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


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

Rebuilding Trust, the Currency of an Open Economy and Society — #OpenBadges, #badgechain

As I was looking for documentation for this post, the top result from Google was a link to “Rachel Botsman: The currency of the new economy is trust” (link) followed by an OECD forum with a highlight on “Trust is at the heart of today’s complex global economy.”

While Botsman’s lecture, punctuated with examples of the emerging collaborative economy, is worth viewing, what I challenge is the idea that trust is a new currency or that trust is more important in today’s economy than it was in previous ones. With the exception of war and predatory economies, trust has always been at the very centre of the economy. If something has changed in the economy it is how globalisation has affected trust, its currency.

Trust is at the heart of the economy — and open societies!

In Adam Smith on Trust, Faith and Free Markets (link) Jerry Evensky writes:

In a constructive society, trust and security are based on mutual respect among citizens and between the citizen and the State. It is the maturation of the citizen and of the State together that makes the emergence of a commercial free-market society possible. It is the trust engendered by this maturation of civic ethics and institutions that makes it possible for individuals to enter the market system with confidence that the competition will be a game played by just rules.
When trust is shaken, individuals pull back and the system contracts. Where trust grows, individual energy and creativity are unleashed and the system grows. In Smith’s vision of humankind’s progress, trust is the central theme.

Continue reading

Valuing human capital and social capital doesn’t need “pretty pictures” — #OpenBadges #ePortfolios #blockchains #ledgers

In 2016, Open Badges will encounter blockchains and this will most likely change the way we issue, store and exploit Open Badges and open credentials. This change will also affect Open Badges themselves, or more precisely, we will have a chance to get rid of the dictatorship of the “pretty picture” and move beyond the narratives of the girl and boy scouts’ merit badges.

Open Badges are wonderful and it was a brilliant idea to store metadata within a picture, but let’s face it, there is a time, in fact many of them, where designing a “pretty picture” to recognise one’s achievements or competencies is simply a waste of time or a hindrance — and the use of pre-digested graphics often an insult to our sense of aesthetics! We have now reached the situation where it is the tail wagging the dog: the “pretty picture” is the “need to have” in order to issue any credential in the happy world of Open Badges. No “pretty picture”, no credential! Does it have to be so?


Moving the Open Badge movement from infancy to adulthood needs new metaphors and narratives — the badge for the girl and boy scouts. It is precisely what the blockchain technology is offering. The metaphor on which the blockchain narrative is constructed is the ledger, a word everybody can understand.

A general ledger account is an account or record used to sort and store balance sheet and income statement transactions. Examples of general ledger accounts include the asset accounts such as Cash, Accounts Receivable, Inventory, Investments, Land, and Equipment.
Source: www.accountingcoach.com/blog/what-is-a-general-ledger-account

A Personal Ledger is a means to account for one’s assets, credits and debts. In the context of open credentials, the credentials received can be considered as debts (one is indebted to someone for the trust received) and the credentials given as credits (the recipient of our trust is indebted to us). A ledger can be further subdivided into multiple accounts, so each entry could store the information contained today in various Open Badges.

Continue reading

From #ePortfolios to  #OpenLedgers — via #OpenBadges and #BlockChains

When I started exploring Open Badges a few years ago, I rapidly realised that not only were they a solution to several of the problems we had with ePortfolios, but they also had the potential to help us reinvent them — the Open Badge Passport initiative is our contribution to this. And now that I have started exploring the possible application of blockchains to Open Badges, I realise that not only were blockchains the perfect solution to a number of Open Badge problems, but they could also be a means to review our ideas on Open Badges altogether.

What is a blockchain?

A blockchain is the historical record of all the transactions between the participants (nodes) of a network. This record is referred to as a ledger, the artefact accountants use for book keeping. Adding new entries to the ledger, or modifying existing ones, is done by adding a new block to the chain — previous blocks are the faithful representation of the ledger’s previous states.

Moreover, the blockchain technology makes ledgers unfalsifiable. How is this possible? By providing a copy of the full ledger to all members of the network and defining an ingenious protocol for adding new blocks to the chain so that even if someone tried to add an invalid block, the network would detect the fraud and reject the chain containing the invalid block.

One vital point about blockchain technology is privacy: while transactions are public, they can be verified without having to know the real identities of the participants. Identities remain masked.

What could the representation of an Open Badge in a blockchain be?

The first time a badge is issued, a block is created to record a set of metadata. In a sense, one could describe the first block as a badge: instead of being “baked” into a picture, the metadata is “baked” into a ledger. If the same badge was issued to 300 people, the first block of the ledger would record that piece of information — a block usually records several transactions. Continue reading

#Openbadges + #Blockchains = #BitofTrust ?

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?

Continue reading

#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

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

OpenBadges: The Deleterious Effects of Mistaking Security for Trust

What is the relationship between trust and security, security and privacy, privacy and personal data protection? For some time now, I knew that there was something wrong with the so-called trust technologies, but I did not take the time to pin down what the source of the problem was. Apart from rechristening them as distrust technologies, I did not make the effort to explore any further the matter. Here are two excerpts from previous posts:

Is there an escape from an alternative that can only lead to an escalation in the development of distrust technologies? in Why Open Badges Could Kill the Desire to Learn?

One of the most interesting and undervalued features of the Open Badge Infrastructure is trust: I have commented before that there is a risk for the Open Badges’ pretty pictures to become what the proverbial tree is to the forest of trust. I’ve also written that OBI is a native trust infrastructure, while most of the so-called trust architectures would be better described as distrust architectures (in a native trust environment, trust is by default, while distrust is generated by experience; in a distrust environment distrust is by default while trust is generated by experience). in Punished by Open Badges?

Designing Principles for a (dis)Trusted Environment

What brought me to explore further the issue of trust and security was the participation at a workshop organised by the Aspen Institute at SXSWedu 2015. The participants were invited to produce a series of scenarios eliciting the design principles of a trusted [digital] environment. The workshop took place the day following a session on “Designing Principles for a Trusted Environment” during which the winners of the DML Trust Challenge were announced.

While the challenge we were invited to address was the design of a trusted environment what struck me in most of the proposed scenarios was that they did exactly the opposite: they designed an environment where distrust was the founding principle. The designing principles for a distrusted environment were:

If you have a problem with trust the solution is increased control and security measures.

While this principle might sound fine to the superficial reader, the problem is that it reveals a misconception of what trust is about and, consequently, on how to deal with situations where low levels of trust are an issue. While both trust and security are related to safety, they are at the two ends of a spectrum.

While one can take security measures, send security forces, one cannot take trust measures and send trust forces. Security is something you can do to things, trust is something you can only get from within. Mistaking one for the other, trust for security, could (and generally does) have deleterious effects on trust.

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#JeSuisCharlie #OpenBadges

JeSuisCharlieI have lost friends whose irreverent cartoons contributed to forging my character and political views. Cabu and Wolinski were among the heros of my teenage years. Nothing was sacred to them, nothing but life! Their murder, the murder of an entire editorial board by bigots acting on behalf of a criminal organisation has transformed some of my  favourite cartoonists and economist (Bernard Maris) into another kind of heros: heros of democracy and free speech.

#JeSuisCharlie has been a tremendous response to those murders (17, including police force and simple citizens). My contribution to this movement is the creation of a different kind of Open Badge to state one’s commitment to democracy and free speech.

Je suis Charlie can be claimed using the link below: