Tag: Pearson

Calling out Pearson on Open Badges

Open Badges is a web-native credentialing system. It was incubated by Mozilla and I served on the founding badges team. Since then, stewardship of the project has been given to a spin-out non-profit called the Badge Alliance. I’m currently consulting on areas including Open Badges, meaning that, all told, I’ve been involved in the community for nearly five years.


You can find out more about Open Badges and how they differ from other digital credentials via the OB101 course.


There are some big players in the Open Badges space. One of them is Pearson, which you may find surprising. After all, why would an organisation best known for its rapacious business practices (and who some see as standing for everything currently wrong in education) get into the open credentials game?

The answer, of course, is to commodify it. They’ve taken a leaf from Microsoft’s old playbook: Embrace, Extend, and Extinguish. Pearson even have a page on their site explaining how they’re using different terminology just to spread FUD.

Pearson’s badging platform is called Acclaim. They have some big-name partners such as IBM and Citrix. Today, I noticed via the #openbadges hashtag on Twitter that they were singing the praises of the Open Badges ecosystem while pimping their own platform.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with that. Acclaim is technically compatible with the Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI). However, it’s entirely pointless that the badges they issue are Open Badges as users cannot export them from the system elsewhere. Given that Open Badges are portable digital credentials this kind of misses the point.

It’s true that Pearson have engaged with the community on this issue, but their justification seems spurious:

Real-time verification is essential for the clients we work with who are invested in building trust networks with their badge earners and other issuers. We fully expect the market to mature such that services like Mozilla will address this, but until then, we are not offering export / integration.

This is exactly the kind of response you would have found Microsoft giving 15 years ago when attempting to embrace, extend, and extinguish open document formats.

Growing sick of seeing Pearson’s disingenuous tweeting on the #openbadges hashtag, I challenged them today:

They held the line:

https://twitter.com/YourAcclaim/status/697785850273206273

Note that they don’t care about the spirit of the community or the ethos behind Open Badges, just the cold, hard code. As far as they’re concerned, they’re technically compatible with the OBI, therefore they’re part of the Open Badges community. This logic doesn’t wash with me.

I’m calling for Pearson to get their act together and allow badges issued via their Acclaim platform to be portable. Credly have the exact same business model as Acclaim, yet their ‘credit’ can be exported to the Mozilla backpack and elsewhere.

If Pearson aren’t willing to allow their badges to be portable, then they should have the guts to stop pretending that they’re interested in the success and sustainability of Open Badges. Muddying the waters doesn’t help anyone except Pearson’s profits.

Parody of Acclaim website thanks to the wonderful X-Ray Goggles

On the ‘openness’ of Open Badges.

Yesterday, on the Open Badges community call, we discussed briefly the ‘openness’ of Open Badges. To my mind there’s a dangerous conflation happening at the moment around ‘open’ and ‘free’. I want to take a moment to parse those two concepts. Bear with me.

The most common definition of ‘free’ is ‘free of charge’. In my experience, many (if not most) ‘open’ things are free in this sense. That’s not because things that are open have to be free of charge, it’s just that often the philosophical position taken by the person creating the thing that’s open often leads them to also making it free of charge.

Let’s take Pearson’s OpenClass as an example. They describe the product as being ‘open to everyone, easy to use, and completely free’. The phrase ‘completely free’ here actually means ‘free of charge at the point of entry’. Cost is actually not one of the four essential freedoms, as set by the Free Software Foundation:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

I’m fairly sure that Pearson doesn’t mean ‘free’ in any of these senses. So it’s merely ‘free of charge of charge at the point of entry’. Caveat emptor.

Moving on to what we mean by ‘open’ it’s more of a philosophy, an approach to the world than anything else. So when Pearson say that OpenClass is open because it is ‘open to the world’ that’s a bit of a misnomer. That’s like saying their business is ‘open’ because they don’t turn away customers. They’re conflating ‘open’ with ‘free of charge at the point of entry’.

On the Community call yesterday, Erin Knight very helpfully pointed out the various ways that Open Badges (and the badge backpacks) are indeed ‘open’:

  • Open as in free (anyone can create an account)
  • Users completely own their data
  • Anyone can push badges into it
  • Federation/open source infrastructure
  • Everything being planned publicly, working in the open!

We do, of course, welcome Pearson as a user of the Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) and I was only really using them as an example. What we do need to be careful about going forward, however, is to be precise in our terminology and not to commodify (unintentionally or otherwise) words signifying important concepts.

It benefits everyone in the end. 🙂

Image CC BY-NC tanakawho

#ukedchat #fail: TES attempts takeover cover-up whilst Pearson muscles-in on grassroots Twitter teacher CPD.

Fail Whale

Every Thursday night on Twitter there’s an hour-long conversation around the hashtag #ukedchat. The idea is that interested parties (mostly teachers) vote on what they want to talk about relating to UK education (almost always UK schools) and a moderator keeps things on-track. It’s a bit anarchic and intense, but worth it. I dip in and out and have moderated one session on the purpose(s) of education. Afterwards the moderator tries to ‘tell the story’ of what was discussed, including the most influential (usually the most reteweeted) tweets. It’s a fantastic example of grassroots innovation and, dare I say it, even a form of CPD.

But.

Last night the topic was the Pearson learning awards, hosted by someone from Pearson. I wasn’t the only one who thought that was a bit strange and that #ukedchat seemed to be going in a new direction. Low and behold I received a couple of Direct Messages (DMs) that suggested not only was Pearson muscling in on the success of #ukedchat but that, in fact, the Times Educational Supplement (TES) was taking over the running of the weekly discussion. Those who had been told were hushed to secrecy.

Being committed to open education and transparent practices I decided to, without revealing the names of those who told me, inform those involved in #ukedchat discussion. Things were already going so awry that the moderator had decided to switch topics half way through the hour. It was an example of companies doing social media in completely the wrong way. Whereas for-profit organizations such as Scholastic and BrainPOP! really do get social media as being about openness and conversation, the TES and Pearson seem to have conspired to commodify #ukedchat in an underhand, Machiavellian way.

I can’t tell you how disappointed I am, despite the claims of the TES to the contrary, that #ukedchat – an example of grassroots innovation by teachers, for teachers – has been effectively ‘sold off’ behind closed doors. Part of the problem is that busy teachers are delighted when a big name comes in and is interested in their enterprise. What often occurs, and my teaching career is littered with examples of this, is that companies become parasitic upon the goodwill and enthusiasm of teachers. They take what they can and suck the life out of it.

Teachers, don’t let this happen. Strike for better pensions on the 30th November and, if necessary, set up a new #ukedchat. You’re worth it.

(I’ve curated tweets from that hour using Storify here)

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