Sunday, 8 November 2015

Open Badges, Bitchains and Disruption of the Qualifications Marketplace

This piece is in not directly related to the EDX208 course, but once you get into the blogging habit... it was prompted by reading the always wonderful weekly bulletin on news and thoughts from Doug Belshaw "Thought Shrapnel" (which I'd recommend to any fellow students along with Oliver Quinlan's Quinlearning).

One theme from the early part of the course was the disruptive nature of change brought about by the internet and social media (I'd say that is too simplistic and that this is permanent process). One area not mentioned in the materials but I'd say is ripe for highly disruptive change is accreditation of learning.

We have a model at the moment based on trust and centralised records where my data belongs to the institution (linking back to the PLE vs VLE work we did).

I must trust the University of Leicester to maintain a common standard for awarding the MA in Education, because without that it becomes worthless. How much of the cost of the course is for the provision of teaching and facilities, and how much is for that nebulous 'value' of the brand, prestige and trustworthiness would be an interesting calculation to make. Similarly exam boards charge schools, and the state in the UK to ensure the exam certificates they issue retain a value.

In a true PLE, the learner will disintermediate those bodies - rather than having a profile with my qualifications or micro awards with each awarding body, I will hold them where I choose (after all they are just data - my identity, the awarder's identity, the date, the standard attained and what that standard means) and present them as I like. Even attempts like the National Qualifications Framework and the standard learner profile in the UK are just efforts to move the level of control to a higher one (there remains a barrier to entry for new awarding bodies into that marketplace).

Open Badges seemed at face value to present a step to resolving that. A standard way of describing the data and sharing it around qualifications which had broad support. What I didn't realise until today was just how fragmented and troubled the Open Badges movement was (but I did wonder why Mozilla Backpack was still pretty poor and why there isn't yet a true, open plug in for the system that I can offer to my schools within our secure sign in structure). After reading this piece posted my Kerri Lemoie linked to by Doug, I understand. It appears that the project has lost backing and lost direction and that is such a shame.

Doug's blog post on the potential for blockchain for accreditation really made me think.

Blockchain is a key technology behind bitcoin. It allows people to securely verify data without being able to see the contents - so for example ensuring the same bitcoin isn't spent twice, without giving away the details of the transaction. Applied to accreditation blockchain provides the technology for people to award and hold qualifications without a single central authority managing the data. Potentially it allows for new entrants to the education marketplace to establish themselves, making awards, countersigning evidence and for people to decide who to give trust to (and the value of that trust).

As MOOCs become more important it allows for low cost micro-awards not tied to traditional awarding bodies.

As we seek to recognise achievement outside the classroom it allows for non-traditional education providers to securely accredit achievement.

I truly hope that Open Badges isn't dead in the water, and that some good comes from a genuinely visionary and very idealistic group of people. Whether that happens or not, I think it's a question of how, rather than when, the accreditation market place goes through massive upheaval with publishers, higher education providers across the globe and recognised qualification brands such as Cambridge Assessment having to deal with small startups.


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