TL;DR: the Open Badges Google Group contains many members but has been moribund under the stewardship of IMS Global Learning Consortium. Time for something different?
Yesterday, EdSurge published an article about Open Badges which included a quotation from me. It was the first I’d heard of it as the reporter didn’t reach out to me. My words were taken from the etherpad minutesaudio recording of a meeting held towards the end of last year about Credly’s ownership of patents relating to badges.
It’s important to note that, while EdSurge mentions the fact that I work for Moodle in the article, my opinions on the subject have nothing to do with my (part-time) employer, and everything to do with my involvement in the Open Badges ecosystem since 2012. I have some things to say about IMS Global Learning Consortium, and I’m afraid I can’t be very complimentary.
To my mind, three things led to the exponential growth of badges between 2012 and 2015:
Mozilla’s technical expertise and reputation
The MacArthur Foundation’s money and influence
The Open Badges community’s evangelism and organisation
MacArthur’s money dried up after 2015, and while Mozilla’s involvement declined more slowly, they have been essentially non-existent in the ecosystem since they handed over stewardship of the Open Badges standard to IMS Global Learning consortium at the start of 2017. So what kept the Open Badges movement going between 2015 and 2017?
The thing I really want to focus here is the third thing: community. I may be biased given that I worked for the Mozilla Foundation at the time, but they did a fantastic job at attracting, feeding, and listening to a community around Open Badges. Since the transfer to IMS that community has withered. IMS doesn’t care; as a membership organisation they exist for the benefit of their members.
Right now the Open Badges Google Group, now controlled by IMS, has 2,603 members. It was a hive of activity five years ago, but now it’s moribund. This is a direct effect of IMS working in a way diametrically opposed to the conditions under which the community prospered: they are closed, secretive and unforthcoming. As the EdSurge article points out, IMS have even allowed one of its members to get away with patenting elements of the very standard it has been charged with stewarding.
With such dereliction of duty something has to be done. In similar circumstances, other open source projects have been ‘forked’. In other words, unhappy with the way a project is being managed, community members can take the underlying idea in a different direction. From my understanding having talked to some influential figures in the community, there’s a very real possibility that could happen in the next 18 months unless IMS ups their game.
What we need here is a a renaissance in the Open Badges community. The existing Google Group is administered by IMS and may no longer be fit for purpose. So, I’m wondering out loud whether the co-op of which I’m part should step up and host a new place for people who want to discuss Open Badges and digital credentials?
We’ve got a history of working with the community through projects such as Badge Wiki and Badge News (now The Learning Fractal). Most of us also worked for Mozilla during the glory days.
What do you think? Would you like to see an Open Badges community renaissance? How do you see that happening?
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.
If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today. (Bill Gates)
Instead of getting angry, however, let’s just take look at that patent for a moment. While I’m no legal expert, I’ve seen naive ‘SEO optimised’ pages repeat key words fewer times than this document repeats the words ‘digital credentials’. It almost looks like Pearson are trying too hard here to prove that they invented something they’ve only ever tried make money from.
Here’s the highlights for those people whose lives are too short to read legal documents:
Filing date: 25th March 2016
Claim 1 is for a ‘digital credential issuance system’ made up of:
Digital credential template owner device
Digital credential issuer device
Digital credential platform server
Claims 2-10 go into further detail about Claim 1.
Claim 11 is for a ‘method of authorizing issuers of digital credentials’ which includes receiving, storing, and transmitting a digital credential template.
Claims 12-20 go into further detail about Claim 11.
The ‘background’ section uses language very similar to the Open Badges for Lifelong Learning working paper published in 2012 by Mozilla. It talks about changes in technologies and society, how credentials should be available for any kind of learning, but that there are challenges around “publishing, verifying, and tracking the sets of technical skills and proficiencies that these individuals have obtained”.
Although Pearson’s patent application features the phrase ‘digital credentials’ in its title, the ‘background’ section mentions ‘digital badges’ are explicitly:
[C]ertain institutions may issue digital credentials (or digital badges) to qualifying individuals, and these digital credential earners may use the digital credentials to certify the skills or qualifications that the earner obtained vis-à-vis the institution.
As anyone who has paid any attention to Open Badges since the original pilot in 2011 would know, Pearson didn’t invent digital credentials, digital badges, or anything remotely innovative in the area — in 2016, or at any point after or before that. Their game is targeting and enclosing particular markets, as I pointed out in February 2016, in a post which pre-dated this patent application.
Unlike the Salesforce patent granted earlier this year (see Open Badges community discussion), Pearson’s patent is a lot more wide-ranging. While Salesforce’s patent focuses about ‘achievements’ and requires a system that involves specific roles, recommendations, and a social network, Pearson’s is about digital credential platforms. It even includes analytics.
Now, I can understand why a struggling publicly-traded company would try to go all-out to find a way to return to profitability. That does not, however, mean that we as a community should stand for it.
The good patent gives the world something it did not truly have before, whereas the bad patent has the effect of trying to take away from the world something which it effectively already had. (Giles Sutherland Rich)
I used to be mildly amused that Pearson played in a sandpit so obviously at odds with their raison d’être. Perhaps I should have been more cynical, as they obviously are. I note, for example, that Pearson waited until Mozilla handed over stewardship of Open Badges to IMS Global Learning Consortium (who have said they will not contest the patent) before filing.
If you’re reading this and are worried about the future of Open Badges, then don’t be. Pearson have shot themselves in the foot in several ways during this process that means that either they won’t be granted this patent, or will find it almost impossible to enforce. I’m not going to enumerate all of those ways here, but they perhaps should be a bit more careful about joining W3C working groups before filing patent applications…
I’m closing comments on this post as I’d prefer people added their voice to this thread on the Open Badges Google Group. Please get involved, particularly if you know of a viable way that this can be challenged and shown up for the ridiculous posturing it is.
The Open Badges community has been crying out for a while now for a knowledge repository. You know, somewhere where people can go and find out about how other similar organisations have implemented badge systems, read interesting academic articles and whitepapers, and just discover what’s possible with the Open Badges specification.
That’s why I’m delighted that We Are Open Co-op, with the support of Participate, are building out Badge Wiki. This will be a community-powered project, meaning that it will only be as good as people make it. We’re providing the technical infrastructure and opportunities to pitch in, but we need people to write content, curate resources, and suggest updates!
Tomorrow is the first Badge Wiki ‘barn raising’ session, which we’re running in conjunction with the Open Recognition Alliance. Those who come along don’t need any previous experience with wikis. Nor do they need much knowledge about badges. All you need is a willingness to roll up your sleeves and get involved.
Tomorrow, I’m in London to take part in the Scottish Qualifications Authority‘s Expert Assessment Group. The SQA have been forward-thinking about Open Badges over the last few years, so I’m delighted to have been asked to attend.
There’s five people been asked to give input in the morning from a ‘future of assessment’ point of view, and five in the afternoon on ways technology might be able to help enable that future. I’ve got a very short amount of time, so I’ve boiled it down to the slides below.
(Note: go fullscreen by clicking the arrows in the black bar at the bottom)
The flow for my pitch starts with a tweet I saw earlier today from the influential Paul Graham. He links to an article in The New York Times which talks about skills-based hiring, but which completely disregards digital credentialing. From there, I discuss Michael Feldstein’s recent post about badging gaining huge traction in very specific areas. And then I launch into a pretty familiar flow using Bryan Mathers‘ excellent visuals.
There’s loads more I want to say about how version 2.0 of the Open Badges specification allows for really interesting dynamic badges that ‘grow’ over time. Kerri Lemoie and Lucas Blair recently wrote about this from a technical point of view, and I presented my thoughts last week at the University of Dundee, including this slide:
Perhaps I’ll get a chance to discuss these new developments if my pitch is selected to be discussed further. I’d bring up blockchain technologies and their potential uses in credentialing, but I’ve got to catch a train back home in the evening…
CC BY – we propose that Badge Wiki use a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license instead of the CC BY-SA license used on other wikis, including Wikipedia. Although we would encourage them to do so, we recognise that some people may not be in a position to share material they reuse and remix from Badge Wiki under an open license.
Register to edit – we propose that, in order to edit Badge Wiki, you must have a registered user account, approved by an administrator. This is to prevent valuable contribution time being taken up by wiki vandalism, trolling, and other anti-social behaviours caused by anonymous editing.
Real name policy – we propose that members of Badge Wiki use their real names on their profile pages, as well as provide a short bio. This is to prevent accusations of sabotage, given that the Open Badges ecosystem includes commercial interests.
It’s been five years since the public beta of the Open Badges specification was released. Since then version 1.0 was released (2013) followed by some smaller updates. The next major release happens in the next few weeks with version 2.0.
As a result, I thought it was worth taking the time to explain what this means both on a technical level and, more importantly, in practice for those issuing, earning, and displaying badges.
Although Open Badges has grown into somewhat of a movement, at its core is a technical specification. It’s a ‘standard’ in the sense that those who provide platforms and solutions based do so in an interoperable way. Just as there are web standards meaning that you can use any browser to access your favourite website, so the Open Badges specification ensures everything ‘just works’.
The Open Badges specification is now stewarded by IMS Global Learning Consortium, having taken over the role from the Badge Alliance at the beginning of 2017. You can read more about the history and evolution of Open Badges.
Digitalme are looking after the evolution of the Open Badges backpack, the place where uses store and share their credentials. I’ve written about this recently here.
Development of version 2.0 of the Open Badges specification was informed by a ‘use cases’ document developed by the community. The technical work and discussion around it took place via regular, open meetings, and via this GitHub repository.
Most, but not all, of the proposed changes outlined by Kerri Lemoie in her post last September, were included in this update.
The new, canonical page for Open Badges 2.0 is on the IMS Global Learning Consortium website. It’s pretty technical, and even the ‘non-technical’ guide involves some discussion of terms many people won’t be familiar with.
Readers of this post are more likely to be interested in what’s new in the specification. What can we do differently to before? Before we look at that, let’s just look at what was previously possible, reminding ourselves of the difference between a ‘badge class’ (i.e. metadata contained in every badge of that type) and an ‘assertion’ (i.e. metadata contained in a badge that’s unique to the individual).
Version 2.0 of the Open Badges specification makes new features available both in the badge class and assertion, as well as other, ‘miscellaneous’ features. Here’s a list of what’s changed. Let’s break those down.
Endorsements — a type of badge that is issued to a whole range of people can now be endorsed by a third party.
Use cases include badges that are issued by teachers that are then endorsed by a school, and badges issued by local awarding bodies that are then endorsed by national/international awarding bodies.
Embed criteria — criteria about what an individual had to do to earn a badge can now be embedded directly into the badge class, using Markdown. Previously, issuers had to provide a hyperlink to a URL on their website giving details of badge criteria.
Use cases include making badge criteria more machine-readable for issuers, helping their badges become more discoverable. For badge earners, it shows at-a-glance what they had to do to be issued the badge, instead of badge ‘consumers’ having to click through to an external site.
Endorsements — a badge that is issued to an individual, or subset of the whole group of people who have earned that type of badge, can now be endorsed by a third party.
Use cases include colleagues endorsing you for a particular workplace skill (kind of LinkedIn endorsements, but on steroids), and getting a well known person or organisation to endorse a badge you’ve already earned. This allows for badges to grow in value over time.
Embed evidence — the evidence proving an individual has met the criteria to be issued a badge can now be embedded in assertions, using Markdown.
Use cases include representing the types of evidence that are acceptable to meet the criteria for a badge to be issued, and displaying several pieces of evidence towards a single badge.
Fully portable — badge classes and issuer metadata can be embedded into assertions, meaning Open Badges don’t have to rely on links that may disappear.
Use cases include issuers cryptographically signing the entirety of the metadata associated with a badge, to enhance verifiability, and badge earners not being faced with ‘incomplete’ badges if a badge platform no longer exists.
Internationalisation — badges can now be issued in multiple language, and users can see that this is the case.
Version control — the specification now allows updates to be made to badges and, like a wiki, the differences between versions can be viewed.
Embed information about badge images — just as regular images on the web have ‘alt’ tags to allow them to be more accessible to people with disabilities, so Open Badges can now include information about the image representing them. This also helps make badges more machine-readable.
Award badges to non-email identities — some of the biggest complaints about Open Badges stem from email-based issuing. Now, badges can be issued to identities other than email, including social logins and verified profiles.
Improved alignment — while it’s already possible to enter a URL that shows a single framework or standard that a badge aligns with, version 2.0 allows a badge to reference multiple frameworks/standards.
Is everyone using 2.0 now?
No. It’s up to individual providers to update their systems. All of the sponsors of Badge News are 2.0-compatible, and the rest of the ecosystem should adopt the new standard in the next few weeks and months.
Verifiers, backpacks and issuers begin to be updated to support the 2.0 Recommendation. Once 2 open source verifiers, 2 open source backpack providers, and at least 2 issuer platforms or applications are updated to support 2.0, we expect adoption to be considered final and 2.0 to be the official version of Open Badges. (source)
If you’re already issuing badges, you might wonder about compatibility between different versions of the Open Badges specification. The short answer for 99% of use cases is that yes, the specification is backwards-compatible. The longer answer is explored on the IMS Global changes page.
If you want to go into a bit more detail, Nate Otto, Director of Open Badges for Concentric Sky (and former Director of the Badge Alliance) has written some helpful posts.
I’ve spent the last six years working in and around Open Badges, first as a volunteer, then for Mozilla, and now as a consultant. If I don’t have the answer to your question, I’ll probably know someone who will!
I’m co-founder of We Are Open Co-op and we’re currently working Badge Wiki, which will be a knowledge repository for the Open Badges community, made possible by Participate. It will eventually contain the kind of information that this blog post covers, so make sure you sign up for updates to find out more.
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.
Next week, I’m running a couple of workshops on behalf of We Are Open Co-op at the Co-operative Education and Research Conference. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m going to focus on the overlap of co-operativism and Open Badges, to explore the concept of ‘co-operative character’. This is something that was emphasised by the early pioneers of the co-operative movement, and feels like something that badly needs resurrecting.
As part of the research for my sessions, I came across a paper by Keith Crome and Patrick O’Connor that they published after presenting at last year’s conference. It’s entitled ‘Learning Together: Foucault, Sennett and the Crisis of Co-operative Character’, and was published in the Autumn 2016 issue of The Journal of Co-operative Studies (49:2, ISSN 0961 5784). The authors were kind enough to help me find a copy to help with my preparations and thinking.
It’s a well-written paper, and the kind that the reader feels could almost be unpacked into something book-length. As the paper is so wide-ranging in scope, it sparked all kinds of ideas in my mind, so I had to be disciplined to retain a focus on how co-operative character might be encouraged through the use of badges. Pivotal to this, I feel, is the authors’ persuasive argument that co-operative character is a virtue, rather than a collection of skills.
Co-operation is a matter of character – it designates an attitude, a disposition, a way of being and acting. And getting to grips with co-operation is essential, so that what is needed is not an account of the various skills that are held to make it up, but a description that conveys the vivacity of the co-operative character as it is inculcated in teaching and learning…
Initially, I was slightly dismayed by this, as I thought co-operative character might not be the kind of thing that is badge-able. However, although badges do tend to be used to scaffold skills development, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be used to in developing co-operative character. We just need a slightly different approach.
Crome and O’Connor explore two main arguments against co-operative character being a collection of skills:
Co-operation is inherently positive — “A skill can be put to good use, but it can also be used to harm… A virtue, on the other hand, is fixed: it always looks to the good, otherwise it is not a virtue but a vice.” The authors suggest that the opposite of co-operation is ‘collusion’ – an approach that actively prevents co-operation with other groups.
Co-operation is distinct from technical proficiency — Imagining the case of a callous doctor or rude builder, the authors state: “Even if it is not the case, we would see why someone might say that it ought to be the case that the character of the builder or the doctor is of no significance – what matter is how well they do their job, how technically proficient they are within their respective sphere of expertise.” In other words, co-operation transcends particular techniques and practices, “as co-operation is a virtue relevant to broader society”.
So, to develop co-operative character, we need a more orthogonal approach than the usual skills grid or competency framework. We need something that recognises that people are on a character-building journey. This journey is likely to look very different in various contexts.
I don’t have all the answers yet, that will only come through – yep, you guessed it – co-operation, but our own co-op has done some thinking in a related area. We want to encourage people to learn more about co-ops as business entities, but also about the co-operative movement more generally. Back in December, we wondered what it would look like to badge Principles 5, 6, and 7 of the International Principles of Co-operation.
We’re believers in minimum viable badges so have begun to issue the Co-op Curious badge to recognise those who have taken the first step in the journey to finding out about more about co-ops. The first ones we issued were to those people who came across to our in-person meetup in a co-operatively owned pub. Other badges we thought up as part of this process were Co-operativeCollaborator (issued to members of two or more co-operatives who work together on a joint project), Co-operative Convenor (issued to people who form relationships between co-operatives), and Co-op Convert (issued to people who contribute knowledge or time to co-op educational projects or programs).
There are a whole series of badges that could be used to evidence the seven principles that make up the International Principles of Co-operation. Embarking on this kind of journey feels more like what Crome and O’Connor were getting at in their article.
The closest analogy I can think of with the process I’m going through with my preparations to become a Mountain Leader. While this does focus explicitly on evidencing knowledge and skills, the outcome is actually character-based. Among other things, Mountain Leaders should be resilient, encouraging, and prepared. So, in rejecting co-operative character as a process of skills development, Crome and O’Connor are effectively putting it on a different phenomenological footing:
When we speak of character – when we give witness to the good character of an acquaintance, or when we say that someone is of a generous character – we are speaking about someone’s disposition to act or behave in a certain way. Moreover, if character is tied to ethical values, it nonetheless does not denote a purely interior attitude or set of principles; character is expressed in action and behaviour…
All of this begs the question of why you would even need badges for co-operative character at all. Surely, we know co-operation when we see it? In this regard, co-operative character is no different from anything else: the reason we require credentials is for those times when the person we’re trying to convince is at a distance. We are already known to our immediate community, but need ways to provide data points so that others can do enough triangulation to be convinced of the type of person we are.
Returning to our own worker-owned co-op, we’ve been thinking recently about our membership rules and how to grow. Other co-ops in a similar position to us have based eligibility criteria for membership on the amount of time worked. We, on the other hand, are considering a badge-based approach. This would be more tricky to do to begin with, but instead of being focused on the kind of work that could be done in any organisation, co-operative or otherwise, a badge-based approach would lend a distinctive co-operative character to the application and onboarding process.
To conclude, then, I think that badges can be used to develop co-operative character. However, the importance is not the earning of the badge itself, but the way that it evidences the International Principles of Co-operation. Eventually, as with all credentials, the rubber hits the road, and the credential itself, as a proxy for the thing, is no longer required. Credentials are a means to an end.
I’m looking forward to the workshops, as I’m sure people will bring their own thinking, and experience to this particular area!