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 (3) — the trustworthy chain

In the previous post we added to the Open Badges’ DNA its first genes extracted from the blockchain. We obtained the following results:

  • Everything can be represented as a Badge — everything is relationship;
  • A BadgeChain is made of chained badges (not yet a blockchain);
  • A BadgeChain is a distributed database: badges are stored all over the Internet.
  • New objects can grow organically from the aggregation of badges in the BadgeChain — e.g. ePortfolios.

There are two points we have not addressed yet:

  • How is the BadgeChain practically stored?
  • How can we trust the content of the BadgeChain?

The trustworthy BadgeChain

Can we check whether the components of the BadgeChain, a badge, is authentic (the issuer is the issuer, the earner is the earner, etc.) simply by looking at it, just as we would do to check whether a banknote is counterfeit? The answer is yes, and the means to do it is named cryptography. Here are the conditions to create badges that resist effective counterfeiting:

  • Every participant in the network uses one or more public / private key pair;
  • The public keys are used as the identities of the participants in the network.
  • The private keys are used to encrypt information that can then be deciphered using the matching public keys.
  • Reciprocally, the private keys are used to decipher any information encrypted by the matching public keys

The picture below illustrates the process when Alice creates a badge containing the information that will be used to verify whether it is authentic or not.

How to create trustworthy badges using cryptography?

What happens when Alice creates a badge:

Continue reading

From #blockchain to #BadgeChain (2) – the chained badge

In the previous post, we looked at the relationship between trust, Open Badges and blockchains. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, one could say: Open Badges and blockchains are two technologies separated by a common idea [trust].

To explore how Open Badges and blockchains could merge into a new technical object, my reasoning will pass through several stages. We will start with a BadgeChain that does not make any reference to the blockchain technology, then, step by step, we will describe the mutation of this initial object through the incorporation of new genes into its DNA — hoping that we will not have created a chimera!

BadgeChain take one: everything is a badge

To create something that looks like a BadgeChain, we need to link badges together; there are multiple ways this can be achieved:

  • Indirectly: badges are “connected” through each individual issuer and earner. The issuer is a kind of “connector” between all the badges issued (and their earners), the earner is a kind of “connector” between all the badges received (and their issuers). Badges can also be connected through the alignment metadata, a list of objects describing educational standards — a property of the version 1.5 of the standard that has not been widely exploited.
  • Directly: badges are literally linked to other badges. For example, an endorsement badge could use the address of the badge being endorsed as the identification for the earner of that badge.

An Endorsement Badge as connected badge

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: formal vs. informal recognition — #BeyondCredentials part 2

In a previous post, I explored the potential deleterious consequences of equating Open Badges to credentials. My point was not to critique credentials, nor the use of Open Badges as credentials (there is nothing wrong with that), but to build on Carla Casilli’s call:

“we still need badges to flourish in the non-regimented space of not-credential.”

To understand the urgency of a response to that call, we need a reality check and to pay proper attention to the actual state of Open Badges. If we had to infer a definition based on current Open Badge practice and technology, we would have to write:

Open Badges: an institution-centric credentialing technology designed to support formal recognition of learning.

The Open Badge Infrastructure gives institutions the power to act, i.e. create and deliver badges (‘spray’) and learners the right to collect and display badges (‘pray’). While learners have to carry a backpack to prove their credentials, issuers do not!

In this post, we will move the discussion from the critique of equating Open Badges to credentials to exploring the potential of badges as signs of recognition, setting the foundations for making informal recognition as valuable and potent as formal recognition. This can be achieved by moving the centre of gravity of Open Badges from institutions to individuals and self-organised communities.

Formal and informal recognition

While there are many initiatives towards the recognition of prior learning and recognition of prior experience, what is usually meant is formal recognition of prior learning as in accreditation of prior learning. Although there is abundant literature on the [formal] recognition of informal learning (including almost the whole literature about Open Badges!), there is almost none on the informal recognition of informal learning, the “non-regimented space of not-credentials” evoked by Carla Casilli.

To frame the question of Open Badges as signs of recognition I start by eliciting two key dimensions:

  • formal / non-formal
  • traditional / non-traditional

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

The Advent of the Personal Ledger — #ePortfolios and #OpenBadges Unite!

1088, Bologna gave birth to the world’s first University. Centuries later, in 1999, Bologna hosted the ministers of education of 29 European countries to adopt the Bologna Declaration setting-up the European Higher Education Area. The ambition of ePIC 2016 is to associate the name of the great city of Bologna to one grand ambition: making learners and citizens the leaders of educational and social innovation!

After having explored the power — and limits — of ePortfolios, then Open Badges, as instruments for educational and social innovation, we are very excited at the perspective of introducing a new theme to this year’s conference: the blockchain (also referred to as Distributed Ledger) the technology underpinning Bitcoins, the alternative currency revolutionising the world of finance and beyond. While ePortfolios and Open Badges developed their own idiosyncratic technologies, the advent of the blockchain, a general purpose technology used by a wide range of innovative services well beyond the world of finance, could be the tipping point to eventually achieve the initial goals of educational and social innovation set by the early ePortfolio and Open Badge practitioners.

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.
Ledgers are unfalsifiable. This is done 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.

What makes blockchains particularly interesting is that there is no need for a trusted authority to ensure the trustworthiness of transactions. Nor does one need permission for creating one’s own blockchainBitcoins would never have existed, had their creators asked banks and governments the authorisation to proceed! Blockchains give us the power to re-create a bank without a bank, Uber without Uber, Facebook without Facebook and LinkedIn without LinkedIn — in fact, a blockchain-based LinkedIn would be far superior to the current one!

There are now hundreds of initiatives exploring the power of blockchains to address a wide range of needs well beyond the world of finance, from land registry to healthcare services, ride sharing, voting and education*. Recently Airbnb acquired bitcoin and blockchain experts — to recreate Airbnb???

How could blockchains impact ePortfolios, Open Badges (and more!)?

What blockchains allow is a clean separation between the storage of data and the associated services — the blockchain is first and foremost a [trustworthy] storage mechanism. The same blockchain could be used to store badges, and prior to that, the evidence submitted to get a badge such as references to work, artefacts, achievements, testimonies and more. From the data stored in the blockchain multiple services could feed-in and be fed-from: resumé builders, accreditation portfolios, learning and assessment plans, etc.

postcardA4

As a storage mechanism, a blockchain provides a function similar to an ePortfolio repository. Yet, there are major differences: 1) it is a trustworthy record, 2) it is stored in a shared space independently from any ePortfolio platform, 3) it can be fed-in automatically, 4) data mining can be used to provide feedback in real time. Imagine what would be possible if Moodle, Canvas, Mahara, PebblePad, Badgr, the Open Badge Passport and other applications made use of the same repository and if that repository was open to other applications and services under the control of learners!

One of the powerful features blockchains now provide is the possibility to execute smart contracts (a small piece of code) something that could be handy for example to set conditions for keeping a credential current: “this badge will be revoked after one year, unless getting at least 5 endorsements each year from 5 different peers holding an equivalent or superior badge.”

The name we have given to that particular blockchain is Personal Ledger, i.e. the trustworthy record of one’s personal assets. Personal Ledgers could be combined to create Community Ledgers and Organisational Ledgers, thus creating a seamless continuum of learning individuals, learning communities, learning organisations, learning cities and territories**.

Shall Personal Ledgers prevail and transform the world of learning, its technologies and practices? Or shall institutions assimilate blockchains to continue business as usual? Shall ePortfolios, Open Badges and other technologies unite to create a seamless learning environment? Or shall a learning landscape remain a discontinuity of independent silos? The work has just started — c.f. below the information on the Open Badge Passport and the BadgeChain initiatives.

Join us In Bologna to meet the experts, practitioners learners and citizens leading educational and social innovation

 Serge Ravet​, ePIC 2016

* For an overview of current development based on Ethereum, one of the platforms to create blockchains, see dapps.ethercasts.com. Other main Blockchain creation platforms include Hyperledger (IBM) and Multichain.

** Conversely, a Personal Ledger could be a personal “view” on a collection of various ledgers. The point is only about eliciting the fluidity between the different contexts where learning takes place, not a technical choice — it’s much too early for that!

(published in http://www.openepic.eu/news/epic-newsflash-april-2016)