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What we need is an Open Badges community renaissance, free of IMS involvement

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?

Background

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 minutes audio 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.

Introduction

To my mind, three things led to the exponential growth of badges between 2012 and 2015:

  1. Mozilla’s technical expertise and reputation
  2. The MacArthur Foundation’s money and influence
  3. 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?

Community!

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.

Next steps?

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?


Photo by Marc Biarnès used under a Creative Commons license

Badge Wiki: start of 30-day feedback period on Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Earlier this year, I wrote about the importance of thinking about a project’s architecture of participation when encouraging contribution from a new or existing community of people.

In that post, I included a checklist containing eight points to consider. I think I’ve got another one to add: get your policies right by soliciting feedback on them.

We Are Open Co-op is currently in the first phase of creating Badge Wiki, a knowledge base for the Open Badges community. It’s a project made possible through the support of Participate.com.

As part of this process, we have to come up with several policies, perhaps the two most important of which are the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. We decided to use the Wikimedia Foundation’s openly-licensed policies as a starting point, adapting them to our needs.

This has thrown up some interesting issues and considerations from an architecture of participation point of view. After all, if people don’t agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy, they can’t use Badge Wiki. There are three important ways in which our draft policies differ from the original Wikimedia Foundation source policies:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

You can access the draft Terms of Use and Privacy Policy for Badge Wiki at the links below:

You’re welcome to leave feedback on the posts themselves, in relevant Open Badges Google Group thread, or directly to us: badgewiki@nullweareopen.coop.

Thanks in advance for your participation and contribution. Remember, comments expressing support and broad agreement are as valuable as expert nitpicking!
Image by madebydot

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

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