Since we joined the City and Guilds Group in June 2016, we have continued to help all kinds of teams recognise learning with the Open Badge Standard.
At this point in our journey, it is time to say goodbye to the Open Badge Academy in order for us to focus on supporting the design, development, and implementation of quality programmes that leverage the Open Badge Standard powered by leading technology — Credly.
After leaving Mozilla in 2015, I consulted with City & Guilds up to the point at which they acquired Digitalme. I’d known the guys at Digitalme since before I started at Mozilla and was impressed with their dedication and effort. They’d built something people and organisations really wanted, so taking it to the next level with City & Guilds seemed to be their opportunity to scale-up.
The trouble was that City & Guilds didn’t really have much in-house technical capacity. They’re a 140 year-old credentialing organisation, who took a punt on a young start-up with the hopes that they could create a whole new business unit out of it. At the same time, to hedge their bets, they invested in Credly. Now, it seems, they’re scuttling Open Badge Academy (OBA) in favour of becoming a Credly reseller.
These things happen, especially as the Open Badges ecosystem matures. It’s been a few years since the demise of Achievery, which was a really forward-looking platform, but unfortunately a too early for the market. What I think is a particular shame with the way City & Guilds are handling the Digitalme situation is the way they are presenting existing customers with a lack of options:
We’re working on a simple way for existing users to download their information, including any badges they have earned so they can continue to share verifiable recognition of their skills.
To download your badge, go to your profile page and click on the Push icon under your awarded badge. Select the Download option to download this badge to your computer. This download will include data such as the issuer information stored within the image. We would recommend downloading the 2.0 version as this will still be verifiable after OBA closes.
One of the great things about Open Badges, of course, is that you can store them anywhere. Still, you would hope that existing users would, at the very least, be presented with a migration path from OBA to Credly. I would have thought that, given OBA isn’t closing until the end of August, City & Guilds could implement the upcoming Badge Connect API to allow users to make the migration.
The announcement focuses on the sunsetting of OBA, but in effect this is the end of Digitalme. My understanding is that there are very few of the original team left at City & Guilds, and the focus now is on reselling Credly’s products. (I’m happy to be corrected if I’m mistaken.)
A few people have been in touch with me since the announcement asking what they should do. There’s plenty of Open Badges-compliant issuers out there, but I usually recommend Badgr or Open Badge Factory to clients.
Full disclosure: these two platforms sponsor Badge NewsThe Learning Fractal. We approached them for this sponsorship due to their long-term support of the Open Badges standard. Credly made the decision to end their sponsorship of the newsletter at the beginning of this year, and we would thank them for their initial support.
Back in January of this year, Mozilla announced a ‘continued commitment’ to, but smaller role in, the Open Badges ecosystem. That was as expected: a couple of years ago Mozilla and the MacArthur Foundation had already spun out a non-profit in the form of the Badge Alliance.
That Mozilla post included this paragraph:
We will also reconsider the role of the Badge Backpack. Mozilla will continue to host user data in the Backpack, and ensure that data is appropriately protected. But the Backpack was never intended to be the central hub for Open Badges — it was a prototype, and the hope has forever been a more federated and user-controlled model. Getting there will take time: the Backpack houses user data, and privacy and security are paramount to Mozilla. We need to get the next iteration of Backpack just right. We are seeking a capable person to help facilitate this effort and participate in the badges technical community. Of course, we welcome code contributions to the Backpack; a great example is the work done by DigitalMe.
Last month, digitalme subsequently announced they have a contract with Mozilla to work on both the Open Badges backpack and wider technical infrastructure. As Kerri Lemoie pointed out late last year, there’s no-one at Mozilla working on Open Badges right now. However, that’s a feature rather than a bug; the ecosystem in the hands of the community, where it belongs.
Tim Riches, CEO of digitalme, states that their first priority will be to jettison the no-longer-supported Mozilla Persona authentication system used for the Open Badges backpack:To improve user experience across web and mobile devices our first action will be to replace Persona with Passport.js. This will also provide us with the flexibility to enable user to login with other identity providers in the future such as Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook. We will also be improving stability and updating the code base.
In addition, digitalme are looking at how the backpack can be improved from a user point of view:
“We will be reviewing additional requirements for the backpack and technical infrastructure gathered from user research at MozFest supported by The Nominet Trust in the UK, to create a roadmap for further development, working closely with colleagues from Badge Alliance.
Some of the technical work was outlined at the beginning of the year by Nate Otto, Director of the Badge Alliance. On that roadmap is “Federated Backpack Protocol: Near and Long-term Solutions”. As the paragraph from the Mozilla post notes, federation is something that’s been promised for so long — at least the last four years.
Federation is technically complex. In fact, even explaining it is difficult. The example I usually give is around the way email works. When you send an email, you don’t have to think about which provider the recipient uses (e.g. Outlook365, GMail, Fastmail, etc.) as it all just works. Data is moved around the internet leading to the intended person receiving a message from you.
The email analogy breaks down a bit if you push it too hard, but in the Open Badges landscape, the notion of federation is crucial. It allows badge recipients to store their badges wherever they choose. At the moment, we’ve effectively got interoperable silos; there’s no easy way for users to move their badges between platforms elsewhere.
As Nate mentions in another post, building a distributed system is hard not just because of technical considerations, but because it involves co-ordinating multiple people and organisations.
It is much harder to build a distributed ecosystem than a centralized one, but it is in this distributed ecosystem, with foundational players like Mozilla playing a part, that we will build a sustainable and powerful ecosystem of learning recognition that reflects the values of the Web.
I’m delighted that there’s some very smart and committed people working on the technical side of the Open Badges ecosystem. For example, yesterday’s community call (which unfortunately I couldn’t make) resurrected the ‘tech panel’. One thing that’s really important is to ensure that the *user experience* across the Open Badges ecosystem is unambiguous; people who have earned badges need to know where they’re putting them and why. At the moment, we’ve got three services wrapped up together in badge issuing platforms such as Open Badge Academy:
One step towards federation would be to unpick these three aspects on the ecosystem level. For example, providing an ‘evidence store‘ could be something that all badge platforms buy into. This would help avoid problems around evidence disappearing if a badge provider goes out of business (as Achievery did last year).
A second step towards federation would be for the default (Mozilla/Badge Alliance) badge backpack to act as a conduit to move badges between systems. Every badge issuing platform could/should have a ‘store in backpack’ feature. If we re-interpret the ‘badge backpack’ metaphor as being a place where you securely store (but don’t necessarily display) your badges this would encourage providers to compete on badge display.
The third step towards federation is badge discoverability. Numbers are hard to come by within the Open Badges ecosystem as the specification was explicitly developed to put learners in control. Coupled with Mozilla’s (valid) concerns around security and privacy, it’s difficult both to get statistics around Open Badges and discover relevant badges. Although Credmos is having a go at the latter, more could be done on the ecosystem level. Hopefully this should be solved with the move to Linked Data in version 2.0 of the specification.
While I’m limited on the technical contributions I can make to the Badge Alliance, something I’m committed to is helping the community move forward in new and interesting ways. Although Nate wrote a community plan back in March, I still think we can do better in helping those new to the ecosystem. Funnelling people into a Slack channel leads to tumbleweeds, by and large. As I mentioned on a recent community call, I’d like to see an instance of Discourse which would build knowledge base and place for the community to interact in more more targeted ways that the blunt instrument that is the Open Badges Google Group.
Something which is, to my mind, greatly missed in the Open Badges ecosystem, is the role that Jade Forester played in curating links and updates for the community via the (now defunct) Open Badges blog. Since she moved on from Mozilla and the Badge Alliance, that weekly pulse has been sorely lacking. I’d like to see some of the advice in the Community Building Guide being followed. In fact, Telescope (the free and Open Source tool it’s written about) might be a good crowdsourced solution.
Finally, I’d like to see a return of working groups. While I know that technically anyone can set one up any time and receive the blessing of the Badge Alliance, we should find ways to either resurrect or create new ones. Open Badges is a little bit too biased towards (U.S.) formal education at the moment.
The Badge Alliance community needs to be more strategic and mindful about how we interact going forwards. The ways that we’ve done things up until now have worked to get us here, but they’re not necessarily what we need to ‘cross the chasm’ and take Open Badges (even more) mainstream.
I’m pleased that Tim Cook is now providing some strategic direction for the Badge Alliance beyond the technical side of things. I’m confident that we can continue to keep up the momentum we’ve generated over the last few years, as well as continue to evolve to meet the needs of users at every point of the technology adoption curve.
Monday is Labor Day in the US which will means I’ll have a quiet start to the week. I’m not travelling anywhere so I’m looking forward to getting stuff done before heading to Amsterdam with my wife to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary!