As detailed in the annual report for 2015–2016, BadgeChain has undergone a series of changes in the first year of the organization. As we enter into our second year we, the core members of BadgeChain, see opportunities within the field, as well as in our own work that we would like to pursue. As part of this pursuit, we are restructuring in an attempt to open ourselves up, while still remaining true to our value system.
Our values include the following:
We are committed to working in the open.
We are ecosystem focused.
We are learning as we go.
We are building the future of open badges.
In this restructuring, we are looking to develop a series of vertical, open teams that allow the collective to maintain our value system, while at the same time providing communication and transparency pipelines across the organization. This post will identify why we believe this opening up of our work is needed at this period of time. This post will then detail the structure and schedule of these proposed vertical teams within BadgeChain. Finally, we will discuss specific opportunities for you to join us as members of BadgeChain.
Why we believe this is important
We believe the field of badges is at a critical juncture in which aspects of openness and community are needed now more than ever before. As individuals from the fields of education, policy, and technology, we have each served as learner and mentor in the open badges movement. This work has brought us to the development of BadgeChain. It also has specific import for the future of open badges and distributed, alternative credentialing.
While there has been a focus on issuing badges over the past six years, the time has come to shift towards the connectivity, usage, and consumption of earned badges. With this in mind, we have focused our efforts and research on what will grow and support the badges ecosystem in a way that will address these objectives and allow for innovation in the space.
We believe that badges may provide opportunities to make education and lifelong learning more equitable and personalized while also being critically based on trust and community. We also recognize that badges siloed in systems do not have the same power and opportunity as those in connected systems. As such, we are looking to move our organization to a more open structure through the use of vertical teams to allow more voices and viewpoints to be a part of BadgeChain.
Up to this point we’ve explored blockchain and blockchain technologies, and have identified an approach that proposes to:
Store badges and evidence as long as earners desire without concerns of it being deleted or inaccessible on web servers
Make data tamper-proof
Improve earner control of their data and evidence
Allow for verifiable identity
Improve the capability for assessments, endorsements, and related data to be built into badges
This proposed system includes using decentralized web technologies and some aspects of blockchain with APIs that anyone in the ecosystem should be able to use including existing issuers and issuing platforms. Applications like the backpack should also be able to use this system. Its intention is to connect earned badges and make them more verifiable, accessible and usable while being easy to use so that the participants in the ecosystem can focus on their important work and not worry about the technology behind it. We’re striving to do all of this while we make the intersection of blockchain, decentralized technologies, and digital badges approachable for the average person.
To make all of this happen, we need you.
Organizational tiers in BadgeChain
There are three distinct tiers of groups within BadgeChain (i.e., BadgeChain Core, BadgeChain Link, BadgeChain Working Groups). This section will define each group and identify ways in which each tier intersects. We go into quite a bit of granular detail below, but our goal is to focus on transparency and open organization as our organization moves forward.
The Core team will serve as the governing and organizational board of BadgeChain the organization. The Core team is tasked with making decisions about the focus and intent of work of the organization while remaining true to the central values and ethic of BadgeChain. The BadgeChain Core team will meet weekly in private to discuss the work and focus of the organization.
This second tier of membership in the organization is identified as the BadgeChain Link (BC Link). The BC Link serves as the connecting body and associated meetings that form the vertical open teams in BadgeChain. The BC Link is formed by members of the BC Core team as well as representatives of each of the BC Working Groups.
The purpose of these meetings is to discuss work and initiatives from across BadgeChain. Each month these meetings will also focus on the work of one of the Working Groups. The primary purpose of the BC Link meetings is to provide an internal and external communication and transparency pipeline for BadgeChain.
Membership in BC Link is categorized by attendance at monthly meetings that are held openly online. You can join this group by attending our open meetings online or follow the discussions. We’ll have more information coming soon.
BadgeChain Working Groups
The third class of membership is comprised of a series of semi-autonomous BadgeChain Working Groups (BC WG) that meet, research, discuss, and work on topics within a specific focus. BC WG may focus on a variety of topics that help inform the goals and values of the organization (e.g., education & advocacy, research & development, community outreach).
BC WG are created by the BC Core as advised by the BC Link. Each BC WG identifies a group leader that facilitates the meetings, and oversees the work of the group. These groups may develop their own schedule and structure necessary to conduct the work of the group. BC WG meetings may be held publicly or privately, as determined the individual groups, and as advised by the BC Core Group. Individual working groups are encouraged to make regularly make their discussions, decisions, and announcements openly online in the form of discussion and blog posts.
Once a month, a representative of the group is to attend the BC Link meeting to share pertinent news and work from the group. The representative then brings pertinent news back to the Working Group to advise future work.
Membership in the various BC WG is categorized by attendance at monthly meetings that are organized by the individual groups. You can join this group by attending our open meetings online or follow the discussions. BC WG are open to the public and anyone is able to join. The individual BC WG will start making announcements online soon.
Be a part of BadgeChain community
We are aiming to build this with and for the community and seek your support and encouragement. We are seeking all members of the community to learn and build this with us: those interested or curious about the technology, educators, researchers, all of you. Our efforts are currently volunteer-based and focused on the development of communities and technologies as they relate to our mission. We are also actively seeking and in current conversations about funding to support the sustainability of our goals and values.
To stay connected, please follow the blog, the BadgeChain Google Group, or the BadgeChain twitter account (@badgechain). With you, we’ll continue our mission of exploring through research, advocacy and development how Open Badges (and related initiatives) can be advanced by blockchain and decentralized technologies.
We look forward to open dialogue and continued transparency in the open badges ecosystem. We also believe that more voices, diversity, and community are needed as we examine badges in the open. We look forward to collaborating and learning with you.
Around the same time, a group of original open badges team members and experienced badge enthusiasts and contributors began meeting to discuss the future of open badges as a learning recognition tool. We called this group, BadgeChain. Our members include the founders of badges and experts in the ecosystem, policy, and technology. Three things united us as we began to investigate opportunities. First, we noted that there were concerns about the increasing amount of fragmentation in the field. Second, we recognized the need for a new decentralized and efficient transport mechanism for open badges. Third, we were interested in the possibilities of the blockchain, and related technologies as a possible vehicle for this work.
This interview with Vinay Gupta on the Future Thinkers podcast and his discussions about Ethereum as a platform for a decentralized web inspired our thinking. From this starting point, we collected and shared every possible link discussing blockchain, bitcoin, ethereum, and related technologies. You can review many of these links here.
One thing that was immediately apparent to us as BadgeChain was the difficulty of understanding and explaining the complexities inherent in these new spaces. Our goal was to try to understand the logic behind these decentralized technologies, and consider possibilities for not only badging, but also opportunities in education and beyond. Our consideration included badges but extended beyond simply placing badges on the blockchain. This was, and still continues to be, a search to identify ways to leverage these technologies to make badges and other personal data verifiable by improving upon its permanence.
After months of private weekly meetings, we made our intentions public under the name BadgeChain. We launched a website and agreed to start blogging as a collective on our Medium publication. Over the coming months we continued to meet in private as we researched, discussed, and debated possibilities in this space.
We started a series of community calls and podcast interviews to work as a “thinkubator” with the community. One of the reasons for this was we identified the need to educate the field about these technologies and their possible role in education. The Core BadgeChain team also needed an opportunity to share our thinking openly online and receive critique from others.
This past June, a position statement we submitted to W3C Blockchains and the Web, was accepted and allowed us to participate in a two day workshop with leaders in the web and blockchain technologies. The aim of the workshop was to propose how W3C could lead standards development on web interactions with blockchain and also how aspects of blockchain may improve how the web works. Not only was this workshop enlightening it also validated much of the thinking and research we’d been pursuing over the year. Also, it connected us with companies and organizations pursuing similar data needs as the Open Badges ecosystem.
Throughout this exploratory phase, the BadgeChain team has been intrigued by the possibility of embracing blockchain and related technologies to build something new. Our mission statement identified a focus on using research, advocacy, and development to explore how decentralized technologies can advance learning recognition and digital credentialing. Our investigations revealed that blockchain, instead of being a monolithic technology, is instead an aspect of decentralized technologies with much more potential than is realized in BitCoin and financial tech. Blockchain as a technology, itself, provides a mechanism to decentralize data and transactions so that no single entity owns our data. Not only is it not inherently evil (as described in this post), blockchain and decentralized technologies can give us more control over our personal data than we have now.
The first year of BadgeChain has been a growing and learning process. Our approach and mission have been under constant internal review/revision. Our focus on use of “the blockchain” has also changed. With this, our examination of various technologies, and the terms used to identify these technologies have also changed. As we have engaged in this work, the larger field investigating blockchain and related technologies has evolved as well. We continue to focus on the philosophies and potential that excited us as we began this journey. We remain convinced that the investigation and development of decentralized web and ledger technologies holds distinct promise.
Over the summer of 2016 we’ve been busy behind the scenes advancing BadgeChain. While we grappled with evolving technology and considered the future of learning recognition and badges, we chose to “press pause” on most of our public-facing posts, community calls, and podcasts. During this quiet time we continued to present and discuss our work at various meetings and conferences. The most important work that we’ve conducted is a review and audit of the processes that will make BadgeChain a successful initiative over the next year.
Perhaps one of the most important outcomes was our decision to recommit to working in a more open way, and to involving the community more deeply in the BadgeChain work. We’ve come to terms with the idea that there is too much work for our small group of devoted volunteers to accomplish. We, the members of the Core BadgeChain group, want to provide opportunities to integrate the learning recognition community into the decisions and work of the collective. Additionally, we believe the open badges community would benefit from increased openness and community participation. We’ll have more details about these thoughts in the coming week.
Over the past year, we’ve encountered many misconceptions about what these products and platforms are and what they could be. During all of our discussions about the impact of blockchain and decentralized web technologies on education, we believe that there is a need to develop products. So we’re excited to announce that we’re experimenting with developing in this space. The challenge is that we’re discussing and problematizing vaporware. It’s time to start building and breaking things online…and then dive into the questions of trust, credibility, and immutability related to these tools.
As we close our first year working on BadgeChain, we’ve learned a great deal and believe that there’s a lot left to do. We’re excited to take this next step, and look forward to having more people join us.
This project is organized and facilitated by the BadgeChain team. The purpose of this work is to foster open discussion about the issues and trends in blockchain and related technologies. Furthermore, it is our hope to engage in discussion while focusing on the facts presented in the text.
We’re using an open source tool (Hypothes.is) to collaboratively research and discuss some of the influential literature in the field. This post should provide you guidance as you read, highlight, annotate, and respond in the text.
Blockchain misconceptions and the future of education
To foster a thoughtful discussion about the theoretical perspectives involved in these new technologies, we’re facilitating a collaborative reading and annotation activity known as BadgeChain Reads.
BadgeChain holds biweekly community calls in order to explore through through research, advocacy and development how blockchain technologies can advance learning recognition and digital credentialing. We offer a podcast preview of speakers for the upcoming call. You can follow us on Twitter at BadgeChain. And follow along with our Q+A mailing list.
Four Questions For is a podcast about literacy, technology & education. Each episode includes an interview with an expert in the identified area. The interviews provide a smart and savvy resource for individuals trying to understand these concepts. Subscribe using your favorite podcatcher.
How do you define the blockchain and these related technologies? How do you see it relating to AI, IoT, and other technologies?
You indicated in your Medium post that you believe blockchain technologies present “the most significant democratizing force in history.” What do you see about the current and future trends in blockchain and related technologies has you this excited?
What challenges and opportunities do you see in blockchains as they relate to the field of education?
What elements of the work that we’re doing in badgechain excites you?
I tried to record the two keynotes but I had some difficulty setting up my phone for the streaming while not losing power…or bloodflow to my hands. See below for the final hack we developed to hold up the phone.
In this post I’ll share some of my thoughts as they relate to discussions about the blockchain at the Badge Summit. The opinions presented in this post are my own and are not representative of the entire BadgeChain Team.
The blockchain & the badges community
I was excited by the overall interest in the blockchain by the badges community. Across the various sessions at the Badge Summit, there was discussion about the potential solutions to existing problems. Many people in attendance had never heard of the blockchain, so at best they only vaguely understood Bitcoin and distributed technologies. For those of you trying to understand blockchain, please review an earlier explanatory post I shared on the subject.
Much of this awareness was brought about by Doug in his keynote as he framed the current digital badges work and its associated power structures. He concluded his remarks by quickly referencing the challenges and opportunities that the blockchain and other distributed database technologies may offer the badging community. This brought our work with BadgeChain to the forefront of the conversation. More specifically, it raised awareness (and questions) about the focus and intent of our collective work.
Our current mission in BadgeChain is to explore through research, advocacy, and development how Open Badges (and related technologies) can be advanced by blockchain. To this end, we’re committed to hosting bi-weekly community calls and interviews with experts in the field, offering useful information about blockchain to the interested public, and providing a sounding board for ideas related to learning recognition as it pertains to distributed and decentralized technologies. Behind the scenes we’re working on projects and partnerships to advance these initiatives (open badges and blockchain technologies). You can follow all of this work on our Medium pub, and our soon-to-be relaunched website. You can also join in the discussion in our Google Group.
At this point in time, we’re a “thinkubator”. We believe there is incredible potential in the use of distributed technologies for education and credentialing. We’re building a community to investigate and develop opportunities to better understand these possibilities. We’re connecting with interested parties (and there are many) to develop an open, dynamic community of practice with the dual aims of educating as many people as possible — including ourselves — and starting a public dialogue about how all of this might fit together.
Challenges and questions about the blockchain
As we examine the blockchain and other distributed database technologies, there are many questions that arise about this work. These queries have inspired much-needed dialogue about topics such as trust, ethics, and privacy. Doug synthesized many of these questions in his keynote.
As an educator and a human being, I think that we should be cautious and selective of any technologies that we use in teaching, learning, and assessment. And so I agree with Doug’s cautions that we should be aware of the challenges and opportunities that are presented to us by these new technologies. Educational technology use (IMHO) should always support student learning objectives; we must always weigh the potential to scaffold/reinforce learners. However, the more that I research, test, and discuss these distributed database technologies the more intrigued I become, not the less. I also recognize that there is a certain amount of hype now regarding the blockchain and related technologies and the potential for disruption of systems. Even with these questions and even with the ensuing buzz, I believe (and I know that the BadgeChain team agrees) that there are some very interesting opportunities on the horizon.
To arrive successfully at that horizon, I believe that we all need to work together. Any technology (code, programs, databases, blockchain, etc.) is a product of the person or group that creates it. I’d agree that we don’t want to hand our freedoms over to a trustless system compiled by machines (or businesses/governments). But, if we sit back and avoid having the tough dialogue now, then we’ll have to take what we’re given. The BadgeChain team is not okay with doing that. Instead we’re uniting a community to build the future we want. We’re bringing together individuals from open and digital badges, blockchain and other variations, technology, workforce, and beyond. We’re coming together to think, discuss, and identify the type of useful, meaningful, and dynamic technologies we’d like to see. We’re looking toward the future with open eyes and full hearts.
Collectively building possible futures
Doug closed with an affirmation that if anyone can build a better future with these technologies, it’s the BadgeChain team. I’d take that a step further and suggest that it’s the individuals on the BadgeChain community calls, and participating in the Google Groups. Those of us meeting as part of the core BadgeChain team are but a small part of the larger force. We already have a great group of bright people trying to understand and leverage these technologies. The focus of the outreach and community development is to educate the community and promote discussion. We still have a lot of work to do and we’ll need support.
Along with the community outreach, we’re also working to identify funding sources to build and test new technologies that exist between education and these distributed technologies. As we continue our work, there is a natural human desire to look at product or a tool and test it out. I believe that the discussion is worthwhile, but at some point we all naturally want to see, test, and build something. I can speak from my own personal desire to build and test identity and digital badges on a form of the blockchain. This development takes time and money. Internally we’re very, very busy trying to make all of this work…while we’re building the community outreach, or digital identity, and build partnerships. But, at this point all of this work has been volunteer work inspired by the lure and promise of new technologies.
Finally, we’re not looking to just put badges on the blockchain…even though some people assume that is our intent. We’re in the process of examining the different technologies available, and the philosophies embedded in each system. Just as we should be aware of the “trust” in the system and the “machines” running it…we’re also having discussions about what exactly to build. I’m reminded of the adage that “if you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” We don’t want to go into the future with the sole intent of building badges on the blockchain. We believe that something bigger is happening, and we’d like to make sure we help the community take advantage of it.