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.
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?
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.
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:
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 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 →
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”?
“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.
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 unconsciousideas 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 →
“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 →
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.
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.
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.
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 →