OpenID in Higher Education

I remember back when I went to school, we had to walk 18 miles through 5 feet of snow and once we finally arrived we had to remember multiple accounts/passwords/pins to access the myriad of online services the school expected us to use. Now that I am several years removed from the hallowed towers of academia I wonder, have things changed?

The answer, unfortunately, is no.

Why not OpenID?

There is no reason that I can see why OpenID couldn’t really help to solve problems in Government and educational institutions, specifically higher education. For those unfamiliar with OpenID, it is a simple protocol that allows you to safely and securely sign on to thousands of websites with a single username and password. Under the leadership and guidance of JanRain and other great companies, OpenID has evolved to be an easy to use single sign-on solution with over 140 million OpenID accounts created worldwide. To date, AOL, SUN, Verisign, Microsoft, France Telecom, Apple and many others have committed to OpenID making it a viable SSO solution for the future. Google trends shows an steady increase in interest in OpenID when compared to other comparable technologies. There is a good primer to OpenID which provides excellent information about the viability of OpenID here.

Is anyone currently using OpenID in the .edu space?

Yes, but only a couple of institutions…

  • Brigham Young University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technologyruns it’s own OpenID server and hosts several OpenID projects:
  • Case Western Reserve University(Experimental)
    • Blog post with some background on OpenID being integrated with CAS at Case

Who Cares?

The students who pay tuition and who will graduate and become successful alumni who donate. Also, current alumni who want to see their alma mater supporting the latest and greatest technologies. As noted, with over 140 million OpenID accounts created (including all AOL users), and Apple supporting OpenID it is increasingly likely that students will be showing up to universities with their own online identities that they will wish to continue to use during their scholastic career and beyond. As an educational institution do you want to make it easy for potential and current students to access your current services? How about making it easy for alumni to affiliate themselves, engage with current students, or to login and donate?

What about the Future of OpenID?

The OpenID 2.0 specification has been written and is waiting on the approval of the OpenID community before being finalized. An official announcement is scheduled for the beginning of December. This new version of OpenID will deliver the ability to maintain your portable identity and reputation throughout the OpenID ecosystem. For example the OpenID 2.0 libraries JanRain has developed will support a feature called ‘Attribute Exchange’ which will allow site operators to query an OpenID account provider and (assuming permission is given) automatically fill in relevant personal information. No longer will students have to enter sensitive information on every different service they wish to access.

So while I exaggerate about the weather conditions endured during my education, there is no exaggeration when I say the lack of a good SSO for educational institutions is a very real issue.

~Kevin Fox