#Openbadges + #Blockchains = #bittrust ?

One aspect of the question regarding a possible relationship between blockchains and Open Badges is to wonder whether the blockchain should be treated as some kind of add-on to the existing Open Badge structure/standard, or should Open Badges be integrated within a blockchain?

A starting point for an informed answer to this question is to do a simple test: take an Open Badge generated by one issuing platform and try to import it into another issuing/hosting platform. I have done this experiment recently, taking only a very small sample, and the results were rather… (un)conclusive — BTW, one suggestion for the Standards Working group would be to run a real life interoperability test (not just through a formal proof) across all platforms and publish the results.

Interoperability is a classical problem to which the ePortfolio community was confronted some years ago and to which no convincing answer was ever provided — the IMS-Global ePortfolio and Leap2A specifications (2 specifications for interoperability is already one too many!!!) are only used by a handful of ePortfolio platforms — notwithstanding that there are many ePortfolios that do not use any ePortfolio platform at all! Moreover, when we organised plugfests during previous ePIC conferences, we had to admit that 3 platforms using the same technical specification (IMS ePortfolio at the time) had problems understanding each other: exporting one ePortfolio from one platform then importing it to another did not always work properly…

One could have imagined that with a structure much simpler than ePortfolios, the problem of interoperability would have disappeared. It has not. And now that we have allowed extensions to the specification, the order of magnitude for potential interoperability problems has increased geometrically, not just arithmetically. Yet, the possibility to extend the specification, even by one single issuing platform, willing to gain a competitive advantage, with a better or innovative service, should probably be allowed. We certainly do not want a “one-size-fits-all” issuing platform. Innovation must go on!

Are blockchains the solution to Open Badges interoperability?

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#blockchains vs #OpenBadges (“blocks without chains”)

Last Thursday, as I attended a meeting at the old Paris stock exchange (palais Brogniard) with people working on blockchains to discuss the Open Badge Passport, what did I discover? A number of the ideas we wanted to develop with the Open Badge Passport (as services exploiting the content of badges metadata) were already in full development using… blockchains, not Open Badges. That was some reality check! The following morning I read Certificates, Reputation, and the Blockchain (link) where Philipp Schmidt, from the MIT Media Lab, explains how they are moving from paper certificates to blockchains after a short encounter with digital badges…

Issuing a certificate is relatively simple: we create a digital file that contains some basic information such as the name of the recipient, the name of the issuer (MIT Media Lab), an issue date, etc. We then sign the contents of the certificate using a private key to which only the Media Lab has access, and append that signature to the certificate itself. Next we create a hash, which is a short string that can be used to verify that nobody has tampered with the content of the certificate. And finally we use our private key again to create a record on the Bitcoin blockchain that states we issued a certain certificate to a certain person on a certain date. Our system makes it possible to verify who a certificate was issued to, by whom, and validate the content of the certificate itself.

Suddenly Open Badges seemed to have regressed from a technology that could conquer the world to a parochial technology solely at the service of the great priests of education spraying badges like papal indulgences so their parishioners could join the heaven of employment… one day… if their prayed with enough fervour. Continue reading

#OpenBadges: “micro-credentials” vs. “progressive-credentials”

I had a great talk this week with my friend Don Presant (@donpresant) and when I reacted (negatively) to the expression “micro-credentials,” in return he suggested “progressive credentials,” an expression that I immediately fully embraced.

What can go wrong with “micro-credentials”?

There is a priori nothing wrong with issuing “micro-credentials” but that should not be the alpha and omega of Open Badges. Open Badges are credentials and credentials can be small and big. They can be used to hold micro- or macro-credentials, from the acknowledgment of participating in an event, to the delivery of a full qualification or diploma. An Open Badge is just one of the possible vessels for delivering, storing and exploiting credentials, micro or macro. Using Open Badges to encapsulate diplomas (macro-credentials) makes them verifiable digitally, so it’s probably a good idea to use them for that purpose. But Open Badges are not limited to do in small (“micro-certificates”) what others do in big (diplomas), they also have the potential to challenge existing credentialing authorities… Continue reading

#OpenBadges #Taxonomies and Shopping Lists

Kerri Lemoie (@kayaelle) has taken the ambitious task to lead the Open Badge community in exploring further the field of taxonomies. I was not able to attend the last conference call, but I took some time to go through the Etherpad of the meeting and here are my latest thoughts on the matter.

In Over 2 Millions Types of #OpenBadges ! Don’t you think that’s wonderful? I explored the typology of Open Badges and the idea of a taxonomy to conclude the inanity of any attempt at enumerating the different types of Open Badges. In a later post, The Celestial Emporium of #OpenBadges Taxonomies I concluded that, considering that a taxonomy would need to be finite to have any practical value, it is very likely that such a taxonomy would provide an over-simplified representation of the world, an illusion of understanding — as if the mere fact of naming things increased our understanding.

After exploring critically the concept of taxonomy, in this post I’ll try to explore a more practical approach. After all, if people feel the need for taxonomies, it might be interesting to know what the actual needs are and what are the possible solutions to satisfy those needs.

Taxonomy, Typology or shopping list?

In the discussion on taxonomies, we need to take into account that there is a difference between a typology and a taxonomy:

The etymology of both words gives clues to their differences. In Greek, táxos means an order, onom- means name, so the word “taxonomy” means naming genus or species. “Typo-” means a type of organism and -logy means a study. Nelson Orringer · University of Connecticut (source)

Moreover, proper taxonomies must respect some basic principles: Continue reading

What relationship between #OpenBadges and competencies?

Recent posts by Timothy Freeman Cook (@timothyfcook) explored (here and there) the relationship between Open Badges and competencies.  I would like to build on Timothy’s ideas.

I have rearranged in a table the initial elements of what Timothy calls “the atomic elements of learning”:

 Atom  Equivalent Definition  Learner’s perspective
Competencies Standards Definition of learning one ought to acquire What should I learn?
Pathways Courses Relationships between learnings In what order should I learn?
 Badges Credentials Proof of a learning accomplishment Did I learn it? 
 Resources Opportunities Something one can use for a learning experience  How can I learn it?

For Timothy:

The more I sketch and dwell on it, the more I am convinced that the concept of the pathway is actually something that should apply, separately, to each of the 3 elements.  […]

The 3 primary elements are:

  1. Competency
  2. Credential
  3. Resource

and each of these can be expressed on a graph with a linear or non-learner ordering or nested relationships. […] A competency graph is a prerequisite structure.

While later in the post is the following definition: “[the] competency graph is a map” I would like to explore now this idea of mapping and graphs.

What are the frameworks of learning?

Good competency standards are designed by performing a functional analysis, i.e. the analysis of all the activities contributing to achieving the purpose/mission of a sector (e.g. automotive, hotel & catering industry) or domain (e.g. management, administration, sales, engineering). The functional analysis is a mapping exercise, just like explorers drew maps of unchartered territories. Functional analysis takes into account all the activities, from the most basic (e.g. feed-in a copy machine) to the most complex (managing finance). The outcome is a competency framework.

Unfortunately, very few competency standards are built this way. Most of them are the result of task analysis leading to a fragmented representation of the territory. Moreover there is often a confusion between competencyqualification and training frameworks.

When a competency framework is produced, there is not yet an indication that a certain competency is at level 1 or 8 (there are 8 levels in the European Qualification Framework, link) nor that one competency must be acquired before another. The attribution of levels to the different competencies is based on the spectrum of routine/unpredictable tasks, basic/complex required knowledge, the degree of responsibility for oneself and others, etc. The result is a qualification framework. The organisation of competencies through prerequisites leads to a training framework.

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Expressing distrust within the #OpenBadges Ecosystem

Recently, I have been confronted with a rather unnerving situation where the sense of ethics of certain entities (could be people and/or organisations) was, to say the least, questionable. As I wondered how to react to this situation and how to convey my lack of trust in within the Open Badge Ecosystem, the idea of a Badge of Distrust came to mind.

As my take on badges is that they are trust statements (I’m working on refining that definition, but that will do for the time being), I realised that issuing distrust badges would put me at odds with my position where trust is understood as a positive value, as in I trust this person’s integrity. In my frame of reference, the utterance I trust that this person is a thief has a very different meaning coming from a gang leader looking at a prospective associate or from a law abiding citizen reporting a crime. For the gang leader it means “he/she is one of us” while for the law abiding citizen it means “he/she is one of them” — things can become quite convoluted when a thief steals from another thief…!

As one of the basic rules of the Open Badge Infrastructure is the recipient has the option to reject the badges they do not wish to collect, we could imagine a perfectly secure digital world where a thief would be very happy to collect a “master thief” badge from a gang leader as it could be beneficial to his/her idiosyncratic employability — crooks know how grow their own trust networks and prisons are their Open University! On the other hand, if a similar badge was issued by a law abiding citizen, it is very unlikely that he/she will ever collect it. A Badge of Distrust is not something that people are likely to collect — although, if someone like Tony Blair offered me such a badge, I would be delighted to promote it at the top of My Values badges. I would consider being distrusted by such an individual a badge of honour!

From the previous example we can foresee that accepting Badges of Trust from friends and Badges of Distrust from foes is a powerful means towards building and nurturing trust networks of all kinds — a property that should be fully explored in the development of the Open Badge Passport. 

There remains the configuration of a Badge of Distrust sent to a foe. Why would a foe accept a badge of distrust? What would its value be if not collected? To explore that question further, we first need to reflect on why we would need to issue Badges of Distrust?

Why would we need Badges of Distrust?

Badge of ShameThe Open Badge Ecosystem is a conversational system, where things are not fixed once and for all. The value of credentials is not absolute, it varies across space and time, as well as with the position of the observer within the network. Looking at the dynamics of networks construction, their topology, how clusters are formed and relate to each other, will help us compute the level of confidence one might assume in making a decision based on the information provided by the network. Would the introduction of a distrust component, a Badge of Distrust (BoD), improve the quality of the decision making process? Are there potential risks associated with BoDs? Continue reading