Innovations in Open Badges & Blockchain

October 26th, 2017 | Kerri Lemoie

BadgeChain began as an investigation into blockchain in the context of Open Badges, a new digital credential designed to acknowledge learning and achievements that happen anytime, anywhere, and anyhow. Open Badges embed metadata describing an accomplishment into an image (or badge), this construct results in easily consumable data and ultimately a truly portable credential. Badges can be microcredentials but also any type of credential including degrees and certifications.

Open Badges are hosted on web servers, and the verification method is reliant on the issuers storing the data for as long as the earners need it. But web servers can go down and the data stored could be modified without any historical reference. Two inherent qualities of blockchain technologies address this: permanence (at least for as long as there are nodes in the chain) and immutability (once a transaction is on the chain, it can’t be changed).

This week we caught up with two initiatives that embrace the ethos of Open Badges and seek to improve upon data verifiability using blockchain technologies: Blockcerts and OpenBlockchain.

Blockcerts is “an open standard for building apps that issue and verify blockchain-based official records” including academic credentials and professional licenses with data aligning to the Open Badges specification. Blockcert’s open source libraries, tools, and mobile apps were initially developed by MIT’s Media Lab and Learning Machine and they are encouraging community involvement through their community forum and GitHub repo.

A recent example of Blockcerts in action is MIT’s Digital Diploma which makes it possible for students to share their verifiable and tamper-proof diploma digitally. Some other examples coming out of Learning Machine include the Federation of State Medical Boards which is using Blockcerts to verify medical qualifications, and the Republic of Malta aimed at workforce training credentials.

OpenBlockchain is an initiative of the Knowledge Media Institute (KMI) at The Open University in the UK. KMI’s experiments are primarily aimed at higher education institutions in the UK, but they are also working on projects concerning workforce training, peer-to-peer interactions, and the funding of education through blockchain. They are taking a unique approach to Open Badges by experimenting with ways to store and issue them using ethereum. Ethereum, originally built based on the Bitcoin blockchain, is also decentralized, meaning that distribution is amongst many nodes, but instead of just storing transactions, the nodes also host and run small apps (called DApps) which rely on logic and data stored in smart contracts.

One of OpenBlockchain’s first experiments converted Open Badges earned on the OpenLearn platform into smart contracts that display the information about the credential on blockchain. The evidence and feedback provided in each achievement are also stored on blockchain. They envision a UK-wide blockchain where all students’ credentials are stored so as to facilitate credit transfer and allow potential employers to view student work. Currently, the KMI team is working on a Moodle plugin that will issue Moodle Badges to smart contracts. A video demonstrating this as well as other informational videos about their work may be found here:

BadgeChain Newsletter #13 – ICOs and our imagined selves

October 12th, 2017 | Carla Casilli

If only you’d had the foresight to buy Ethereum during their ICO in 2014, the profits you could have made! Ah, the fabled Initial Coin Offering. So mysterious, so alluring. But really, what is an ICO and why are there so damn many of them all of a sudden?

An initial coin offering is really just a public offering of a cryptocurrency in the form of initially discounted coins or tokens. It’s a way for a public to fund—with real cash dollars or other cryptocurrencies like bitcoin—a new cryptocurrency. (Yes, one cryptocurrency exchanged for the possibility of another!) The sale of tokens may transfer rights of ownership or royalties to a project. Like stocks, the items that are purchased can grow in value if the cryptocurrency they represent takes off. But, surprise! They’re not nearly as regulated as stocks are. Well, at least not yet. Here in the US, the SEC is increasingly interested in them, and China has outlawed them entirely—for now. The dust hasn’t settled yet.

Where do these cryptocurrencies keep mushrooming up from? More than 50% of ICOs are based on blockchains built on top of Ethereum. Given their preponderance right now, it’s hard to believe that the first ICO took place only in 2013. Four short years have been enough to produce a few ICO unicorns already. So, with that kind of big money floating around, of course everybody wants in on these things.

The current herd mentality thinking in 4 steps:
Step 1: Create a cryptocurrency
Step 2: ICO
Step 3: ????
Step 4: PROFIT!!

We kid and yet… Certainly there are real, thoughtful and innovative products buried amidst the hype. However, while numerous ICOs can benefit small startups seeking quick crowdfunding for their ideas, the flip side is a bunch of duplicative and overlapping blockchains clogging up the field.

Is this the progress we imagined? Or is all of this merely more brute force capitalism, this time disguised as the decentralized and distributed hand of the market? Who knows. Our advice? Buy low, sell high.

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Here are the links that inspired and informed this newsletter. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of decentralized technologies, blockchain, and is impacts on finance and society.