Projects point the way to enhancing safe, secure and integrated access to resources
The introduction of federated access management in the UK brings about new opportunities for institutions in terms of access to resources of all kinds. One of the major benefits of the new system, based on open source Shibboleth technology, is that it enables students and staff to use the same username and password for internal, as well as external resources such as e-journals and databases, both on- and off-campus.
Last year’s announcement by Jisc of its intention to adopt federated access management as the preferred access management system for UK FE and HE and the launch by both Jisc and Becta of the UK Access Management Federation last December, are important steps in the move towards single sign-on to resources across all sectors.
Many students and staff gain access to such resources through virtual learning environments (VLEs), which have been adopted by many colleges and universities across the UK to enhance the teaching and learning experience. As part of the preparatory work for the introduction of federated access management, extensive work has been carried out in the UK to enable federated technologies to work with the most popular VLEs.
The following case studies introduce some of the work that has been done and show why this work is important, providing links to further project information.
Open source Moodle has gained popularity as a VLE, particularly in FE. A project at Kidderminster College (KC-ROLO) has brought two open source products together by using Shibboleth to provide federated access to Moodle at the college.
The valuable experience in implementing and using federated technologies gained by the project has led to other FE colleges asking the project team to help them implement Moodle and Shibboleth. The project team is now supporting nearly 20 sites, serving a total of over 70,000 students.
WebCT is one of the most popular VLEs used in HE. A Kent University project (KUSP) aims to provide a ‘Shibbolized’ portal with a WebCT component. Thanks to the project, which has involved collaborative work with the supplier, a WebCT/Shibboleth module is now available to the community.
Blackboard is another very popular VLE. The University of Durham uses the system as a student portal, allowing users to access some of the information in the portal without their logging in. The IAMSECT project at the university has set up Shibboleth access to Blackboard by making some important changes to the way in which authentication by Blackboard was made. The portal has been running successfully for over a year, allowing access to a limited number of staff and students from Durham and Newcastle Universities.
The University of Leeds has a particular interest in inter-institutional teaching, primarily with partners in the Worldwide Universities Network. That is why the University has been investigating methods of federating learning environments, particularly modular-wide area learning systems, such as Bodington. Bodington is an open source Learning Management System specifically designed for complex, multi-disciplinary and large organisations and for inter-institutional collaboration. It has built-in Shibboleth functionality.
As part of the Guanxi and SOCKET projects, the University of Leeds has provided federated access to Bodington. The University of Leeds uses Shibboleth to provide a secure single sign-on system that allows the University to link Bodington to online resources such as online textbooks, external services, such as bulletin boards and wikis, and even other VLEs.
Federating Questionmark Perception
The SOCKET project at the University of Leeds has also successfully federated Questionmark Perception, a popular online assessment tool. This was an interesting challenge, as Shibboleth access is based on user anonymity, and therefore not suitable for assessment purposes. The project developed a Resource Manager that can extract the information about the user’s identity from Shibboleth and pass it on to Questionmark Perception in a form that it can use.
Sakai is an online collaboration and learning environment that supports ad hoc group working, teaching, learning and research in networked communities. It is a free and open source project built and maintained by a large international community. The Sakai Foundation is a non-profit organisation that coordinates the activities of a user community to ensure Sakai's long-term viability.
In the UK there has been some interest in the Sakai platform for institutional adoption. Work carried out by the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Hull, and the UHI Millennium Institute has ensured that the Sakai VLE can now use Shibboleth authentication.
Benefits of using federated technologies with a VLE
Federating a VLE allows users to access a range of internal and external services with just one username and password. Graham Mason of Kidderminster College, which uses the open source Moodle VLE, says that by ‘removing the barrier of extra passwords to access Moodle, both student and staff usage has increased significantly, thus further promoting the use of our VLE’.
The use of federated technologies also allows users to access multiple VLE instances, both intra- and inter-institutionally, in a seamless manner, thus giving collaboration a new dimension. Federated access gives institutions the ability to share resources and collaborate with other institutions throughout the world without having to maintain additional user accounts and passwords.
Jisc will continue to support UK institutions on their journey to federated access management, which will bring more exciting benefits to the UK educational community.
- KC-Rolo project – federating Moodle
- Kent University Shibbolized Portal (KUSP) project – federating WebCT
- IAMSECT project – federating Blackboard
- SOCKET project wiki - federating Questionmark Perception
- Sakai project
- Tetra Foundation – integrating Sakai VLE with Bodington VLE
- Guanxi project – Guanxi Shibboleth implementation