Planet Badges

Calling out Pearson on Open Badges

Doug Belshaw

Thu Feb 11 2016 17:05:36 GMT+0000 (UTC)

Open Badges is a web-native credentialing system. It was incubated by Mozilla and I served on the founding badges team. Since then, stewardship of the project has been given to a spin-out non-profit called the Badge Alliance. I’m currently consulting on areas including Open Badges, meaning that, all told, I’ve been involved in the community for nearly five years.


You can find out more about Open Badges and how they differ from other digital credentials via the OB101 course.


There are some big players in the Open Badges space. One of them is Pearson, which you may find surprising. After all, why would an organisation best known for its rapacious business practices (and who some see as standing for everything currently wrong in education) get into the open credentials game?

The answer, of course, is to commodify it. They’ve taken a leaf from Microsoft’s old playbook: Embrace, Extend, and Extinguish. Pearson even have a page on their site explaining how they’re using different terminology just to spread FUD.

Pearson’s badging platform is called Acclaim. They have some big-name partners such as IBM and Citrix. Today, I noticed via the #openbadges hashtag on Twitter that they were singing the praises of the Open Badges ecosystem while pimping their own platform.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with that. Acclaim is technically compatible with the Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI). However, it’s entirely pointless that the badges they issue are Open Badges as users cannot export them from the system elsewhere. Given that Open Badges are portable digital credentials this kind of misses the point.

It’s true that Pearson have engaged with the community on this issue, but their justification seems spurious:

Real-time verification is essential for the clients we work with who are invested in building trust networks with their badge earners and other issuers. We fully expect the market to mature such that services like Mozilla will address this, but until then, we are not offering export / integration.

This is exactly the kind of response you would have found Microsoft giving 15 years ago when attempting to embrace, extend, and extinguish open document formats.

Growing sick of seeing Pearson’s disingenuous tweeting on the #openbadges hashtag, I challenged them today:

They held the line:

Note that they don’t care about the spirit of the community or the ethos behind Open Badges, just the cold, hard code. As far as they’re concerned, they’re technically compatible with the OBI, therefore they’re part of the Open Badges community. This logic doesn’t wash with me.

I’m calling for Pearson to get their act together and allow badges issued via their Acclaim platform to be portable. Credly have the exact same business model as Acclaim, yet their ‘credit’ can be exported to the Mozilla backpack and elsewhere.

If Pearson aren’t willing to allow their badges to be portable, then they should have the guts to stop pretending that they’re interested in the success and sustainability of Open Badges. Muddying the waters doesn’t help anyone except Pearson’s profits.

Parody of Acclaim website thanks to the wonderful X-Ray Goggles

The Possibilities of Badges and Blockchain [DML Central]

Doug Belshaw

Thu Feb 11 2016 14:09:47 GMT+0000 (UTC)

My latest post for DML Central has just been published. Entitled The Possibilities of Badges and Blockchain it’s a follow-up to a post I wrote for them last year, which stated that this kind of thing was ‘deep in the future’. Perhaps not!

Read the post

This kind of stuff fascinates me, which is why I’m delighted that a few ex-Mozilla colleagues and interested parties have come together to form Badge Chain. You can sign up on the site for (low-traffic) email updates, and/or subscribe to our Medium publication.

Cracking the credentialing club

Carla Casilli

Fri Feb 05 2016 19:56:48 GMT+0000 (UTC)

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The Open Badges movement has grown and evolved in sometimes tumultuous ways over the last five years. And we’re beginning to see ideological light in places where previously there was only questioning shadow. For example, there have been inklings in the professional world that despite—or perhaps because of—creeping degree inflation, the long-term infatuation with the degree may be fading. Indeed, some rather large employers, like Penguin Random House and Ernst & Young (EY), are venturing into relatively unknown territory by dispensing with degree requirements altogether. While it might seem disorienting, this is a good thing for both the learner and for the traditional degree granting institution.

The Credentialing Club
Too much has been asked of degrees as representational communication objects. Our assumptions about them have grown to be enormous and consequently, virtually impossible to fill. Additionally, the degree granting system has perpetuated the degree-granting system: discussions about any learning experience after high school are typically had by people who have attended higher ed—and more than likely possess an advanced degree. In a feedback loop such as this, how can we guarantee that new ideas will be appreciated and promoted?

While graduates of four year degree programs are the majority in any discussion about post-secondary education, a little less than half of the individuals who pursue some form of education after high school attend community colleges or technical schools, among other educational environments. The power, impact, and usefulness of these educational opportunities should not be underestimated. And here’s a surprise: that 44% percent also includes people with higher ed degrees. It seems that a healthy minority of folks who attend some learning institution after high school go to a community college at one time or another. Yet somehow when we talk about post-secondary education, our conversation defaults to four year colleges and universities. This must stop.

And stop it shall, particularly as our society moves toward embracing different forms of credentials. On a related note, I’ve ceased using the term alternative credentials in my discussions about these new initiatives. Why? Because that word introduces an adversarial quality to the conversation. It suggests that the new forms of credentialing might be alien or less dependable or less robust or less valuable than a degree. Horsefeathers!

I’ll take time in another essay to distinguish among the new credentialing forms (there are more similarities than differences) but for a second, let’s just consider some of these new representational possibilities:

  • online degrees
  • course certificates
  • badges
  • microcredentials
  • nanodegrees

And the best part? They’ve been developed already and they’re here, operating in the real world, right now. The credentialing club is about to start accepting new members.

Interrogating the new world of credentialing
From the consumption perspective, this impressive burgeoning might indicate that right now and for the foreseeable future, there are too many forms of credentials. On the one hand, isn’t that wonderful? It means that many more people have many more ways to represent their abilities, competencies, experiences, and skills. On the other hand, it means that potential consumers of those credentials now have to sift through hundreds and thousands of different permutations of learning representations. If we’re concerned that degrees have become an unfortunate elision of abilities, a surfeit of new credentials can prove equally problematic. Happily, there are initiatives (more on these in future posts) looking at the many and varied aspects of what constitutes a good credential—and not just from the credential issuer standpoint, but also from the other stakeholders in this process, e.g., the credential earner and the credential consumer.

Educational map ≠ learning territory
This discussion brings to mind Clay Shirky’s cognitive surplus hypothesis: the massive collective power released by shifting from a social construct based on consumption to one based on creation. To me, the credentialing boom is just one of the reverberating results of the big bang of the internet. The web’s continuing expansion seems to indicate that our current system just isn’t broad enough or powerful enough to adequately address the experiential, social, professional, and personal representation requirements that it has engendered. A quick test: for those of you who hold a degree, would you feel comfortable saying that it accurately represents all of your capabilities? And for those of you who hold multiple degrees, why wasn’t the first one enough?

These challenging questions help us to understand that the educational map is not the learning territory—that our abilities are so much broader and more nuanced than anything a degree imparts or a transcript indicates. We’re capable of so much more than what any one credential says we are. And that’s where badges, microcredentials, nanodegrees, etc. come in.

I’m glad that the credentialing club is beginning to accept new members. It’s about time.

Much more soon.
Talk to me at cmcasilli [at] gmail [dot] com


Tagged: credentials, learning, openbadges

Badge Alliance

Mozilla Open Badges Blog

Mon Feb 01 2016 05:08:27 GMT+0000 (UTC)

Badge Alliance:

The official publications of the Badge Alliance are switching platforms, over to this collection on Medium. The Tumblr you are reading will remain up for archival purposes. Thanks for following, everyone!

What a post-Persona landscape means for Open Badges

Doug Belshaw

Mon Jan 18 2016 11:34:19 GMT+0000 (UTC)

Note: I don’t work for Mozilla any more, so (like Adele) these are my thoughts ‘from the outside’…


Introduction

Open Badges is no longer a Mozilla project. In fact, it hasn’t been for a while — the Badge Alliance was set up a couple of years ago to promote the specification on a both a technical and community basis. As I stated in a recent post, this is a good thing and means that the future is bright for Open Badges.

However, Mozilla is still involved with the Open Badges project: Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, sits on the board of the Badge Alliance. Mozilla also pays for contractors to work on the Open Badges backpack and there were badges earned at the Mozilla Festival a few months ago.

Although it may seem strange for those used to corporates interested purely in profit, Mozilla creates what the open web needs at any given time. Like any organisation, sometimes it gets these wrong, either because the concept was flawed, or because the execution was poor. Other times, I’d argue, Mozilla doesn’t give ideas and concepts enough time to gain traction.

The end of Persona at Mozilla

Open Badges, at its very essence, is a technical specification. It allows credentials with metadata hard-coded into them to be issued, exchanged, and displayed. This is done in a secure, standardised manner.

OBI diagram

For users to be able to access their ‘backpack’ (i.e. the place they store badges) they needed a secure login system.Back in 2011 at the start of the Open Badges project it made sense to make use of Mozilla’s nascent Persona project. This aimed to provide a way for users to easily sign into sites around the web without using their Facebook/Google logins. These ‘social’ sign-in methods mean that users are tracked around the web — something that Mozilla was obviously against.

By 2014, Persona wasn’t seen to be having the kind of ‘growth trajectory’ that Mozilla wanted. The project was transferred to community ownership and most of the team left Mozilla in 2015. It was announced that Persona would be shutting down as a Mozilla service in November 2016. While Persona will exist as an open source project, it won’t be hosted by Mozilla.

What this means for Open Badges

Although I’m not aware of an official announcement from the Badge Alliance, I think it’s worth making three points here.

1. You can still use Persona

If you’re a developer, you can still use Persona. It’s open source. It works.

2. Persona is not central to the Open Badges Infrastructure

The Open Badges backpack is one place where users can store their badges. There are others, including the Open Badge Passport and Open Badge Academy. MacArthur, who seed-funded the Open Badges ecosystem, have a new platform launching through LRNG.

It is up to the organisations behind these various solutions as to how they allow users to authenticate. They may choose to allow social logins. They may force users to create logins based on their email address. They may decide to use an open source version of Persona. It’s entirely up to them.

3. A post-Persona badges system has its advantages

The Persona authentication system runs off email addresses. This means that transitioning from Persona to another system is relatively straightforward. It has, however, meant that for the past few years we’ve had a recurrent problem: what do you do with people being issued badges to multiple email addresses?

Tying badges to emails seemed like the easiest and fastest way to get to a critical mass in terms of Open Badge adoption. Now that’s worked, we need to think in a more nuanced way about allowing users to tie multiple identities to a single badge.

Conclusion

Persona was always a slightly awkward fit for Open Badges. Although, for a time, it made sense to use Persona for authentication to the Open Badges backpack, we’re now in a post-Persona landscape. This brings with it certain advantages.

As Nate Otto wrote in his post Open Badges in 2016: A Look Ahead, the project is growing up. It’s time to move beyond what was expedient at the dawn of Open Badges and look to the future. I’m sad to see the decline of Persona, but I’m excited what the future holds!

Header image CC BY-NC-SA Barbara