Identity, Ownership and Mobility PDF Print E-mail
Written by Graham Brown-Martin on Monday, 21 January 2008
handheldA few years back disgruntled by some dental work that left me with the prospect of looking like the dashing yet rough-edged, Mark E Smith, I suggested to my dentist that I would change practitioner. I therefore requested my dental records assuming that it was I who, as the subject, was the owner of the aforementioned documentation. Until that point it had struck me as obvious that the ability to easily transfer my data from one practitioner to another would afford benefits for me in terms of choice of future practitioners and make any future transitions seamless. But, as I discovered, I was wrong. It doesn’t work that way. Whilst I was paying for the diagnosis and clinical judgement I wasn’t paying for the clinical records. I’m sure if we’d got into negotiation I could have paid for some copies but instead we settled on a new set of veneers.

It’s a similar situation with our medical records, all of which seem a little tricky to get a look at, although we’re told they are currently a bit more transferable than those concerning your molars. If, like me, you run a business you may have shareholders who believe that you are worth more alive than toes-up (better that way around). So this leads to things like “key man” insurance policies where you get prodded around and various documents get passed between the state and private sector. About you.

/iphone%20emr.jpgMedical records in the UK are highly topical at the moment for a number of reasons. The government is building a national database of medical records that many doctors oppose on the basis that it may threaten the privacy of patient’s medical records. However, Ministers have given their reassurances of privacy and the work on this central database proceeds.

Identity is a big issue on the Internet as elsewhere with issues that range from online safety to offline identity theft. The party, where one could remain anonymous on the net, is coming to an end however. Like smoke detectors that reduced deaths in homes it may well be the education sector, and specifically educators, that drives the move towards confirmed identity over the net.

How? Well, it’s a question of starting them young, building a users online identity from within the system, a system which can be regulated by its own community. How do you know I am writing this article? Because we exist in a network that confirms each other’s identity. Of course, these systems aren’t yet failsafe, how many chancers have tried to “friend” you on Facebook? But they will improve and it is the young that will understand them far better than us.

Historically I might have opposed the idea of confirmed online identity but having been on the receiving end of some pretty nasty material I’m pretty confident that we’re headed towards a cyberspace where identities are confirmed because most people will feel safer there. The rest might conceivably become the cyberghetto or perhaps I’ve just read too much Snowcrash. But the point I’m making is about the importance of building, owning and maintaining your personal online identity. Systems like Shibboleth and OpenID will advance this and may have more success than certain ID card schemes one could mention.

Let’s bring this discussion to the subject close to our hearts. Learning.

Who owns your learning?

Who owns the evidence of your learning?

A lot of work across the majority of the curriculum is being created in the digital domain. Does this work carry the same status as work created in the physical world and if so how do we preserve it?

I’ll take a bold stab at answering these questions. I’d say that the learner owns their learning along with the supporting evidence. If learners are being assessed on their digital work then, for sure, it should be treated with equally high status. I would even suggest that all work is treated with adequate respect and status.

When we lose a mobile phone or a laptop, when a hard disc drive fails beyond repair, what do we lament most, the device or the value of the information that we hadn’t backed-up?

If we were to accept that learners own their own learning and evidence thereof then presumably it would be safe to say that they would have the rights that ownership suggests. They would be able to access it when and how they like, they would be able to move it between practitioners and establishments, their learning would, in effect, be mobile - unshackled from centralised and often archaic MIS systems.


There are some undoubtedly very good VLE / Learning Platform based systems delivering some powerful learning examples but the word “delivery” sits uncomfortably, in my opinion, with “personalised”. Like the poor use of Interactive Whiteboards, poor use of a Learning Platform is somewhat like a digital rotary Gestetner of old, i.e. there is no major step change in improvement and the status quo is maintained. Uploading and accessing files over a Learning Platform may be exactly right for a controlled learning environment but is that what we want? In this environment, who actually owns the learning?

Mobility must therefore be about the digital stuff and not just the gadgets, devices and toys; it is, as Nicholas Negroponte once put it, about “bits rather than atoms”. Unless the “bits” that make up the learners work are mobile, portable and interoperable their currency is diminished, as is their value to the learner.

Graham Brown-Martin is the founder of Handheld Learning

Comments from the forum:
Identity, Ownership and Mobility
alex    February 3rd, 2008 - 2:07 PM

I think I can add a brief something to the likely benefits of self-ownership. Ownership would mean that the child has unrestricted access to a biography of self as learner and to specific learning experiences and achievements.

Research in academic and clinical psychology shows that access to autobiographical memories is critical for personal and social development. We know that compared to older adults, younger adults most frequently consciously draw on their autobiographical memories to maintain a sense of self-continuity, in other words they consciously reflect on their memories to shape a stable self identity. We also know that the ability to access autobiographical memory predicts good social problem solving skills and high levels of empathy and assertiveness.

So, it has been shown that the type of knowledge required for successful self-development and social interaction is a continuous ownership of and reflection on past experiences. If we apply all this to education it suggests that children and young adults who have a tangible ownership of their learning past will be more likely to possess an ongoing identity of themselves as competent learners, stay engaged, and be better equipped to porduce solutions to learning challenges.
Identity, Ownership and Mobility
Philip Griffin    February 10th, 2008 - 9:45 PM
Pedagogy, pedagogy, pedagogy
Well, it makes a change from education, education, education!
Computers, interactive whiteboards, learning platforms, handheld devices- they can all be used well- they can all be used badly. We are back to basics- it is not the equipment it is the pedagogy that is important. The learners can have their handheld devices locked, controlled and blocked, depersonalised and impersonal. Or, as teachers, we can begin to let go and begin to let them have control.

A handheld device and a learning platform are together a very powerful combination. By creating content and saving it in a personal learning space what is personal can become shared- or not.

Well thats the theory. As for the practice. Still practicing I'm afraid

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 22 January 2008 )
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