Course identifier standardisation work started
Before you can say or do anything with a course, you have to be sure which one you're talking about. Since most institutions, or even departments, refer to courses in different ways, this leads to problems when sharing access.
For that reason, the Middleware Architecture Committee for Education (MACE) of US academic institutions that partcipate in Internet2 have started developing a schema that will make the identifiers interoperable.
The work will be done in consultation with OKI, and the solution will comply with IMS specifications (mainly Enterprise).
The problem area is really one of sharing access to a course. For commercial or legal reasons, the materials that are available for students can't be just wacked onto the web, for the world to see. So some means needs to be found of making sure that only those who are enrolled in a course can see the material.
One part of that puzzle is authenticating students properly (i.e. making sure that someone is who the say they are), and then authorizing them (checking whether Jane Doe has a right of access to a resources). A lot of this is already taken of in systems like Shibboleth- the Internet2 standard for authentication and authorisation.
But Shibboleth -or other systems like the UK's Angel or Athens- need to know about courses before it can automatically authenticate Jane Doe to access some confidential statistics from the Home Office for her Immigration Law course.
This is not a problem if Immigration Law is just offered by one University department for its own students. It becomes a bit more hairy when the same course is offered as part of a different degree in the same institution, or as part of a degree from a different institution.
Hence the fact that any standardised solution to the problem ought to be of interest to UK FE colleges and HE institutions that participate in shared courses or who are looking for the sort of life long learning integratation advocated in the recent government white paper.
There are uses of standardised course identifiers beyond access control, though. Once a scheme is in place in a number of institutions, tasks like curriculum analysis and developement, or even the building of course taxonomies for a particular discipline becomes much more tractable.
Which, in turn, makes the UK wide move to a standardised UK learner profile yet more useful. If a student's transcript contains a reference to a known, uniquely identified course, whose relation to other courses in the same domain is known, the amount of relevant information available to a different college, university or employer is that much bigger.
More information on the MACE-2 courseID initiative is available from the internet2 middleware pages