Beyond #OpenBadges: #OpenSignatures — the power to act, rather than the power to pack!

For a long time I have played with the idea of picture-less badges and one-pixel badges. The reason for that was the over importance attributed to what I often refer to as the “pretty picture” playing the proverbial role of the tree hiding the forest of trust. Picture-less badges and one-pixel badges force us to reflect on how to get value out of the metadata embedded in a badge: what can we do with a badge if we don’t have a “pretty picture” to display?

One of the most disheartening and yet fascinating thing with Open Badges is our inability (or lack of interest) in using them to inform even the most elementary service related to badges. For example, I remember very clearly a session during my first visit at the Mozfest in 2012 where the idea of “badge the badger”was discussed, i.e. use badges to control the right to issue certain badges. Four years later, nothing has changed. For an external observer, that could be interpreted as if we do not really believe in their value beyond displaying “pretty pictures.”

Thanks to the work done with the 2.0 spec, things might change, but change will not happen solely with the publication of a new standard: to exploit its full potential we need the right technology and, moreover, the right mind-set. Using Open Badges as verifiable claims to control access to services could have been done with the current version of the standard. If it has not happened, it is not primarily the fault of a defective standard, but the mind-set of some of those involved in the Open Badge ecosystem, in particular the excessive focus on badges as micro-credentials rather than verifiable claims. Continue reading

The #OpenBadges Backpack: an obstacle to innovation?

In a recent post on the history of the Backpack, Carla Casilli wrote:

Conclusion: The Open Badges backpack was structured around the concept of equity, personal data ownership, and interoperability. It discouraged siloing of learning recognition and encouraged personal agency.

It is difficult to recognise, in its current implementation, the initial intention of the Open Badge Infrastructure designers as stated by Carla Casilli: the Backpack has become the pivotal element of a flawed infrastructure based on a profound asymmetry between (institutional) issuers and (individual) earners. The Backpack is the expression of a world where learners are valued as the subservient actors of a system where their only real power is to say NO! to a badge.

“Personal agency” is not related to having the ability to accept/refuse, show/hide badges based on externally defined criteria (which is what one can do with the backpack) but to the ability to define one’s own identity independently from any institutionally defined standards. A true sense of “personal agency” would require the ability for learners to formulate their own claims regarding their identity and not simply be allowed to pick and choose through predefined institutional pathways.

Far from encouraging innovation and personal agency the Backpack has now become an obstacle to innovation and personal agency. The current work engaged by Mozilla to “fix” a number of the Backpack’s current problems does not appear to be interested in addressing the systemic flaws embedded in the Backpack, but just to making them less painful to the compliant user.

Imagine — a world without a Backpack

Imagine a world of formal education where it is not the teacher who issues badges to learners, but learners who issue (or endorse) badges to other learners, teachers and more generally to any entity having contributed to their learning: “here by, I recognise your contribution to my learning.” Imagine a world where learners formulate their own claims, design their own badges and ask others to either issue or endorse them. In such a world, the current Backpack would have no place. 

Continue reading

From #blockchain to #BadgeChain – Introduction

While not initially coined to describe a technical object, but rather a team of Open Badge enthusiasts willing to exploit the benefits of blockchains, BadgeChain is also a word that might be used in the future to describe a new technical object resulting from the merger of blockchains and Open Badges.

When we started the BadgeChain group, the initial idea was to explore how blockchains could contribute towards improving the Open Badge technology and experience. There are a number of limitations to what one can do with Open Badges today that blockchains seem to be able to outsmart. Our initial reflection looked at the application of blockchain ideas to Open Badges. What has not yet been explored is the application of Open Badge ideas to blockchains: what could we do to blockchains if they used what we know about Open Badges?

About Trust

Both Open Badges and blockchains are related to trust but they do it in almost opposite ways. As I have written many times, Open Badges are trust statements that could be combined to create chains and networks of trust. The information on how the members of the network trust each other can be used as the basis to establish trustworthy transactions — if 32 Open Badge experts trust Slava’s expertise on badges as well as 53 clients, I’m inclined to trust Slava to work with me on my next project.

Blockchains on the other hand are a means to establish trustworthy transactions even if those engaged in transactions do not trust each other. The trustworthiness of the transactions is not a property depending on the participants, their behaviour or the data they provide but on an algorithm controlling the trustworthiness of the next blocks added to the chain. The blockchain technology was designed to eliminate the human factor from making the decision on whether a transaction is trustworthy or not.

BadgeChain vs. blockchain

NB: many articles on the Web describe blockchains as trustless. What is meant is that trustworthy transactions are possible without the involvement of any trusted authority (a bank, a notary or a registrar) and despite the fact that the parties involved do not trust each other. Trust is fully embedded in the blockchain infrastructure and does not need human intervention.

Continue reading

#OpenBadges: the BOTOX of education? — #BeyondCredentials

Two weeks ago, during the Badge Alliance weekly Community Call (link) when Nate Otto presented the outcomes of the Badge Alliance Board Meeting, one of the slides (c.f. below) triggered a discussion on whether Open Badges are “just about credentialing”:

Are Open Badges about credentialing?

Are Open Badges just about credentialing?

Earlier in April, Carla Casilli posted her reflections on “Open badges + credentials: the value of the not-credential” (link):

“Right now, we still need badges to flourish in the non-regimented space of not-credentials—a world of value that has yet to be fully realized or appreciated—where the sliding scale of social and cultural currency changes depending on context.”

Doug Belshaw responded to Carla stating: “ I just can’t see a situation where a badge wouldn’t also count as a credential — even if that wasn’t the original intention” (link). Doug further adds:

“What badges don’t have to be, even if they’re wholly contained within the ‘credential’ circle, is traditional. They can recognise all kinds of knowledge, skills, and behaviours — as well as all kinds of things we haven’t even thought of yet!”

While defending that badges are credentials Doug Belshaw claims that “badges don’t have to be […] traditional,” yet it is precisely because badges tend to be “traditional” that Carla Casilli writes “we still need badges to flourish in the non-regimented space of not-credentials.” Could there be a connection between thinking of Open Badges as credentials and the reason why they are not being more used in the “non-regimented space”?

“While Open Badges could become an authentic rejuvenating medicine, many are only interested in an educational BOTOX® for a cheap facelift.”

With the growing interest of institutions of formal education in Open Badges, I am afraid that we are more likely to witness the transformation of Open Badges technology and practices to fit the needs of formal education for conformance rather than the other way around. While Open Badges could become an authentic rejuvenating medicine, many are only interested in an educational BOTOX® for a cheap facelift — Don Presant detailed one such example in Problems with “Badges for Food”.

My claim is that the vocabulary we use to describe Open Badges and the processes they support can make the difference between authentic transformation and masquerade — and avoid BOTOX®  mishaps! Continue reading

About technical objects, technology and ideology – Rebuttal of @hackeducation on blockchains (Part 3) #BadgeChain

Audrey Watters recently published a series of posts in the hope “of writing a clear explanation […] of what blockchain is”: The Blockchain in Education: Questions, The Blockchain for Education: An Introduction, and The Ideology of the Blockchain (for Education)

Part 1 challenged the author’s understanding of “trust” and the use of non sequitur, part 2 challenged the author’s understanding of the complexity of the relationship between technical objects, technology and ideology and the use of non-refutable statements (like the one quoted below). This part will challenge further the understanding of the author and her capacity to construct well structured arguments.

To elicit Audrey Watters’ sense of argumentation, let’s take the following statement:

Technologies, particularly the new computer and communications technologies of the twentieth century onward, help reinforce dominant ideology

While this might sound like a profound insight to the casual reader, the problem is that it fails the most elementary falsification test — being able to refute its contents. For that we suggest the following questions:

  • What technologies have not reinforced the “dominant ideology”?
  • Did computer and communications technologies only profit the “dominant ideology”?

Continue reading

About technical objects, technology and ideology – Rebuttal of @hackeducation on blockchains (Part 2) #BadgeChain

In the third post, The Ideology of the Blockchain (for Education), Audrey Watters makes some sweeping statements:

“All digital technology is ideological. All education technology is ideological”

“Technologies, particularly the new computer and communications technologies of the twentieth century onward, help reinforce dominant ideology”

One problem with the word technology is that it both refers to a “collection of techniques, skills, methods and processes” and the technical objects, the artefacts where they are embedded.

From Wikipedia:

Technology is the collection of techniques, skills, methods and processes used in the production of goods or services or in the accomplishment of objectives, such as scientific investigation.

Ideology is a collection of doctrines or beliefs shared by members of a group. It can be described as a set of conscious and unconscious ideas which make up one’s beliefs, goals, expectations, and motivations.

For the clarity of this part of the rebuttal I will use “technical objects” to refer to artefacts and technology to refer to the “collection of techniques, skills, methods and processes.” With that being said, a blockchain is a technical object that, as any object, is subject of investigation and discourses, including ideological.

The problem with statements like “All digital technology is ideological. All education technology is ideological” is it can be applied to everything without adding an iota of understanding. Remove “digital” and you have “all technology is ideological.” Then remove “technology” and you have “Everything is ideological.” Well, so what? Continue reading

About Trust and distrust – Rebuttal of @hackeducation on blockchains (Part 1) #BadgeChain

Introduction

Audrey Watters recently published in @hackeducation a series of posts in the hope “of writing a clear explanation […] of what blockchain is”: The Blockchain in Education: Questions, The Blockchain for Education: An Introduction, and The Ideology of the Blockchain (for Education).

As there is a lot to “unpack” from those three posts, I will only focus on the most salient points.

And to provide a simple definition of a blockchain for this post (source):

“A blockchain enables a database to be directly and safely shared by entities who do not trust each other, without requiring a central administrator.”

Yes, that’s all what it is, yet it changes everything!

In the first post, The Blockchain in Education: Questions, the last question is:

When it comes to issues of “trust” and, say, academic certification, who is not trusted here? Is it the problem that folks believe students/employees lie about their credentials? Or is the problem that credential-issuing entities aren’t trustworthy? I mean, why/how would we “trust” the entity issuing blockchained credentials?

There is a lot to “unpack” here: first, there is a confusion between trust and distrust. If the question was about trust, then one should develop the question around trust. Building an argumentation about distrust to support an argument on trust is a non sequitur. Some researchers (e.g., Priester and Petty, 1996; Lewicki et al., 1998) argue that trust and distrust are separate dimensions, and thus not opposite ends of one single dimension or continuum (source). Other authors, Steven Van de Walle, Frédérique Six, explain why trust and distrust should be addressed as distinct concepts: Continue reading