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.

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