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?
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.
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.
Earlier this week, IMS Global announced “an initiative to establish Digital Badges as common currency for K-20 and corporate education.” By ‘digital badges’, the post makes clear, they mean Open Badges. Along with the W3C work around OpenCreds and new platforms popping up everywhere it’s exciting times!
You’d be forgiven for needing some definition of terms here. Erin Knight’s post on the significance of the IMS Global announcement is also helpful.
Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI)– a method to issue, exchange, and display metadata-infused digital credentials based on open technologies and platforms.
IMS Global – the leading international educational technology standards body.
K-20 – kindergarten through to graduate degree (in other words, the totality of formal education)
OpenCreds – a W3C initiative to standardise the exchange and storage of digital credentials. Open Badges is being fast-tracked as an example of this.
W3C – the World Wide Web Consortium, the international standards body for the web.
The recent explosion of interest in badges is fascinating. Back in 2011 the rhetoric of the nascent Open Badges community was around badges replacing university degrees. This hasn’t happened – much as MOOCs haven’t replaced university courses. Instead of either/or it’s and/and/and. This is the way innovation works.
The initial grant-funding for badges was mainly in the US and has largely come to an end. What we’re seeing now is real organic growth. We’re in the situation where incumbents realise the power of badges. Either through fear of losing market share or through a genuine desire to innovate, they’re working on ways to use badges to support their offer.
We’ll see a lot of interesting work over the next couple of years. There will be some high-value, nuanced, learner-centric badge pathways that come out of this. On the other hand, there may be some organisations that go out of existence. I’m currently working with City & Guilds, an 800-pound gorilla in the world of apprenticeships and work-based learning. They’re exploring badges – as is every awarding and credentialing body I can think of.
Whatever happens, it’s not only a time of disruption to the market, but a time of huge opportunity to learners. Never before have we had an globally-interoperable way of credentialing knowledge, skills, and behaviours that removes the need for traditional gatekeepers.
If you’re interested in getting started with Open Badges, you might be interested in: