Tag: Open Badges (page 1 of 10)

Against mass consumption of ‘already certified’ credentials

I joined the Open Badges movement early. I’d just spent 27 years in formal education and, as a teacher, had seen the Procrustean manner in which it operates. It was clear that something different was needed, something more responsive to the needs of learners.

Over the past six years, at Mozilla and afterwards, I’ve watched  individuals and organisations attempt to variously: derail the Open Badges movement; extend and extinguish it; and entrench the status quo. Some of this has been deliberate, and sometimes because people literally don’t know any better.

I’ve spent time, both in my work on digital literacies and Open Badges, explaining the importance and power of local context. With the latter, we’ve got a powerful standard that allows local colour and relevance to be understood globally. And yet. People want to pick things off the shelf. They want to be told what to do. They want a recognised brand or name on it — even if they know that doing this means a less than perfect fit for learners.

In a seminal article about information literacy in the wake of the Trump election victory, Rolin Moe bemoans the way we act like sheep:

So rather than develop localized standards, with librarians and instructors working in collaboration with those seeking information, developing together shared social standards for knowledge in their community, colleges and libraries have ceded control to content publishers, who impose their hierarchical understanding of information on passive consumers, leaving institutions to only exhibit and protect the information.

Likewise, with credentialing, we’ve got a situation where even though the tools to do something radically different are available, people seem content to do as they’re told, going cap in hand to the existing powers that be. It reminds me of the early days of the Internet, when many of us were telling anyone who’d listen to us about an amazing digital network where you could publish things which were then accessible by anyone in the world. Cue stunned silence, dismissal, and inaction.

That’s not to ignore, of course, the millions of badges that have been issued by tens of thousands of people and organisations. That’s great. But what frustrates me from where I sit in Europe is our continued kowtowing to existing brands and the highly-credentialed. I actively want something better than what we’ve got now. Reinforcing that through badges doesn’t help with that.

Bizarrely, given our general rejection in the post-war era of the church and the state, what we’ve got is an unhealthy reliance on educational institutions and awarding bodies.

By and large the institutions remained fundamentally elitist, and the capacity to validate social knowledge continued through the hands of the established order… Open access to these institutions served merely to coordinate mass consumption of already certified objects, presented in what Oliver Gaycken calls a “decontextualized curiosity,” where learners are treated as users meant to view information items from an established list without understanding why or how any of it relates to the projects of building knowledge in a given discipline.” (Moe, ibid., my emphasis)

If we have a landscape full of ‘alternative credentials’ provided by the incumbents, then, I’m sad to say, this may all have been for naught. For me, Open Badges is a movement that goes beyond digitising your degree.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that formal educational institutions are adopting badges. However, apart from the Open University and perhaps Deakin University (who span out a new  business), I haven’t seen any real innovation in digital credentialing from within the system. But then, of course, institutions aren’t incentivised to do anything else but capture a larger slice of the status quo pie:

Schools and libraries are not conduits of a knowledge society, but appendages of a knowledge economy. Instead of teaching students critical thinking, they have stoked decontextualized curiosity. Rather than develop students’ wisdom and character, they have focused on making their students’ market value measurable through standardized testing.

Why, in a world that (for better or worse) is atomised and individualised, do we have standardised testing? It’s a bizarre way to worship the false god of meritocracy.

I’m not for ‘disruption innovation’ for its own sake, but I do think we need to re-capture the decentralising and democratising power of Open Badges. If you’re reading this and from an organisation (however small!) that wants to recognise and promote particular knowledge, skills, and behaviours in the world, then why not grab the bull by the horns? What are you waiting for? Do you really need ‘permission’ from those doing well out of the current world order?


Postscript

At the start of the year, I started curating the bi-weekly Badge News on behalf of We Are Open Co-op. I’d assumed that I must have been missing all of the blog posts and discussions from educators about ways they were thinking about alternative credentialing. However, in the research and curation I’ve been doing for this new weekly newsletter, most articles I come across are from vendors.

Back in 2004, during my first year of teaching, I presented on how Bittorrent and decentralised technologies were going to change the way that educators collaborate and share resources. Instead, we waited until shiny silos came along, places where our attention is monetised. I hope we’re not making the same mistake again with credentialing.

I’m going to keep plugging away. I’ve always said this was a 10-year project, so I’m going to keep encouraging and enabling people until at least 2021. If you’re up for the challenge, please do get in touch. Local ecosystems of value are hard, but hugely rewarding, to create. Let’s roll our sleeves up and get to work.

Image CC BY-NC-ND  Okay Yaramanoglu

Join us in London on February 15th for BADGE BOOTCAMP!

Update: We’ve cancelled this workshop as we didn’t get enough sign-ups to make it viable. We’ll be launching something with the same name on the same day — stay tuned!


In yesterday’s webinar, my colleagues and I at We Are Open Co-op announced a live, in-person Open Badges workshop. We’re holding it in London on February 15th.

BOOK HERE

Early-bird tickets are now available and likely to sell pretty quickly, as we’re limiting them to ensure quality of interaction.

We’ll be covering:

  • What are Open Badges – and where did they come from?
  • How people are using badges in many different sectors
  • When it’s a good badges are a great idea – and
  • Why badges are the answer to lots of different problems
  • Who to connect to in the Open Badges community, and where

More details, including ticket prices, are on the Eventbrite page. I’d love to see you there! If you’ve got questions, ask them in the comments below, or tweet @dajbelshaw / @WeAreOpenCoop

We’re running a webinar next week on badges, and you’re invited

Update: you can now view an edited version of the YouTube Live stream via the We Are Open YouTube channel.


When I was over in Los Angeles earlier this year, I met some great people who seemed to share similar interests to our gang at We Are Open Co-op. Lo and behold, it turns out that Steve Regur and Amy McCammon are co-founders of Educators Co-op. We, of course, started planning how we could work together (in accordance with Principle 6), and continued the conversation at the Mozilla Festival a few weeks ago.

The upshot is that we’re going to get started on our co-operative journey  by running an introductory webinar on Open Badges next Tuesday at 4pm UTC. The link to point people towards is http://weareopen.coop/webinars. I’ll be facilitating the conversation which will begin with the Bluffer’s Guide to Open Badges slide deck we used at MozFest.

We’ve set a low-bar target of 10 participants for this initial collaboration, but are, of course, expecting more will turn up. Future webinars will move from discussing the basics of badges to more advanced topics, including including how to join our co-operatives, scaffolding digital skills, and more!

Click here to sign up for the webinar

PS This is the perfect link to forward to your colleagues with whom you’ve been wanting to have that conversation about badges. Why not come along together?

Open Badges, BlockCerts, and high-stakes credentialing

I was in a conversation this morning with some people seemingly from the four corners of the earth, who were exploring Open Badges, blockchain technologies, and other developments with a view to building a new platform. My introduction to the group came through Vinay Gupta, who’s not only a extremely clear thinker, but a great connector, too.

Now that badges are what Clay Shirky would call technologically “boring enough to be socially interesting”, people naturally want to think about them in relation to the next big thing. For many people, that ‘next big thing’ is blockchain.

There’s a whole series of rabbitholes to go down if you interested in blockchain-related technologies. In fact, doing so is as fascinating from a learning-about-neolibertarianism angle as it is about new technologies. However, for the purposes of this (education-related) post, it’s enough to say that blockchain is a ‘supply-side’ technology, that allows vendors, platforms, and intermediaries a way of verifying ownership or that ‘something’ happened at a particular time. You should, of course, read the outcome of Audrey Watters’ research project.

MIT have recently launched BlockCerts, which I discussed on this blog recently as being friends of Open Badges. That’s the great thing about open specifications: they play nicely with one another. However, just to clarify my position on this (and it is just an opinion), the thing that blockchain-based credentials are good for is in high stakes situations. I’d be happy for my doctoral certificate, for example, to be on the blockchain. That seems like a good use case.

Where I don’t think that blockchain-based credentials are a good idea are for the more holistic (‘weird and wonderful’) credentials that I might want to earn. These show different facets of who I am, rather than putting everything in the academic, high-stakes bucket. In fact, this is the reason I became interested in badges in the first place.

At a time when major employers are saying that they’re more interested in what people can do rather than their high-stakes credentials, it seems strange that we’re doubling down on the digital equivalent of degree certificates.

Would I use and recommend BlockCerts in my work with clients? Absolutely! But only if what was required involved either zero trust between the parties involved in the ecosystem, or high-stakes credentials. For everything else, the verifiable, evidence-based claims of the Open Badges metadata standard work just fine.

A new dawn for Open Badges

Today it’s been announced that Mozilla will transition development of Open Badges to the IMS Global Learning Consortium, a non-profit that maintains and develops technology standards in education.  Alongside this announcement comes the long-awaited refresh of openbadges.org, the dissolution of the Badge Alliance, and the continued harmonisation with the work of the W3C Open Credentials work.

Having had this news previewed to me a couple of weeks ago, I can’t say it’s a huge surprise. Mozilla, with financial backing from the MacArthur Foundation incubated Open Badges and ensured that it was kept going. However, it’s been the enthusiasm and dedication of the community that has ensured its success.

Although I couldn’t make it to Bologna for the ePIC conference this week, I am at the Mozilla Festival this weekend. Both there, and over the next few months, I’m looking forward to working with the community to ensure that there’s a ‘human’ side to badges, to complement Open Badges as a technological  standard.

This is a new dawn for Open Badges, a new chapter in its successful, history. There’s so many people who have been, and continue to be, part of the story — certainly far too many to list here. But you know who you are, and today, as we celebrate the continued viability of a movement built upon a technical standard, I’m raising a glass to you all.

Image via Sweet Ice Cream Photography

Blockcerts are friends of Open Badges

This morning I read the latest news from MIT about their blockchain and badges project. It’s exciting news for those interested in high-stakes credentials such as university degrees. They’ve given this new standard a name: Blockcerts.

Many will think that this puts Blockcerts in competition with Open Badges, but, of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Philipp Schmidt, Director of Learning Innovation at the MIT Media Lab — and author of the post announcing Blockcerts — was one of the originators of Open Badges when he was at P2PU.

Schmidt writes:

Blockcerts provides a decentralized credentialing system. The Bitcoin blockchain acts as the provider of trust, and credentials are tamper-resistant and verifiable. Blockcerts can be used in the context of academic, professional, and workforce credentialing.

[…]

Certificates are open badges compliant, which is important, because there is an entire community of open badges issuers that we want to support, and because open badges is becoming an IMS standard.

He’s perhaps let the cat out of the bag with the last sentence. I’ve had conversations over the last few weeks which point to an upcoming Mozilla announcement in this regard.

Any way you look at it, this is a great move for those in the ecosystem. Blockcerts is Open Badges-compliant, and provides a solution for organisations dealing in high-stakes credentialing. I know the BadgeChain group will be pleased!

The thing that attracted me to Open Badges, and which remains my goal, is to explore alternative credentialing. While there’s definitely a need to move high-stakes credentialing into the digital realm, I’m interested in ways in which we can provide a much more holistic view of the learner.


Want to find out more about Open Badges? Check out the OB101 course that Bryan Mathers and I put together!

3 things we need for the next big frontier in Open Badges and digital credentials

Just less than a year ago, I wrote a post entitled Why the future remains bright for Open Badges. There had been some turmoil in the ecosystem, and the ‘horses’ looked like they were getting spooked. I used Gartner’s hype cycle as a ‘convenient hypocrisy’ to explain that, at that point in time, the badges community was on the downwards slope towards the Trough of Disillusionment.

Right now, I think we’re coming out of that trough. We’re beginning to see people and organisations looking beyond individual badges towards connected credentials. There’s also renewed interest in badges as creating local ecosystems of value. Not only is LRNG continuing to expand, but the RSA is actively exploring ways in which badges could connect learning experiences across towns and cities.

For me, the key thing about the web is identity-at-a-distance. When I’m in front of you, in person, then the ‘three-dimensionality’ of my existence isn’t in question. There’s something about the bandwidth of in-person communication that is reassuring. We don’t get that when projecting a digital image of ourselves.

As an educator, I think the great thing about Open Badges is that they are packaged-up ‘chunks’ of identity that can be put together like Lego bricks to tell the story of who a person is, and what they can do. The trouble is that we’re used to thinking in silos, so people’s (understandable) immediate reaction is “can I put my badges on LinkedIn/Facebook/somewhere else I already have an account”. While the short answer is, of course, “YES!” there’s a longer, more nuanced answer.

This longer answer pertains to a problem, which like invasive advertising as a business model, seems almost intractable on the web. How do we demonstrate the holistic, yet multi-faceted nature of our identities in online spaces?

I helped set up, but then withdrew from, a group of people looking at ways in which we could use blockchain technology with badges. The trouble is, as Audrey Watters so eloquently pointed out in The ideology of the blockchain, that the prevailing logic when both technologies are used together is be to double-down on high-stakes testing. I’d rather find a way that recognises and fits human flourishing, rather than reductively retro-fitting our experiences to suit The Machine.

3 things we need to move forward

As I often mention during my presentations, the problem with linking to a particular venture-capital backed social profile (even if it’s LinkedIn) is that it shows a very two-dimensional version of who you are.

1. Progression pathways

What we need is a platform (ideally, decentralised and built upon interoperable standards) that allows individuals to display the badges they have, the ones they want, and — through an online dashboard — a constellation map of paths they can follow to employment or levelling-up their skills.

I’m not mentioning particular vendors in this post, but I feel that there are several platforms that are moving towards this model.

2. Granular permissions

Something else which would help on the identity front is the separation of badge display from badge evidence store. In the same way that YouTube allows you granular permissions over who has access to your videos, so platforms should allow you to make your badges public, but, if required, restrict access to linked evidence.

The only examples of this I’ve seen are people taking this into their own hands, by ensuring that the web address for the evidence going into the badge is under their own control. For example, if you put evidence in Google Docs, you can make that URL be entirely private, shared with specific people, publicly accessible, or fully searchable.

3. Long-term storage

We’re at the stage now where there are large enough vendors within the badges ecosystem to be ensure the long-term survival of digital credentials based on an open metadata standard. However, individual vendors come and go, and some ‘pivot’ towards and away from particular platforms.

For individuals, organisations, and institutions to be confident of establishing their long-term identity through badges, it’s important that the demise or pivot of a particular vendor does not unduly effect them.

The best way to do this that I’ve come up with is for there to be a non-profit explicitly focused on ‘deep-freeze’ storage of digital credentials, based on a sustainable business model. I know that there were conversations with the Internet Archive when I was at Mozilla, and there’s definitely a business opportunity using Amazon Glacier or similar.

Next steps

I often talk about solutions that ‘raise all of the ships in the harbour’. It’s relatively straightforward to build a platform that extracts the most amount of money out of customers. That’s a very short-term play. Open Badges is an open metadata standard that connects everyone together.

These three suggestions will allow the Open Badges ecosystem become an even more flourishing marketplace of digital credentials. For employers, it means they are not forced to use chunky ‘proxies’ such as degrees or high school diplomas when they’re looking for a particular combination of skillsets/mindsets. Educational institutions can return to being places of learning rather than examination factories. And, perhaps most importantly, individuals can show what they know and can do, in a flexible, holistic, market-responsive way.


New to Open Badges? Bryan Mathers and I put together this community course to help you get up-to-speed with the basics.


I consult on identifying, developing, and credentialing digital skills as Dynamic Skillset, which is a part of We Are Open co-op. I’m looking to partner with organisations looking to use Open Badges as the ‘glue’ to build learner identity on the web. With my We Are Open colleagues, we’ve already got one City Council exploring this, and we’d like to talk to more forward-thinking people.

Get in touch: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com / doug@nullweareopen.coop

A few words on #Remain, #BadgeSummit, and #ISTE2016

Just to say that:

  1. If you’re eligible to vote in today’s UK referendum about membership of the European Union, I respect your decision to vote with your conscience. That being said, if you’re at all undecided, please vote to remain in the EU. I’m of the strong opinion that it will adversely affect future generations if we choose to stand alone.
  2. I’m flying to Denver today to keynote the Badge Summit tomorrow (Friday). My slidedeck currently stands at version 0.5, and you can view my progress on that (and comment on it) here.
  3. On Saturday, I’m teaming up with Ian O’Byrne, Noah Geisel, and Bryan Mathers (remote) to run an ISTE pre-conference workshop on building an Open Badges ecosystem. You can check out the agenda, etc. here. There’s still a few spaces left if you can make it!
  4. I’ll be at ISTE on Sunday (only) and would love to connect with you if you’re reading this and will be there! Tweet me: @dajbelshaw

3 Ways Open Badges Work Like the Web [DML Central]

3 Ways Open Badges Work Like the Web

My latest post for DML Central has now been published. Entitled 3 Ways Open Badges Work Like the Web, it’s an attempt to unpack a phrase I use often. It features a couple of great images from Bryan Mathers — one inspired by a Tim Berners-Lee quotation at the start of the post, and the other a visualisation of the ‘four freedoms’ of Free Software.

Read the post here

Note: I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to add your thoughts on the original post.

Some thoughts and recommendations on the future of the Open Badges backpack and community

Recommendation Theater

Intro

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.

 

Tech suggestions

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:

OBA venn diagram

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.

Community suggestions

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.

Conclusion

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.

Image CC BY-NC Thomas Hawk

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