Open Recognition and its Enemies (1) — The genesis of Open Badges

Why have I not published lately?

A number of important events have occurred since my last post, starting with the disfiguration of planet Earth when a big orange blob fell and spattered across its surface. The fascination for this phenomenon has been a major distraction from my daily routine. I probably spend at least one hour a day trying to follow and understand what’s going on — why do people look like rabbits caught in the headlights, especially when the headlights are so dim? I must confess that under those circumstances, I find it difficult to follow Spinoza’s motto, nec ridere nec lugere sed intelligenre (neither laugh nor cry but understand) as I laugh a lot at what most likely makes my American friends scream or cry. With my attention focused on that part of the world I feel like that person who, in a plane, concentrates his mind on the flight events in the hope that it will help the plane land safely. The problem is that we are probably on Germanwings Flight 9525!

The other reason for my lack of public posts is that I had to digest what I was learning about the real impact of Open Badges and how people understand what they could do with them. Thanks to the notoriety and appeal of Open Badges (many find them “sexy”) and as there are not so many French experts on the subject, I have had the opportunity to be invited to meet a wide range of actors, both in the field of formal and informal education (and non-formal, but in the rest of this post, I’ll conflate non-formal and informal under informal). And what I have realised with great concern is that Open Badges are far from innocuous. They can have a very negative impact on learning and its recognition.

If we do not pay attention, Open Badges could become the weapons of mass destruction of informal learning!

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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

#OpenBadges: the Milestones of a re-Decentralised Web

In the digital world we live in, the main ground is possessed by the few, the Digital-Landlords. A whole paraphernalia of digital rights management, technologies, contracts, lawyers, regulations voted under influence and the cyber police make sure that we do not infringe their rights. To live on their lands often means accepting a relationship close to serfdom or digital slavery. To have a name, one has to pay a fee; that is if you want to have a domain of your own and not depend on someone else (a sub-domain) — come and join us at ePIC to hear what Jim Groom has to say on this!

The Emperor’s New Clothes has become The Commoner’s New Clothes: we believe that we are dressed-up, yet we walk naked

We, the digital-commoners, possess very little, if anything at all, at least nothing worth transmitting to our heirs. Not even our name… We should express our gratitude for having been relieved from the anxiety of inheritance, spared the burden of building the walls of our privacy and wearing clothes to protect our intimacy. In this world, the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes has become The Commoner’s New Clothes: we believe that we are dressed-up, yet we walk naked. As for Digital-Landlords, they simply see a flock of sheep waiting to be shorn. 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. 

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#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

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#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

#OpenBadges: “micro-credentials” vs. “progressive-credentials”

I had a great talk this week with my friend Don Presant (@donpresant) and when I reacted (negatively) to the expression “micro-credentials,” in return he suggested “progressive credentials,” an expression that I immediately fully embraced.

What can go wrong with “micro-credentials”?

There is a priori nothing wrong with issuing “micro-credentials” but that should not be the alpha and omega of Open Badges. Open Badges are credentials and credentials can be small and big. They can be used to hold micro- or macro-credentials, from the acknowledgment of participating in an event, to the delivery of a full qualification or diploma. An Open Badge is just one of the possible vessels for delivering, storing and exploiting credentials, micro or macro. Using Open Badges to encapsulate diplomas (macro-credentials) makes them verifiable digitally, so it’s probably a good idea to use them for that purpose. But Open Badges are not limited to do in small (“micro-certificates”) what others do in big (diplomas), they also have the potential to challenge existing credentialing authorities… Continue reading

#OpenBadges #Taxonomies and Shopping Lists

Kerri Lemoie (@kayaelle) has taken the ambitious task to lead the Open Badge community in exploring further the field of taxonomies. I was not able to attend the last conference call, but I took some time to go through the Etherpad of the meeting and here are my latest thoughts on the matter.

In Over 2 Millions Types of #OpenBadges ! Don’t you think that’s wonderful? I explored the typology of Open Badges and the idea of a taxonomy to conclude the inanity of any attempt at enumerating the different types of Open Badges. In a later post, The Celestial Emporium of #OpenBadges Taxonomies I concluded that, considering that a taxonomy would need to be finite to have any practical value, it is very likely that such a taxonomy would provide an over-simplified representation of the world, an illusion of understanding — as if the mere fact of naming things increased our understanding.

After exploring critically the concept of taxonomy, in this post I’ll try to explore a more practical approach. After all, if people feel the need for taxonomies, it might be interesting to know what the actual needs are and what are the possible solutions to satisfy those needs.

Taxonomy, Typology or shopping list?

In the discussion on taxonomies, we need to take into account that there is a difference between a typology and a taxonomy:

The etymology of both words gives clues to their differences. In Greek, táxos means an order, onom- means name, so the word “taxonomy” means naming genus or species. “Typo-” means a type of organism and -logy means a study. Nelson Orringer · University of Connecticut (source)

Moreover, proper taxonomies must respect some basic principles: Continue reading

What relationship between #OpenBadges and competencies?

Recent posts by Timothy Freeman Cook (@timothyfcook) explored (here and there) the relationship between Open Badges and competencies.  I would like to build on Timothy’s ideas.

I have rearranged in a table the initial elements of what Timothy calls “the atomic elements of learning”:

 Atom  Equivalent Definition  Learner’s perspective
Competencies Standards Definition of learning one ought to acquire What should I learn?
Pathways Courses Relationships between learnings In what order should I learn?
 Badges Credentials Proof of a learning accomplishment Did I learn it? 
 Resources Opportunities Something one can use for a learning experience  How can I learn it?

For Timothy:

The more I sketch and dwell on it, the more I am convinced that the concept of the pathway is actually something that should apply, separately, to each of the 3 elements.  […]

The 3 primary elements are:

  1. Competency
  2. Credential
  3. Resource

and each of these can be expressed on a graph with a linear or non-learner ordering or nested relationships. […] A competency graph is a prerequisite structure.

While later in the post is the following definition: “[the] competency graph is a map” I would like to explore now this idea of mapping and graphs.

What are the frameworks of learning?

Good competency standards are designed by performing a functional analysis, i.e. the analysis of all the activities contributing to achieving the purpose/mission of a sector (e.g. automotive, hotel & catering industry) or domain (e.g. management, administration, sales, engineering). The functional analysis is a mapping exercise, just like explorers drew maps of unchartered territories. Functional analysis takes into account all the activities, from the most basic (e.g. feed-in a copy machine) to the most complex (managing finance). The outcome is a competency framework.

Unfortunately, very few competency standards are built this way. Most of them are the result of task analysis leading to a fragmented representation of the territory. Moreover there is often a confusion between competencyqualification and training frameworks.

When a competency framework is produced, there is not yet an indication that a certain competency is at level 1 or 8 (there are 8 levels in the European Qualification Framework, link) nor that one competency must be acquired before another. The attribution of levels to the different competencies is based on the spectrum of routine/unpredictable tasks, basic/complex required knowledge, the degree of responsibility for oneself and others, etc. The result is a qualification framework. The organisation of competencies through prerequisites leads to a training framework.

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#OpenBadges – Micro-credentials: what can we learn from micro-credits?

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
― Ernest Hemingway

Are micro-credentials a disruptive innovation, just as micro-credits (micro-loans) were thought to be a few years ago? To answer this question we should first find out what can be qualified as a disruptive innovation? According to Wikipedia:

A disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology.

Open Badges are creating a new market, the market of Open Credentials (micro-credentials are just one type of Open Credentials) and establishing a new currency, or more precisely reinvigorating one of the oldest currencies ever: trust.

Trust has many properties. First, it’s free and when offered, it enriches both the giver and the recipient. And when the recipients of trust get richer (with trust), their increased wealth can trickle back to those who initiallyoffered their trust. While it might still need the philosophers’ stone (link) to be transmuted into gold, trust can nevertheless be transformed into real cash as one experiences when applying for a loan. Con artists and banks* also know how to make cash out of trust!

For the poorest, things are different. One of the few assets they cannot be totally deprived of is trust. Thanks to the Nobel Prize winning Grameen Bank (link) founded by Muhammad Yunus, they now have the power to convert trust into micro-loans.

Grameen Bank is owned by the borrowers and it is based on trust. It does not require any collateral from its borrowers. Since the bank does not wish to take any borrower to the court of law in case of non-repayment, it does not require the borrowers to sign any legal instrument.

Were micro-credits transformative?

What lessons could the Open Badge practitioners learn from the Grameen Bank and the many micro-credit organisations that have been spawned since its creation? Can we draw a parallel between micro-credits and micro-credentials in terms of empowerment and potential social transformation? Could Open Badges create the conditions for the emergence of a new economy?

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