It’s about Trust, Stupid! Why Blockchain-based BlockCerts are the wrong solution to a false problem (1/3)


Metaphor for blockchain-centred systems—when a part becomes the whole

Why Blockchains?

The rationale for the initial development of blockchain technologies like Bitcoins, was to solve the problem of double spending while simultaneously:

  • Getting rid of regulatory bodies — the dream of the proponents of anarcho-capitalism also called libertarian anarchy, one of the ideologies widely shared between the alt-right, Trump and Silicon Valley (c.f. their track-record in tax dodging).
  • Getting rid of the need for trusted authorities to secure transactions — which resulted in creating an ecosystem that works best when everybody is at war with everybody. Trust is a mortal sin as trust between the miners could lead to collusion and cheating.

“Cryptocurrencies are among the largest unregulated markets in the world. We find that approximately one-quarter of bitcoin users are involved in illegal activity. We estimate that around $76 billion of illegal activity per year involves bitcoin (46% of bitcoin transactions), which is close to the scale of the US and European markets for illegal drugs.” – Foley, Karlsen, Putniņš, Sex, Drugs, and Bitcoin: How Much Illegal Activity Is Financed Through Cryptocurrencies?

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It’s about Trust, Stupid! Why Blockchain-based BlockCerts are the wrong solution to a false problem (0/3)


Prolegomenon

Blockchains have become both a kind of a fashion item and a religion. Not having one on display can be considered as a sign of bad taste, ignorance, misplaced skepticism, Luddism or heathendom.

This series of posts (3) is a rebuttal of the blockchain bandwagon on to which so many are willing to jump without engaging their brains: remember Farmingdale (link), a $24 million iced tea company had its stock jump 200% when it declared moving into the blockchain business? How engaged were the brains of those who decided to invest in the 1,000+ cryptocurrencies (link) that failed in 2018? And if 92% of blockchain projects have failed (link) does it mean that the other 8% have succeeded? Or that they are on the soon-to fail waiting list?

A recent call for tenders by the European Commission for the Study on Blockchains: Legal, Governance and Interoperability Aspects specified:

“The study will enquire for legal and regulatory aspects related to blockchain-inspired technologies and their applications as well as for socio-economic impacts of the Blockchain technology. […] The study should reinforce or complement the work of the EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum, while providing useful and meaningful inputs for the deployment of a EU Blockchain Infrastructure in 2019.

So, now it’s a given, there will be a “deployment of an EU Blockchain Infrastructure in 2019” and therefore we just have to study “legal and regulatory aspects” to “reinforce” the work of the EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum, an “observatory” who’s primary mission is not to “observe but :

to promote blockchain in Europe by mapping existing blockchain initiatives, analysing and reporting on important blockchain themes, promoting blockchain education and knowledge sharing and holding events to promote debate and discussion.”

The general contractor of the so called “observatory” is ConsenSys AG, a blockchain technology provider… It’s a bit like if Shell had been contracted by the European Commission to lead an observatory on global warming… Or the Vatican an observatory on paedophilia… It’s true that each of them have first hand experience with the subject matter.

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Are micro-credentials the mortal enemy of culture?

The title of this post is inspired by a text written in 1935 by the French poet Paul Valéry which I received from my friend and colleague Philippe Petiqueux (@misterppqx).

The opening words of Paul Valéry’s text are:

“I never hesitate to declare that the diploma is the mortal enemy of culture. The more important diplomas have become in life (and this importance has only increased because of economic circumstances), the lower the performance of education has been. The more control was exercised and extended, the worse the results became.”

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Kirkpatrick and Open Badges: Can do better!

Ensuring that the competencies acquired during training are actually transferred to the workplace—what the “Kirkpatrick methodology” defines as assessment level 3-—is a classic human resource management problem. How to address it? And more specifically, how could Open Badges contribute to its resolution?

Open Badges according to Kirkpatrick …

In an attempt to address this question, I went to Kirkpatrick Partners where I discovered a whole range of badges, from simple participation badges (“Kirkpatrick Session Participant”), up to those issued after demonstration of the application of Kirkpatrick Methodology (“Kirkpatrick Certified Professional”).

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The World Brain Experiment

“We want a reconditioned and more powerful Public Opinion. In a universal organisation and clarification of knowledge and ideas, in a closer synthesis of university and educational activities, in the evocation, that is, of what I have here called a World Brain, operating by an enhanced educational system through the whole body of mankind, a World Brain which will replace our multitude of unco-ordinated ganglia, our powerless miscellany of universities, research institutions, literatures with a purpose, national educational systems and the like; in that and in that alone, it is maintained, is there any clear hope of a really Competent Receiver for world affairs, any hope of an adequate directive control of the present destructive drift of world affairs. We do not want dictators, we do not want oligarchic parties or class rule, we want a widespread world intelligence conscious of itself. To work out a way to that World Brain organisation is therefore our primary need in this age of imperative construction.” World Brain, H. G. Wells, 1938

“We want a reconditioned and more powerful Public Opinion”

Those words were written by H. G. Wells in 1938, the year Hitler made a triumphal entry into Vienna to celebrate the Anschluss with Austria, the year of the Munich Agreement consenting to the annexation of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia in return for peace (!), the year of the Kristallnacht when Jewish shops and synagogues were destroyed and their owners later fined for the destruction!!!

To many, the world of 2018 might not look as bad as the one of 1938… But what would a survivor of Rwanda’s genocide have to say about today’s world (800,000 Tutsi murdered)? An Iraqi living in “liberated Irak” (between 180,807 and 202,757 civilian deaths) or a Syrian (+500,000 killed, 5.1 million refugees and 6.3 million internally displaced)? To add insult to injury, let’s not forget that Syria’s rulers used the informed advice of Alois Brunner, an Austrian SS officer who worked as Adolf Eichmann’s assistant and ran the notorious Drancy camp. What goes around…

While one might find disturbing similarities between the annexion of Crimea by Putin to that of Sudetenland by Hitler, or between the Russian involvement in Syria and that of the Condor Legion during the Spanish war, this is probably not what we should worry about most. What should worry us is the withering of “public opinion” and its bodies, the free press, the trade unions and the political parties, its fragmentation at the most atomic level, the individual, under the influence of the new mass media, the ill-named social media.
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Towards an Ethical Framework for #OpenRecognition

“Open Recognition” is the association of two words that, when taken independently, cover such a wide range of connotations and values that they can easily become confusing, while, when combined, they provide a powerful concept to discriminate between open/closed, recognition/rejection, inclusion/exclusion. For example, the very first Open Badge technologies were designed in such a way that individuals were de facto denied the right to recognise others, and therefore prevented the development of Open Recognition practices. The technology standard was open, the software implementing the standard was also open, but the recognition process was mainly closed. The 2.0 Open Badge Standard creates the conditions to put an end to this discrepancy and enable the emergence of Open Recognition ecosystems.

While a new standard creates new opportunities, it does not eliminate poor practices of the past, such as linking a collection of Open Badges to the awarding of free pizzas or other “extrinsic motivations.” With the emergence of an even more powerful technology it is becoming critical to define an ethical framework for Open Badges in support of Open Recognition. Can we learn from our mistakes to mitigate the consequences of the next ones we are prone to commit?

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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!

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Open Badges and Quality

Following yesterday’s post I’ve tried to structure some elements for an overview of the relationships between Open Badges and quality. This is just a rough draft, an ice breaker to open a conversation.

How do Open Badges and Quality Relate?

Open Badges and Quality can be related as in:

  • Open Badges for Quality, as a means to achieve quality, e.g. using Open Badges as a vehicle for issuing quality marks or as a source of data for quality management
  • Quality for Open Badges, as a means to achieve quality, e.g. design Quality badges

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Open Recognition and its Enemies (4) — Quality Assurance

“There being no recognition that each individual constitutes his own class, there could be no recognition of the infinite diversity of active tendencies and combinations of tendencies of which an individual is capable. There were only three types of faculties or powers in the individual’s constitution [reason, passion and appetite]. Hence education would soon reach a static limit in each class, for only diversity makes change and progress.”

John Dewey, Democracy and Education

After a quick pause with authentic friends of Open Recognition, we are now back on the tracks of its enemies—we will come back to more friends in the conclusion of this series of posts. This time we will focus on quality, or more precisely, how certain views on quality and Open Badges might have a damaging impact on the idea of Open Recognition.

This post will refer to the following definitions:

  • Quality: “degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfils requirement.” (source ISO 9000)
  • Quality assurance (QA) “part of quality management focused on providing confidence that quality requirements will be fulfilled.” (source ISO 9000)
  • Quality management (QM) includes all the activities related to quality planning, quality control, quality assurance and quality improvement.

In search of Quality

Quality is a subject of reflection, when not of concern, in the Open Badge community. A search on Google returns the following results: ”open badges” “Quality assurance” 17,500 entries, “open badges” “Quality” 630,000.

The first item returned by the query is a 2016 paper: Quality considerations in Open Badge initiatives, an introduction to a discussion paper “present[ing] data gathered from a “Quality Survey” and provid[ing] recommendations for quality assurance of Open Badge initiatives.” Although the low number of respondents (39 with 25 complete responses, mainly from the formal education sector) would not be sufficient to generate any significant statistical data or meaningful conclusions, the format and content of the survey, the responses collected and their analysis provide a useful insight on how the relationship between quality and Open Badges is perceived by segments of the Open Badge community and analyse the consequences of those views on the possibility to make Open Recognition a reality.

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Open Recognition and its Enemies (3) — Informal recognition in the Walhalla of Badges

In my previous post I tried to find resources on how recognition works within the field of informal learning. Unfortunately I felt as though I was swimming against a strong current that kept me away from the shore. The ideas of recognition, validation, standards and accreditation of informal learning, not to mention quality assurance, are so entangled that we tend to forget that recognition has a life of its own and that validation and accreditation are only means at the service of one specific form of recognition: formal recognition.

Recognition is a social process and we need to understand whether Open Badges are as effective at supporting formal and informal recognition. And if not, what would be needed to support both forms of recognition as effectively?

Informal recognition in the Walhalla of Badges

To move my quest forward, I then went for a new search: “informal recognition” (with the quotes) that led this time to 66,400 results. Looking at the books tab, at the top of the list I could read: Giving and Receiving Performance Feedback, 2016 Federal Benefits Handbook [?!?!?!] and 99 Ways to Keep Employees Happy, Satisfied, Motivated and Productive

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