Tag: Carla Casilli

Some thoughts on the future of the Open Badges backpack

Update: I’ve slept on this, and think that the ‘Credential Switch Guarantee’ isn’t quite the correct metaphor, as there’s nothing ‘in the middle’. A better model might be that of escrow, but even that isn’t perfect. I’ll keep thinking…


Last week, Jason McGonigle, CTO of Digitalme got in touch to say he’d written a blog post about the future of the Open Badges ‘backpack’. For those unaware, here’s a quick history lesson.

In the early days of Open Badges it was felt that Mozilla needed a place that any earner, no matter where they had earned their badges, could store and display them. This was seen as somewhat of a ‘stopgap’ measure. The priority after launching v1.0 of the specification in 2012 was to ‘decentralise’ the Open Badges ecosystem by federating the backpack.

This federation, in practice, was more easily said than done. Three things caused it to be problematic. First the inevitable politics. There’s no need to go into details here, but the spinning out of the Badge Alliance from Mozilla was doomed to failure. As a result, the focus on federating the backpack (and on creating BadgeKit to make badge issuing easier) went by the wayside.

Second, there were technical issues beyond my understanding with federating the backpack. Apparently it’s a very hard thing to do. Third, the need for federation is just something that’s quite difficult to explain to people. We’re so used to centralised services. I used to try and do so by talking about the way email works. These days, my example might be Mastodon.

As a result, Mozilla’s backpack became a central piece of the Open Badges puzzle. That, I think, actually worked to the advantage of badge advocates. While the Open Badges specification can be rather technical and dry, there’s something about the backpack that’s ‘homely’ and easier to explain to people. Having somewhere to store and show off your digital credentials just makes sense.

Carla Casilli, my former colleague at Mozilla, wrote a post this time last year in which she gave her views on the backpack and explained how it is rooted in ideology:

So much ink has been spilled already on the subject of the Mozilla badge backpack: almost from the start it has been both an important philosophical stake in the ground about personal data ownership as well as a raging battleground about its necessity. Questions about it have abounded. What works, what doesn’t. Who uses it, who doesn’t. What’s happening with it, what has happened to it. And yet, even with all of this back and forth, there has always been so much more to say about it.

Jason alludes to user sovereignty in his post, but I think Carla really nails it in hers:

One of the best unheralded benefits? When a badge earner used the reference implementation of the Mozilla Open Badges backpack, there was no requirement for them to be a member of a separate, corporate-owned social network in order to display their badges. Not at all.

In other words, users need a place to store and display their badges that aren’t tied to badge issuers. End of story.

These days, there’s no-one at Mozilla working on Open Badges. That’s been the case for at least a couple of years now. Instead, Digitalme were given a contract by Mozilla to continue work on the Open Badges backpack, while overall development of the standard is now the responsibility of IMS Global Learning Consortium. This, and the fact that there’s no badge track at MozFest 2017 tells you all you need to know about Mozilla’s future plans around badges.

So we’re left in the situation where one of the major players in the Open Badges landscape is responsible for a key bit of infrastructure. It’s not ideal, even if I know and trust the people at Digitalme.

The backpack is, and always has been, a place focused on user choice and control. I certainly hope it stays that way, and think that Jason’s vision of a ‘Credential Switch Guarantee’ might be a workable one. Users need something tangible that’s independent of commercial offerings.

Long live the backpack!

Image CC0 Alexandre Godreau


Interested in Open Badges? Subscribe to Badge News!

What is a ‘credential’ anyway?

Carla Casilli, badge system design expert extraordinaire, former colleague, and one of the authors of the report I shared my notes on yesterday, has recently been writing about the nature of badges and credentials. In her most recent post she asks the community:

Are all badges credentials, regardless of conceptual size, depth of assessment, or amount of criteria?

Last year I wrote for DML Central entitled Taking Another Look At The Digital Credentials Landscape. In it, I created a visual representation of how I, and others I’d consulted through my work with City & Guilds, saw the current digital credentialing landscape. As you can see from the image below, we situated everything within a meta-level circle of ‘credentials’.

Digital credentials landscape

What I (spectacularly) failed to do in that post was to define what I meant by ‘credential’. I assumed that everyone was using the term in the same way as I (and I assume most Europeans do). The Quality Dimensions for Connected Credentials report from the American Council on Education uses the Lumina Foundation’s definition of a credential as:

A documented award by a responsible and authorized body that has determined that an individual has achieved specific learning outcomes relative to a given standard. Credential in this context is
an umbrella term that includes degrees, diplomas, licenses, certificates, badges, and professional/industry certifications.

While this is not a bad definition, it is rather limiting; I think it’s overly-focused on traditional education. The word ‘credential’ comes from the Latin ‘credentia’ via the English word ‘credence’. To give credence to something is to ascribe validity, often via a recommendation; it is a state of belief in something as being true. Credential letters in the Middle Ages were handed from a person unknown to the recipient from someone known to the recipient (if only by reputation). As a result, the recipient would be more likely to see the person in front of them as ‘credible’. It was credibility by association.

The meanings and definitions of words change over time, of course, but I think that the second half of the Lumina Foundation’s definition, the part that talks of ‘credential’ as an ‘umbrella term’ is key. I’d just reject the first half where it talks about ‘responsible and authorised’ bodies and a ‘given standard’.

This ‘umbrella term’ approach to defining ‘credentials’ also meshes with the definitions from sources that I find reasonably convincing:

  • “A qualification, achievement, quality, or aspect of a person’s background, especially when used to indicate their suitability for something” (Oxford English Dictionary)
  • “A credential is an attestation of qualification, competence, or authority issued to an individual by a third party with a relevant or de facto authority or assumed competence to do so.” (Wikipedia)
  • “The ​abilities and ​experience that make someone ​suitable for a ​particular ​job or ​activity, or ​proof of someone’s ​abilities and ​experience.” (Cambridge Dictionaries)
  • “Personal qualities, achievements, or experiences that make someone suitable for something.” (Macmillan Dictionary)
  • “Warranting credit or confidence — used chiefly in the phrase credential letters.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

I think Carla and I are arguing for the same position from two different vantage points. For example, after sharing a diagram showing two circles overlapping (but not completely) she states:

Badges, as they were envisioned originally, were created to capture learning whenever and wherever that learning occurs: formal, informal, public, private, group, individual. The overlap on the Venn diagram is sometimes referred to as microcredentials, and actually gives that term greater meaning and sense.

I definitely agree with that original vision for badges. I just can’t see a situation where a badge wouldn’t also count as a credential — even if that wasn’t the original intention .

As both the image from my DML Central post, and the image in Carla’s subsequent post demonstrates, it’s nearly impossible to do justice to the complexity of the credentials landscape in just two dimensions. Carla says:

An open badge can be designed to represent a small thing, such as a fundamental principle or a single competency (micro level) — and an open badge can also be designed to represent a large thing, like a competency set, or a license, or a degree (macro level). This visual illustrates that badges can be used to represent any credential currently being issued. This may seem like a minor thing to visualize, but given what badges can represent, it’s one that is definitely worth understanding.

I agree: if represented in three dimensions, badges would be orthoganal to the current credentialing system. They’re certainly acting at some kind of different ‘layer’. But, I would argue, if we’re forced to represent them in two dimensions, they appear to be wholly contained with the circle we currently call ‘credentials’.

What badges don’t have to be, even if they’re wholly contained within the ‘credential’ circle, is traditional. They can recognise all kinds of knowledge, skills, and behaviours — as well as all kinds of things we haven’t even thought of yet!

Image CC BY-SA Andrew Moore


I hope this was useful for those experienced in the world of Open Badges, and those who are new to the ecosystem. If you’re one of the latter, you may find the Open Badges 101 course helpful.

Weeknote 28/2013

This week I’ve been:

  • Booking travel/accommodation for what my team are calling ‘Badge Camp’. It’s a work week up in the mountains in Maine, USA where ‘yoga’ and ‘sleeping in’ sit alongside ‘strategy discussions’ as official agenda items. Win.
  • Setting up the Eventbrite for Mozilla Maker Party Newcastle at the Centre for Life on Saturday 17th August. Tickets have been going pretty quickly so I’m going to see if there’s scope for extra room.
  • Running three Open Badges workshops at the ePIC eportfolios and identity conference in London. Slides here.
  • Talking to Robin Raymond, the lead developer of Open Peer about Firecloud.
  • Discussing aligning with the Web Literacy Standard with Paul Allison. I’ve realised there’s an issue for those without developers: most (all?) of the third party platforms lack the ‘alignment’ field in the latest version of the OBI specification.
  • Encouraging people to sign up for MozFest. It’s the best decision you’ll make this year.
  • Editing and posting the audio from the Web Literacy Standard community call that I missed this week. Thanks again to my colleague Carla Casilli for hosting it!
  • Sorting out my expenses for June. It was a busy month. 😮
  • Purchasing the firecloud.co domain name and setting up a blog. It’s trivially easy to do these days, it really is.
  • Inviting the major contributors to the Web Literacy Standard to ‘half-hour hackfests’. They worked really well and I’m thinking of running some more next week!
  • Meeting with Carla to discuss what’s left to do with the Web Literacy Standard before the beta launch. Also, plans for some kind of ‘contest’ for people to align with the standard in various ways between MozFest 2013 and MozFest 2014.
  • Attending the weekly Mozilla Open Badges and Webmaker community calls.
  • Talking with people about integrating with the Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI) as I do every week. 🙂
  • Taking Friday off to look after my two year-old daughter.

Next week I’ve got meetings but no travel so I’ll be cracking on with getting the Web Literacy Standard ready for the beta launch on July 26th. I’m flying to Maine on Sunday 21st so it needs to be pretty much finalised by close of play next Friday!

Mozilla needs your help with a final push for the Web Literacy Standard (beta)!

TL;DR: Mozilla is launching a new, open learning standard for Web Literacy. We need your help in finalising the skills involved and providing examples. You can jump in and help here: http://bit.ly/weblitstd-skills


I’ve been a bit quieter on this blog recently. There’s two reasons for that. The first is that I started a new, additional blog at http://literaci.es.

But there’s another reason: we’re reasonably close to a beta release for Mozilla’s new, open learning standard for Web Literacy.

By ‘we’ I mean the close to 50 people who have joined us at various points since February; they’ve helped Carla and me think through the many (and sometimes quite thorny) issues involved. The Mozilla Foundation is a non-profit, community-focused organisation: we need contributions from poeple like those who have volunteered their time and effort so far!

We’re aiming to launching the beta on July 26th. There’s a number of things that need to happen before then that are internal – things like graphic design, press releases and the like. But you can help, too! Here’s how.

Help us define skills

We’ve already got a competency grid (that’s in need of some Design TLC). Right now, though, we’re working on the skills underpinning those competencies. We also need at least a couple of examples of those skills.

You can dive in using the Google Docs and styleguide available from the link below. Please make sure you add/comment rather than delete!

http://bit.ly/weblitstd-skills

We’ve got a weekly community call every Monday that you’re very welcome to join. Further details of that can be found here.

Image CC BY marc faladeau

Weeknote 16/2013

This week I’ve been:

Next week I’m at the Mozilla London for the day on Tuesday and Glasgow on Thursday for badge design workshop. Then it’s Maker Faire in Newcastle next weekend! Can’t wait.

Weeknote 09/2013

This week I’ve been:

  • Preparing for the session I’m running with Kate Stokes (Nesta) at SXSWedu.
  • Calculating my expenses.
  • Explaining to quite a few people that Mozilla doesn’t usually ‘partner’ with other organisations on bids (but that I’m happy to be listed as an advisor).
  • Playing lots of games as part of the nomination committee for Mozilla’s Game On competition.
  • Writing a book chapter overview for Dave White about the philosophical implications of simultaneously inhabiting physical and virtual worlds.
  • Adding descriptions to the articles, blog posts and books in the Web Literacy standard ‘library’.
  • Collaborating with my colleagues Carla Casilli and Erin Knight on a vision document for the Web Literacy standard work.
  • Discovering Firefox tab groups, courtesy of Laura Hilliger.
  • Meeting with builders to discuss my shoffice.
  • Responding to conference organisers asking for titles for presentation, preferences for food, accommodation, etc.
  • Updating my Lanyrd profile and adding conferences I’m attending over the next few months.
  • Sorting out my corporation tax for the now-defunct Synechism Ltd.
  • Leading a webinar on Open Badges for the Centre for Recording Achievement. Slides here.
  • Hosting the inaugural Mozilla Web Literacy standard community call.
  • Speaking to people thinking of using Open Badges for various projects.

Next week I’ll be in Austin, Texas for SXSW 2013. I’m flying out on Sunday and arrive back on Friday. So next week’s update is likely to be a bit shorter…

Web Literacy standard weekly community calls starting this Thursday

Update: For the latest information on the Web Literacy standard work, head to http://mzl.la/weblitstd


As my colleague Carla Casilli has already blogged, we’re going to be starting weekly calls to flesh out the work around a new, open learning standard for Web Literacy.

If this work that Mozilla’s starting with the community is news to you, then catch up by devouring the information at these three links:

The weekly calls will be on Thursdays at 4pm GMT (which is 8am PST / 11am ET) and you can connect with the details on this etherpad: https://etherpad.mozilla.org/weblitstd-community

If you haven’t already introduced yourself to the Mozilla Webmaker discussion group, then I’d advise doing so ASAP on this thread. All welcome! 🙂

Image CC BY jurvetson

Weeknote 03/2013

Here’s what I’ve been up to this week:

  • Talking to Audrey Watters about web literacies. She’s a very smart person and I was impressed by what she had to say. I tried to capture most of what she said in this blog post.
  • As my colleagues are such a talented and productive bunch, an important part of my working day is spent in co-ordination. When you’re not co-located it’s important that you get your thinking out there, which is exactly what Brett Gaylor’s done with his post on New Webmaker Prototypes. Exciting stuff! My response is here.
  • I continue to contribute to both the Mozilla Webmaker list and the Open Badges Google Group. I’m looking forward to the latter splitting into two equally-weighted technical/learning groups!
  • This week I’ve been invited to over 10 events (including Estonia twice!), which is a little insane. I said no to pretty much all of them, as I’m trying to travel less (and be more strategic when I do travel) in 2013.
  • I’m trying to comment on more blog posts, especially when people are sharing the awesome work they’re doing around badges. Most notably, I commented on posts by Chris Sharples, Zoe Ross, Robert Weeks, and Grainne Hamilton. You should go and read them (the posts, not necessarily my comments!)
  • Interestingly, the post by Robert Weeks was stimulated by a virtual presentation to the Bristol ‘weelearning’ group on Wednesday. Formerly a badge skeptic, Robert is now a badge enthusiast. Job done. 🙂
  • My work around web literacies is going to end up as a ‘learning standard’. I’ve been discussing this with Erin and Carla. More on that soon.
  • I spent Thursday in Leicester in the company of Josie Fraser, Lucy Atkins, Richard Hall and David White. I was advising on a new digital literacies framework for teachers in Leicester which should, hopefully, lead to badge-infused CPD. That was a bit of an epic journey: 4.5 hours each way in a day. Except the train was delayed on the way after a suicide on the line. 🙁
  • I’ve done lots of reading this week, including the excellent book A Small Matter of Programming, a new DML Connected Learning report, the Peeragogy Handbook, and a new version of the IDEO Design Thinking for Educators resource.
  • The ILTA invited me to write up my keynote last year into a journal article. I’m about half-way there, I reckon, and should finish it on Monday. It will have the title Zen and the Art of Digital Literacies.
  • Thinking about the way that I and most of the people I know live in the future.
  • When I wasn’t doing the above I was clearing the drive of snow, spending time at the gym (no running this week!), and sledging, snowman-making, and generally spending time with my family before…

Next week I’ll be escaping the snowy hinterland of Northumberland and heading to sunny California to meet my colleagues. We’ll be participating in a DML conversation around, you guessed it, Open Badges. On that note, I’m delighted to have been asked to do more work around learning and assessment related to badges – so look out for more posts of that nature in the near future!

Image uploaded originally by Cory Doctorow on Twitter

css.php