how we differentiate to how we collaborate and interconnect? In other words, successful software implementers should be seen as those that have the interconnections and pipes synchronized with the community specifications developed and approved by groups like RS3G, CEN and others.

The specifications we jointly develop and validate are much like the music composed by Beethoven. They are complex and cover orchestration, timing, protocols, semantics and fit within the lines. If we apply our efforts to create a common score, and focus on building adoption, we would then be supporting the processes of curriculum alignment or tuning, assessing comparability and rigor, supporting mobility and commerce far better, than if we continue down our isolated path developing one-off systems that only a few hear or see. When we think of the billion of people in the world who aspire to higher education and have no access (at the least), we can see there is an ample market to develop ways to serve the common good of the student. Beethoven’s music has been heard by billions, even in the variation of performance. Yet, all musicians strive to play it the way it is.

The music art form has evolved from a single man who developed his ability to compose music that has evolved into a standard – through adoption we all can we can all relate too – no matter where we came from or what language we speak or what school we attended, we all can listen to and consume the music (if we can hear that is).

The beauty of having well developed music score that all musicians aspire to play through training, practice and performance – no matter what country or language on this earth, transcends our drive for differentiation – with no parallel and how I would wish the practice of software development would evolve beyond local perspectives into such a model.

Developing Student Systems and Functional applications have not taken this path because of isolation. We have gone down a proprietary path for sake of differentiation and competitive motives. What is cool about thinking about Beethoven or for that matter, any formal music, is I could hear the same music anywhere in the world, and most aspire to retain the score and intent by staying within the lines and notes – at least the classics. They (musicians) don’t vary speed or decibel. They don’t re-write it. They strive to make it as comparable as possible – by excelling at repeating it. We dwell on how remarkable the sounds are, when the music is followed to the specification (music score). Why do we not do that with software and specifications?

Musicians attempt to make their performance live up to the standard and differentiate on how well they do that. We assess them that way. If they squeaked off key, we would immediately hear it and squint. We should strive to develop our “score” to support data portability, exchange and interoperability in the same ligjt. No matter where one plays the Violin and Beethoven, Base or French horn, the goal of the musician is to repeat it the best way they can to stay compatible with the intent of the composer – not to be different in other words. We need to develop a model for adoption that follows that pattern.

Like a specification, Beethoven wrote the music to orchestrate many instruments though sponsorship, like our present day specifications should augment and drive how the moving parts of higher education should tie together and “Harmonize” to support our audience’s desire for clarity and practice. In other words, how do we do this? It is a complex puzzle – not as challenging as developed a music score like Beethoven who was deaf. We find sponsors (CEN) like Beethoven and Mozart did in their era, to develop specifications that we can aspire to follow, improving our ability to assess learning and outcomes in the process, rather than get bogged down by the differences in how we administer data, methods and functions that no one hears or sees.

No one wants US Money
In preparation for coming to the RS3G Workshop, I withdrew $500 in cash from my bank and took the remaining Eruos I had in my desk drawer as spending money. In the Philadelphia Airport, before departing, my Dad and I exchanged $500 US dollars for Euros saving the rest of our cash to exchange if we needed it. Well, we spent the Euros we converted by the end of the RS3G workshop. So, since our Hotel was bookshelved by two banks, I went into each bank requesting to convert $500 in US currency to Euros. Both refused and said they would only do that for customers. I proceeded to two other banks down the street, and got the same response.

So, my only avenue was to withdraw more cash from my bank account, which of course got me to thinking about the economic consequences of how currency exchange is similar to prior credit recognition. When we hear the response our currency is not valued, it creates unintended consequences, like reducing my likelihood of spending more money on things I may want, but not need.

Which, in turn, from a macro economic perspective, the actions of banks not accepting my currency, will ripple through the economy, one traveler at a time coming from the US? This is similar to institutions, employers and even governments not accepting the credentials of others coming from places outside their domain. It impacts the global market and implications of protectionism reinforced by risk aversion, which in the end, will diminish mobility and commerce, not support it. Just an observation I thought about considering the topic of the EUNIS conference and the focus of the RS3G workshop.

Renting a Car
Another interesting topic of cross country commerce and the implications on policies and practices often employed to avoid risk, is the renting of a car. Before my trip, I had arranged for a car rental from EuropCar, to pick up a small compact in Lisbon and drive to Santiago and then on to Madrid. Obviously, my intent was to site see and spend my couple of travel days eating in local establishments and seeing the sights much closer to earth than an air transfer would afford. Sure, I could have easily arranged for an airport to airport shuttle. It would have been much less expensive. But, I was not just trying to get between point A - and point B without any opportunity to experience the local color and places that would be abstracted from 35,000 feet in the sky. So, I wanted to experience driving up the Portugal coast and down thru the country reaching Madrid. How often would life afford me this opportunity I thought?

Because I wanted to take the rental car across two counties, like I do in the United States all the time, I was going to be charged $900 Euros for a one-way drop off charge! So, EuropCar offered an option to pick up a car in Santiago’ train station instead of Lisbon to save the drop off charge if I keep the car in the same country. This is due to multiple companies or franchises not cooperating on managing the fleet across their proprietary borders. In the end, the penalty of trying to meet my desire was too expensive, so I reduced my expectation and took the option EuropCar offered. Much like student mobility, dual enrollment requires coordination and compromise across two institutions. It is similar to the extra effort of wanting to get local exposure of culture, geography and people when renting a car across countries. It is not just educational institutions impacted or inhibiting mobility. Commerce and the resistance inherited by borders and proprietary interests often can be seen across other industries that dampens the real value.

So, I rented the car in Santiago and picked up the car the morning of the 23rd, and ventured to the local parking garage as close as I could to the Hotel Compostela. The hotel did not have parking. So, I found a garage that would cost $8 Euro a day. Funny, I had to rent the car for three days and park it two of them to get the one way drop off charge reduced to $20 Euro. I still felt that was worth it.

I had to wait about 30 minutes for the EuropCar attendant to retrieve my car and clean it. That was ok, since I had to get my mind around driving a manual transmission again, something I have not done in over twenty years. Like riding a bike, it came back quickly as I ventured up the hilly streets to find the garage. I only stalled out once and quickly recovered.
Our Journey to Madrid by Car

It was about 500 kilometers from Santiago de Compostela to Madrid. I think we made it in 600 kilometers by the time we arrived at Madrid Airport. That sounds pretty absurd when you think of an airport hotel 12 kilometers from the airport, hidden in an industrial park, behind tall buildings obscuring signage and roads. Most of the 100 extra kilometers were the result of trying to get to the hotel once we arrived at the airport at dusk the evening of the 25th.

Leaving Santiago de Compostela was pretty easy by car. After picking up the rental car at the garage and paying the attendant, I drove out the garage on to a street under construction, ripped apart for what seemed water drainage and had to navigate barriers I could not read nor understand. Still, It took me about fifteen minutes to circle around the block, about 300 meters away during what seemed like rush hour traffic at 11:00am in the morning. I got to the front of the hotel, grabbed our bags and got my Dad into the front seat. We departed by 11:30am for Madrid finally without harm or issue that could not be dealt with.

I gave the maps to my Dad, hopefully expecting he could help me navigate the highway and on to the cities down south. He had troubled reading the small print in the moving car. So, I relied more on signs and my sense of direction finding the first highway to Lugo. It was pretty easy, considering all the energy exasperated thinking about getting lost or not knowing how to ask for directions in Spanish.

We stopped along the highway several times to take pictures, get gas and eat. We saw hundreds of pilgrims walking, riding and experiencing the Way to St. James. The pilgrimage to Santiago has never ceased from the time of the discovery of St. James' remains. We did not exactly follow the path in reverse, since we were headed south to Madrid on highway A-6, but it was worth noting we were following a path that has been around for centuries and probably millions have traversed the ground under our feet – or for that matter, tires.

Lugo was our first stop. It is a city built on Roman ruins and the perimeter of the old city has a standing, well maintained Roman wall. We drove around the city and took pictures of the wall that has remained for centuries, even through wars and storms, showing the engineering and architectural feat mastered by the Romans. Our journey continued on highway A-6.

We passed thru Baralla, Villa Franca del Briezo, Ponferrada, Astorga, La Beneza, San Cristobol de Entrevinas, Benevente, Cercicnos before heading for Madrid. The further south we came, the flatter and more arid landscape began to take over the horizon. Driving around the small towns was fun, comparing architecture, geography, climate changes and of course the mountain views. I was fascinated by the wind mills in the distant mountain hills as my father was more intrigued by the power distribution lines connecting towers across the landscape.

One of the most interesting experiences driving down to Madrid was when we stopped for a late lunch at a truck stop that served family style. We first hit the men’s room. Then, we ventured to determine how the protocol worked to be seated. There were no menus. There were no prices. There were no signs. I could see ten or so long tables filled with patrons being served, enjoying wine, beer, soda and water. The tables were spread across a large central room with an attached bar. Just about all the tables were filled. So, we spotted one half empty and proceeded to sit down.

Within a few minutes, one of the waitresses came over to our table and pulled the paper table cloth off and cleared the plates from the former patrons. As I watched others, they just seemed to order from memory and I took my clues quickly. When the waitress came over to us again with her menu pad, I pointed to the guy next to be and said I wanted what he had – which was a sirloin steak with potatoes fries. Within five minutes she brought what seemed like a bucket of chicken noodle soup with fresh baked bread. Then she brought us to servings of steak. Instead of wine at 2pm in the afternoon, I choose a bottle of water. It was hard to comprehend so many drivers consuming entire bottles of wine and beer and re-entering the highway. At the end of the meal, I did not know how much it cost or if the waitress would bring a bill. Watching others, I soon saw they just stood up, left no tip and walked to the bar to pay. I did that as well, and as I was trying to request the price for the meal, a nice women waiting to be seated spoke in English and told me the meal cost $22 Euros. That was fortunate, because I opened my wallet and starting pulling out 20’s thinking I needed several more to pay off the rather modest meal.

We re-entered the highway after our rest. And, made our way to the Madrid Airport by 18:00. Then, I proceeded to follow the directions printed from Google maps, only to get totally lost seeking signs and placards with any clue of the Hilton Hotel. We were so close, but so far away. After asking three different people for assistance, I finally saw something familiar. It was not the Hilton Hotel as I expected, but the EuropCar drop-off station, which was in front of the Hilton Hotel, masked by a large office building. I was so relieved. We parked the car and registered in the hotel for our final night. The next day, we returned to the airport by hotel shuttle, boarded the plane after a small wait and had no trouble getting thru customs after landing.

The journey was over and I took my Dad home.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Third Meeting RS3G, Stuttgart Germany

December 10 and 11, 2008

As a contrast to Rome and Dublin, the Stuttgart Meeting of the RS3G was held in a corporate center complex where Unisolution is headquartered.

Getting there
I planned the trip with the help of Google and Expedia. Checking flights and trains revealed a large variation in options and costs. I ended up buying tickets off a discount site that offered coach seats for about 1/3 the price of what USAir was selling the same seat for on Expedia and USAir’s own website. Flight 700, the red eye leaving Philly was not crowed at all and I took advantage of an upgrade option. That added some costs, but the comfort was well worth it, given the length of ride and the added room. Yet, I did not sleep. I guess the excitement and anticipation put too much adrenalin in my blood. So, I watched a few movies, ate, drank and listened to music.

Flight 700 landed in Frankfurt promptly at 6:30am. The AirBus 330 moved to the gate, but stopped short of it, requiring the portable steps to be moved into position, instead of the auto walkway that usually connects to a large plane under cover. It was spitting rain and snow when we landed, but I did not have to face the elements much. The passengers preceded down the steps into a large bus that shuttled us to the terminal and then on to Customs only facing the elements for a minute. Once in the terminal, we walked to German Customs – which was quick and easy. No forms. Just waited a couple of minutes and was out in a jiff.

My next task was to find where to buy a train ticket to take me to Stuttgart after exiting the secure area of the terminal. I followed the signs for baggage claim; I found the sign for the train station. It felt like a mile, winding past points between terminal1 and terminal2. Once reaching the train station, I proceeded to the first DB Train desk where I purchased a roundtrip ticket from Frankfurt to Stuttgart. I then waited an hour in the DB lounge. It was a bit more upscale than Amtrak, offering free tea and coffee and a very comfortable setting to grab my laptop and connect to t-mobile. But, I could not find any bathrooms, which was strange. The time zone was still not hitting me yet. So, I could still function moving thru my Vista connection options to attach to the network which usually has its moments moving from point to point. Considering I did not speak German, most people I met conversed in English with me. So, asking for help, directions and for information was easy.

The DB Ice Train Itinerary was very helpful. It was in German, but I quickly recognized the train platform was “Gleis” and the Train Number was 591 on Platform 5. I did not know it was taking me only half way, where I had to change train from “Fern” to “Mannheim”. After sitting down, buying a cup of coffee and getting my laptop out to connect to the t-mobile offered on the train, I was lucky the train conductor clipping my ticket said I needed to get off and change trains in two minutes. After packing up quickly, I moved off the train and within minutes boarded the “Mannheim” train to Stuttgart. It took another 20 minutes and we stopped in the Stuttgart Main Train station, which was under renovation without any further incident. The next thing was I had to either take a commuter train to the Pullman Hotel or a Taxi. It was now snowing, and considering I did want to get a more personal perspective of the city, I took a Taxi. The first thing I noticed was I was sitting in a very comfortable leather seat in an immaculate diesel powered Renault. The driver was pleasant and we chatted as we drove up the hills to the Pullman Hotel. He said it was about 10 Kilometers. The roads were wet, and not crowded. By the time we got to the Pullman, the ground was covered by about three inches of snow. I got to the hotel around 11:30am and was restless and tired. The Pullman in Stuttgart is well appointed and very comfortable. Its lobby and bar is on the first floor. And, the restaurant is tucked away on the other side of the open bar. Registration was quick. They gave me a nice room on the 4th floor which had a key ring they weighed about ½ pound with two small keys – one for the door and one for the mini-bar. After checking in, I dumped my stuff off in the room and left the room to find my way to the conference center, where we were to meet for lunch before the Steering Committee meeting.

Stuttgart the City
The city is in a valley and the suburbs surround it rest on the hills around it . Stuttgart is an expanding, cosmopolitan city. Unlike Rome and Dublin, one could not notice the newness and the blended architectures of past and present. It was not defined by water ways or rivers. The streets and roads were designed for drivers, not bikers or pedestrians. Yet, everywhere I turned; there was little, if any litter and a lot of people smoking in designated areas. Many walls and outside walks are plastered with modern graffiti. And, the speed, softness and quiet of the German trains live up to all expectations. Another placard of the past that I noticed was placement of phone booths scattered about. Since many Germans use public transportation, there is a great trust for it and Phone booths can be found just about everywhere. No one asked me for tickets on the commuter train. It appeared on the honor system. And, the long distance trains were not crowded either. Comfortable leather seats, power, and room reflected the German commitment to this mode of transportation.

During my stay, I traveled through residential areas, retail and office parks. Did not see any heavy industries in the city. Along the train tracks and most roads I passed, houses had red or grey clay ceramic shingles on their roofs – layered on steep angles to avoid deep piling. It reminded me of houses in the North East US, but had deeper inclines. Most of the houses were two stories that had a common look about them. One could see different types of houses and living conditions across the train tracks. House colors were yellow, pink, and tan with some contrast – but most were white. Occasionally I would see a bright yellow or green house in a bunch. Windows were not large. Houses were plastered with stucco. There was a consistency in the dwellings with texture and color and the neighborhoods seen very organized like Levittown – but on hills, if you ever saw that in the United States. As one moves out of the dense areas, the houses begin to separate, have more land and offer distinctions that visibly reflect more independence.

Farms were just plowed for the winter rest. Some had low level greenery like a winter planting of Brussels sprouts. And trees buffered large swaths of land. Factories and storage barns were mostly single story, large running buildings linking industries from the past to the present. Refineries and processing plants followed the tracks of the train. One could easily compare the region to Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. I see so many similarities.

The Meeting
The RS3G Workshop meeting was held in the Stuttgarter Engineering Park GmbH named STEP 2 – a large and growing complex that houses many leading companies in the region and world. Each building had a STEP number. Unisolution’s office is in STEP Engineering Office Park and the workshop was scheduled and held in the conference center in STEP 2. After a short taxi ride from the Pullman Hotel, I found my way up STEP 2, a modern five story office building that was lined with glass. The second floor had a conference center and dining hall able to serve several hundred. Several RS3G attendees met for lunch and had a nice pre-meeting discussing current events and the election in the US.

The STEP Conference Center was a great accommodation. Outside the Loft Room, beverages, coffee and teas were served with buttered German pretzels or coffee cake all during the meetings. So, one would easily have enough carbs to make it through the day.

The Steering Committee Meeting – Day 1
The RS3G Workshop was split into two segments. The first day, initiated a steering committee discussion where we focused on the vision, objective, mission and goals of RS3G. A steering committee was established to foster and channel efforts of the RS3G. Unisolution, Digitary and Kion will have three seats at the table and another two or four members will be selected at large from other European members. The initial goal of the steering committee will be to formalize the structure for future work of RS3G. The discussion about vision, mission and goals was interesting because it reflected how the group is maturing through the workshops and meetings; in determine the purpose of gathering and collaboration. The participant discussion created a draft vision, mission and goal statement which reflects an orientation of implementing specifications created by other standards bodies funded by CEN projects.

CEN is the European Committee for Standardization. CEN is a business facilitator in Europe, removing trade barriers for European industry and consumers. There are over 13,000 documents published by CEN since November 2008 according to the website. The central website publishes the outcomes of workshops and shared documents. One has to go to each member country’s CEN representative to find the national standards specifically.
The scattered and complicated standards space is one of the motivations drawing the RS3G members together. It is not just about the Bologna and Barcelona processes which have created a slew of initiatives and programs across Europe. It is about the challenge of evolving technologies to support the learning enterprise and learner needs.

The stakeholders coming to RS3G are looking to collaborate and share knowledge. The effects of evolving standards and their specifications I think is overwhelming, often freezing one’s thoughts about what to do about them. What is relevant today? Tomorrow? And, how do systems evolve respecting the specifications? Which ones are important? Which ones will change, which ripples into software maintenance and costs that most want to avoid.

The members vary from software companies, institutions. Government agencies, subject matter experts to third party organizations that serve respective interest groups. RS3G is evolving and reflects the participants draw to utilize shared specifications, pilot projects and lessons learned. It could be called a shared observatory. Some of the abbreviations brought up during the discussion could overwhelm anyone, if they did not have a cheat sheet. So, here is my cheat sheet:

RDCEO Reusable Definition of Competency or Educational Objective
CWA CEN Workshop Agreement
IEEE Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.
MOL Learning Object Metadata
LT Learning Technology
IMS IMS Global Learning Consortium, Inc.
LIP Learner Information Package
CEF Common European Framework
JISC Joint Information Systems Committee, UK
CETIS Centre for Educational Technology Interoperability Standards, UK
PESC Post Secondary Education Standards Council
SIF Student Interoperability Framework
HR_XML Human ResourceISO Information Technology Standards
W3C World Wide Web Consortium
ICT Information and Communications Technologies Standard Boards
EUROPASS European Framework for Skills, Competencies and Qualifications
ECET European Commission Education and Training
ECTS European Credit Transfer System
EQF European Qualifications Framework
NARIC National Academic Recognition Information Centres
ECVET European Credit System for Vocational Education and TrainingDS Diploma Supplement
EUNIS European University Information Systems
EAIE European Association for International Education

Erasmus Mundus is a co-operation and mobility programme in the field of higher education which promotes the European Union as a worldwide centre of excellence in learning. Its goal is to support 3,000,000 mobile learners by 2010.

Grundtvig is a programme that focuses on the teaching and study needs of those in adult education and alternative education streams, as well as the institutions and organizations delivering these services. Supporting lifelong learning and mobility in this way also tackles Europe’s ageing population problem.

The evening of the 10th was reserved for a social event at the Restaurant Neuer Ochsen, Schwabenplatz 3, Stuttgart Vaihingen:

We met at 8:00pm at the Schwaben Brau, an historical brewery visited by King of Württemberg in the early 1900’s. The Restaurant offered Swabian traditional cuisine. We had a few pints of German beer and the food was absolutely delicious. The main entrée was Schwaben String, a 15zarter Zwiebelrostbraten an schwäbisdelicate sliced onion roast with a mushroom gravy called Swabian Maultäschle in Zwiebelschmälze mMaultäschle in Zwiebelschmälze with knusprigen Bratkartoffelcrispy fried potatoes.

Relying on pure fumes at that point given the lack of sleep, I walked back to the Pullman with Simone Ravaioli in the snow around 11:30pm.

The RS3G Workshop – Day 2
The second day was more focused on presentations by participants and updates on some of the work member countries implementing EUROPASS and the Diploma Supplement.
Simone Ravaioli opened the workgroup by summary the efforts in Dublin and Rome. Then, he proceeded to summarize the agenda for the December 11th meeting.

• MLO-AD: update by Mark Stubbs from the UK reviewed the MLO project progress, a reference architecture model for defining and capturing learning outcomes. This effort was linked to the CDM – Course Description Model which was successfully launched last year in the UK.
• European Learner Mobility : update by Cleo Sgouropoulou from Greece. The Diploma Supplement components were reviewed and the progress converting it to XML use.
• EuroAFI project proposal: update by Uni Stuttgart covered the integration delivery system employed to send electronic documents and payloads through a publish and subscribe model.
• CETIS Achievement Information Working Group – Diploma Supplement and Transcript structure and sharing protocols by Scott Wilson was reviewed.

The effort and presentations will be posted on the RS3G Wiki found at:
More information can be obtained by contacting one of the three RS3G Steering Committee members:

Manuel Dietz, unisolution, Germany 711 2535 9160
Jonathan Dempsey, Digitary, Ireland 87 8515508
Simone Ravaioli, Kion, Italy 051 6111411

This was my third trip to the RS3G meeting. The Stuttgart meeting, in my view, reflects the growing sentiment of European stakeholders interested in working thru the implications of electronic data exchange between applications and systems supporting the Bologna and Barcelona processes. Most, I think are waiting for the creation of data exchange standards to follow. Primarily because educational organizations are usually risk averse in technology adoption, even though they create so many of the inventions. As an industry, we are creators of heuristic models - the ingredients that fuel departmentalization and specialization.

The challenge is similar everywhere I go. There is a risk inherent in waiting for the clear direction in the evolution of standards that will impact academic and administrative processes. And, there is a risk inherent applying efforts on specification that may never gain adoption and consensus (BETA vs. VHS). We all fear wasted efforts or taking the wrong path. Thus, the reason to draw together is to sift through all the chatter and noise and find common areas to work on, lessoning the risk of picking the premature areas to apply efforts on, and offering a means demonstrating how working together could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The RS3G is seeking a rationale to exist at the same time it is addressing the needs of “implementers” who have nowhere to turn but to find others in the same boat. So, it is that continual self-evaluation that makes the group tentative, yet appealing to its participants. It is an interest group assembled to do something about the stress created by the future unknown of where things are headed. The strides made politically and economically across the European continent are challenging existing enterprises. But, like the Euro, competencies is the new currency. Will it reduce the barriers when crossing geographic borders? Will it fuel the economic growth with a flexible and educated workforce empowered to find self-fulfillment and financial return on their educational investment?

Recognizing and publicizing the need to bridge language, models of comparability and methods of assessment have great promise to support democratic values of fairness and equality. Yet, it unveils the harder issues of transparency, wrought with aging linkages reinforcing institutional centric behaviors and needs. How do institutions and state systems co-exist? How is funding going to evolve? These will obviously impact the rate of adoption and standardization of any community developed specification.

The difficulty of creating data exchange specifications and their resulting adoption is thick with concerns and issues spanning Stakeholders, which is often felt as friction to progress because we are all so unique. Waiting or even ignoring the implication of data exchange specifications is a strategy taken by many companies and institutions. Pushing for adoption of joint specifications and technology can offer competitive advantages through collaboration and tighter integration of systems – because there is no I in Team. These are two sides of the same mirror.

Funded by society in pursuit of economic development and commerce, education is central to the European Union’s strategy to grow in world substance and competiveness. It is so similar to the initiatives behind workforce development in the States. On the other hand, developing learning and process “standards” across institutions of higher education can also be seen as an oxymoron. Higher education has been an environment where one learns from experimentation, reflection and revealing differences often fueled by individualism and independence. Calls for standardization is like an atom smasher, where we try and smash the molecules of a medium into its standard parts, to see if the power emitted will energize our economy, not disrupt it.
How we reflect our differences and the bias assessed from them, is at the root of why the call for standards is often seen as a means to level the playing field. Interchangeability and interoperability describe the benefits of adoption. The fear and uncertainty revealed on the surface by such calls for standards, prolongs proprietary and isolated approaches – because that is how organizations resist naturally. They appeal to their customer’s experience and their differentiation – which is central to their brand and marketing.

How do we educate a workforce and impact the lives of citizenry to support democratic ideals and economic development fueled by group discovery that impacts the self? How do we respect the autonomy of institutions and the faculty who enrich the learner’s experience, when we try and level the playing field? Do we teach to the standard, or do we go beyond and help learners achieve more than the average? These are general questions that bounce around in my head.
The conflict and confluence of recognizing there are complex undercurrents to the “standards” river, sheltering the banks of sand and stone (“policies and practices”) from the waves of change (“political”). Our pre-conceived notions of location, language and learning are impacted by socialized bias (trust) that have impeded the ability to assess and focus on the qualifications and competencies sought by industry and are the outcomes often questioned when crossing borders. Certification of credentials, authenticity of them, and the discerning content that reflects objective measures and descriptions is a major effort spread across many groups and organizations as noted in my cheat sheet. The RS3G group is trying to cope with the merits, drivers and efforts in navigating the complexity, experiences and future endeavors connecting the dots to help where appropriate.

Visiting Unisolution’s Office
I did not get much time to visit and site see given the short trip. But, after the meeting on Thursday evening, I did visit with Manuel and Stephen in their office. They are expanding their business and moving to larger quarters in the newly finished and expanded part of the complex. One could see, they were squished into their office setting, sharing spaces and utilizing every nook and cranny they could. Unisolution is focused on learner mobility, much like AcademyOne is focused on college transfer in the States. They have maps of Germany, Spain, England and France plastered on the walls. Some had the push pin markings of their institutional users, but were not large enough to hold all the push pins by scale. Larger maps with the whole continent showed the borders of States and the legacy of geographical regions long dominated by social changes accustomed to periodic movements of order, from chaos.

The Boys
Manuel and Stephane both have sons a few weeks apart in age. Both boys attend a full day nursery school together a few minutes from their complex. I did not meet Manuel’s son. But, Stephane’s son did come into the office. His name was Elliot and was rambunctious after getting out of school. Elliot is almost 2. He looked comfortable running, around the office beneath the adults talking about the education market in Europe and the differences with the United States.

Another tidbit was that Stephane was originally from France, while Manuel grew up in Germany and attended institutions inside and outside of Germany. Both were products of the European Learner Mobility initiatives and gained their understanding of the processes from their personal experiences.

As partners and managing directors, Manuel and Stephane rely on each other as they stress to grow their enterprise and overcome the challenges of building sales, gaining adoption in the higher education market, and manage their staff as they extend their move on and move in applications across French, German, Spanish and Italian institutions. They share an office where their desks face each other.

The Tour
Stephane and his significant other and son in toe, on a snowy Thursday night took me downtown for dinner and a little site seeing. While Stephane visited Philadelphia in 2008, my wife and I hosted one evening at my house where they could meet my family (my two kids) and experience a traditional American meal. Then, the next day, I met them down in Philly and I took them on walking tour around the Philly Art Museum area and along the Benjamin Parkway. We shared lunch in the Reading market, splitting hoggies and cheese steaks, a Philadelphia tradition influenced by a European blend of bread, meat and cheeses – which I am sure parts come from Germany.

So, Stephane offered to reciprocate the experience taking me thru the Stuttgart city center, as we moved toward the Christmas Market after dark. He drove us downtown in his Renault, a small and comfortable car I wish I could get in the US. The Christmas city of Stuttgart invites you to the most beautiful Christmas market, known in German as the Stuttgarter Weihnachtsmarkt. Everywhere the Christmas light decorations sparkle, the smell of cinnamon and vanilla, bratwurst and mulled wine are in the air and Christmas music sounds from everywhere. Thousands of people were drinking hot spicy mulled wine out of small mugs or steins.

The festively illuminated city center - with a medieval flair due to the Old Castle, the towers of the Collegiate Church and the grand Baroque castle - forms the wonderful backdrop of the Stuttgart Christmas Festival. The architecture reflects the Moorish influence I think. We walked by the ice skating rink which was well lit where skaters synchronized with the holiday music. The dramatic 18th century New Castle and the 10th century Old Castle through rows of colorful Medieval houses to the imposing, Gothic St. Eberhart's Cathedral was a pleasure visiting on the snowy night.

After walking briskly through the snowy elements, we searched for a restaurant in the nearby neighborhood. We ended up at an Italian Restaurant after trying several traditional German restaurants that were too busy. Stephane told me that Stuttgart has a large Italian community and when the world cup of soccer played between the French and Italians, he was out numbered 200 to 1 in the stands. After a nice meal, we drove back to my hotel and we said our goodbyes.

My Trip Home
Waking up at 6:30am on a few hours of sleep was not too hard. I used my GSM phone and set the alarm to ring, jolting me from bed with plenty of time to have a hearty breakfast and time to map out my reversal home. This time, instead of taking a taxi back down the hills, I decided to take the commuter line. I checked out of the hotel and proceeded to the train platforms nearby. I purchased a ticket from the vending machine for zone 1. And, proceeded to take the first train from platform 2 the wrong way. Noticing the mistake as the train zoomed by the stations on the map, I jumped off after three stations and reversed course. I had plenty of time. The train downtown took about 20 minutes and I exited. Initially, I did not notice one has to push a button to open the doors. I was lucky someone trying to get on the train pushed it for me. Another small mistake that could have been costly.

After getting to the City Center train station, I approached the DB Lounge and asked the reception desk for the train platform number. I was informed it was #9 and not the #16 printed on my itinerary. After waiting about 30 minutes, I preceded to the platform #9 and walked around waiting. Then, I noticed another white DB train two platforms over and the sign digital sign over the #9 platform with the phrase that looked like my train was moved to track #7. So, after taking a wild guess, I jumped over to the other track and quickly asked one of the conductors standing outside. Lucky I did it quick, because within minutes the train started out of the stations. The ride to Frankfurt was uneventful. Took a little more than an hour. I got off at Frankfurt and took a shuttle bus to terminal 2, then walked to terminal 1. Got to the US Air counter and checked in. Then on to customs which seemed like a mile down the way. Then, I crammed into the waiting area for boarding flight 701 back to Philadelphia. A little after 12PM, the flight attendant announced boarding for families needing help. After a few minutes, she quickly said boarding Zones 1-3. Instead of giving each Zone their own timeframe, she skipped and the mad rush began. It took about 15 minutes to squish though the sardine crowd trying to board the plane.

Well, that is the end of the story. The flight landed on time. Proceeded through customs and on to my car. My world travel to Germany was over and I was ready for my bed by 7:30pm.