The Open Recognition and its Enemies (5) — Saved by Open Endorsement!

“On the social plane, the understanding that identities are formed in open dialogue, unshaped by a predefined social script, has made the politics of equal recognition more central and stressful.”
—Charles Taylor, Politics of Recognition.

In my previous posts I tried to elicit the dangers associated with the increased colonisation of the world of (informal) education and recognition by institutions of formal education and how Open Badges might become the weapons of mass destruction of (informal) learning through what could be described as carpet badging — an expression borrowed from Dan Hickey who used it with a different meaning.

NB: when I use parenthesis, as in “(informal) learning,” it is just a reminder that ‘informal learning’ or ‘informal recognition’ only exists in relation to ‘formal learning’ or ‘formal recognition’ i.e. the learning/recognition that is not yet formalised. In rhetorics, ‘informal recognition’ and ‘informal learning’ are called pleonasms.

In this post, I will explore how we might be able decolonise learning and recognition, transforming what could become weapons of mass destruction into weapons of mass liberation: Open Endorsement!

Open Endorsement, take 1.0

endorsement |ɪnˈdɔːsm(ə)nt, ɛnˈdɔːsm(ə)nt| (US & Law also indorsement)


1 [mass noun] the action of endorsing someone or something: the issue of full independence received overwhelming endorsement | cheques requiring endorsement | [count noun] : the package was regarded as an endorsement of the government’s reform programme | the entertainer made millions from Pepsi endorsements.

2 (in the UK) a note on a driving licence recording the penalty points incurred for a driving offence.

3 a clause in an insurance policy detailing an exemption from or change in cover.

The discussion on Open Badge endorsement took shape in May 2014 when Deb Everhart, Chair of the Endorsement working group launched the Endorsement Google Group.

The main objective of the Endorsement working group was to find a means to improve the credibility of Open Badges and to do so, three main options were possible:

  1. Endorsing badge issuers, i.e. “badge the badgers” a discussion that started as early as 2012!
  2. Endorsing badge instances, i.e. “badge the badges” once they have been issued and earned.
  3. Endorsing badge classes, i.e. “badge the templates” used to issue Open Badges, before and after badge instances have been issued.

The first option meant that badge issuers would have had to have a Mozilla Backpack and in doing so establish a less asymmetrical Open Badge infrastructure. The second option meant that individuals were given the means to issue their own badges, something that the Mozilla Backpack was not designed for. Consequently, the only option that was explored by the working group was the third one:

“Endorsement is a game changer for how badges are used, understood, and trusted, because it allows third-party organizations to publicly indicate which badges are aligned with their values—those that are the most meaningful and useful to them. It adds a new metadata component to the open badges standard and defines the structure for rich, well-defined endorsement information and criteria such as alignment with standards, uses for the badge in the context of the endorsing organization, description of evidence of learning and assessment techniques the organization values, etc.” [my highlights] source.

While the addition of extra metadata to badge classes is extremely useful to everybody, whether issuer, earner or consumer of Open Badges, the entities recognised by this type of endorsement are primarily the badge issuers. And the power to recognise badge classes rests mainly in the hands of organisations that are at least as powerful, if not even more, than those issuing badges.

Creating the ability to endorse badge classes without the possibility to endorse badge instances increased even further the native asymmetry of the Open Badge infrastructure. Moreover, while one elegant solution would have been to “badge the badge class” i.e. eat our own broth, the idea was rejected in favour of the addition of a patch (bandaid) that would make things more complicated to implement while reducing the power to represent the complexity of social relationships.

As I wrote at the time in thread “Next steps toward adding Endorsement to the Open Badges Standard”

“One of the main sources of the problem with the current OBI implementation is its asymmetry; far from reducing this asymmetry, adding patches (produce an easy fix for ante-facto endorsement, wait for post-facto ones)  will only increase it.

The question of asymmetry is not just technical, it is first and foremost about values: do we want to increase the power of the badge issuer/endorser (by facilitating endorsement ante-facto) or do we want to create an infrastructure where badge issuers and receivers are on a par and can create ‘chains of trust?’

Again: issuing a badge is a form of endorsement. Why create different structures/mechanisms for different types of endorsement? Why take the risk to increase even further the current asymmetry?”

With Open Badges we had in our hands a very potent instrument that could have been used for many different things, including the creation of identifiers so, instead of having an email to identify a badge recipient or issuer, we could have used an ID Badge. But to do so, we had to think beyond badges as learning credentials, whether of a macro, mini, micro or nano size. A badge is an endorsement, an endorsement can be represented by a badge and both badges and endorsements are members of the verifiable claims family. We do not care whether the claim is about a competency or an achievement, whether it is macro or nano, all that we care for is to have a piece of information that is verifiable. And it is precisely what the new Open Badge specification, the 2.0, makes possible.

Open Endorsement, take 2.0

Things have evolved considerably since the 2014 endorsement discussions, and 2.0 Open Badge specification is reflecting that change. In particular, the new specification provides the means to put an end to the current asymmetry of the Open Badge infrastructure. In fact, the endorsement as defined in the 2.0 specification is very much like a badge, I would even say a better badge as it makes it possible to:

  • Endorse a badge instance;
  • Endorse a badge class;
  • Endorse an endorsement; and
  • Endorse anything that can be identified digitally!

NB: for a quick overview of what is new with the 2.0 specification, read Doug Belshaw’s post: Providing some clarity on Open Badges 2.0.

Endorsement 2.0 creates the conditions for a copernican revolution, moving the centre of the recognition universe from the institution of formal education and formal recognition (e.g. awarding bodies) to the individual.

While the ptolemaic recognition priests challenged the very idea that individuals should be allowed to issue their own Open Badges (the Mozilla Backpack is a testimony to that ancient cult!) they should have no say on who has the right or not to issue endorsements. We now have the potential to be free to endorse anything that can be identified, whether a person or an object, an organisation or a document, a badge class or badge instance. With the 2.0 specification it is also possible to endorse an endorsement and the endorsement of an endorsement!

We now have the basic building blocks to chain badges and endorsements together (badgechain!), creating thus chains of trust, the threads of the social fabric of a trust society. The 2.0 specification creates the conditions for transforming the subservient collectors of Open Badges into the conscious issuers of endorsements, moving their status from recognition beggars to recognition givers and trust investors. In the ptolemaic vision of the world where we were denied the power to trust and recognise, the only way to increase our social capital was to collect always more badges. With Open Endorsement, we now can increase our social capital by investing our trust capital in others, and there is no limit to how rich we can become — our social capital being the sum of the trust received and issued.

Of course, this will not happen by itself as there are many new challenges (and opportunities) associated with a more open and democratic recognition ecosystem. The new specification does not come with a magic wand that will change the reality created and nurtured by old mentalities and infrastructures. To exploit the full potential of what is made possible with endorsement 2.0 we need to develop a whole new set of tools and services and this can only happen if we join our strengths and collective intelligence.

The Open Recognition revolution has just started and Open Endorsements could be our weapons of mass liberation.

Join the recognition freedom fighters at ePIC 2017, Bologna 25-27 October!

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