March 28, 2022
At the heart of Open Badges are data standards that inform how single achievements can be described and verified online. Currently, many platforms are issuing Open Badges compliant with v2.0 data standards (at the time of writing, Badgr conforms to Open Badges v2.1). However, we’re on the cusp of the next generation of Open Badges with v3.0 and are excited to share what those changes enable.
New developments in the Open Badges v3.0 data standard are designed to add an additional layer of data and identity verifiability and functionality intended to increase trust in digital credentials.
To learn more, Dr. Sheryl Grant, Badgr’s Director of Digital Credentialing Strategies, caught up with Dr. Kerri Lemoie, Badgr’s Director of Digital Credentials Research & Innovation, to learn about Open Badges v3.0 and what it means for issuers and learners.
Kerri’s leadership and contributions have been integral to the new OB v3.0 data standard, which has been stewarded by IMS Global in parallel with the W3C Verifiable Credentials Education Task Force, a community-driven open standards group that formed in 2020.
Why do we need a new data standard for Open Badges?
One of the factors driving the development of new data standards is trust.
Culturally, the way we negotiate trust with others increasingly involves technology platforms. More than ever, people are willing to engage in what was once considered risky behavior by placing trust in technology, like getting in cars with strangers (Lyft) or staying in strangers’ homes (Airbnb).
Simultaneously, cyber attacks have increased online. As a result, improved security methods including cryptography and encryption are being enacted online to protect data transfers and authenticate entities.
At Badgr, we are leading efforts to publish a new data standard for Open Badges because digital credentials are only going to become more commonplace, and using cryptography to improve verifiability will engender greater trust. We believe strongly that Open Badges must be in alignment with similar cryptographic methods happening elsewhere on the web to ensure that trust.
What do you mean by cryptography?
An example of cryptography includes Transport Layer Security (TSL) certificates, which evolved from Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and are present when you see https in the URL. TSL certificates authenticate website identity and enable encrypted connections – something that is now required by most browsers. If websites don’t have a cryptographic certificate, browsers display a security warning.
Cryptography is also the foundational layer of blockchain technology that’s used to secure transactions. This is done using public and private keys, which are small unique alphanumeric strings that are programmatically related to each other. Having access to both keys is how someone proves control over them.
Compare a public key to the address on your house – which can be shared publicly – with a private key, the one you keep to yourself so that only you can enter your house. With blockchains, a token (like a bitcoin) is assigned to a public key and the private key proves control of that token.
How do Open Badges v3.0 connect to cryptography?
A group of expert technologists in the W3C’s Credential Community Group gathered from across multiple sectors to make data more secure and tamper-evident in supply chains, healthcare and government paperwork.
Open Badges v3.0 aligns with the same verifiable methods being applied by sectors engaged in W3C’s Verifiable Credentials. This ensures that Open Badges stakeholders can use the same cryptographic proof methods that are used elsewhere across the web. Doing so allows us to apply the same standards of security and tamper-evidence to learning achievements designed to be recognized anywhere, at any time.
How does the Open Badges v2.1 standard differ from Open Badges v3.0?
Open Badges v2.1 and prior versions are typically verified on a hosted web server. However, Open Badges aligned with W3C Verifiable Credentials may be stored in digital wallet applications that are owned by learners. Digital wallets, which can exist online on mobile or desktop devices, will enable learners to create a decentralized identifier (DID) associated with public and private keys.
Learners will be able to request that their badge be issued to that identifier so that they can then store the credential in their digital wallet. From their wallet, learners can combine badges and other verifiable credentials to present for verification when necessary.
Verifiers (like employers) will be able to authenticate that the issuer data hasn’t been tampered with, and that the learner presenting the credentials is the individual who has control of them.
Can learners still share their digital credentials online? What else will change with the new standard?
Open Badges v3.0 will still be viewable and shareable online. And many learners will still have their digital credentials issued to their email addresses.
However, for those who want to adopt digital wallets, the new alignment with W3C Verifiable Credentials enables use in even more contexts. It also makes it possible for learners to have more access to and control of their data.
I’m an issuer. How will things change for my organization?
Another way Open Badges v3.0 ensures greater trust is by increasing the way the data contained in a badge is understood. Open Badges v3.0 will align with another IMS Global standard, the Comprehensive Learner Record (CLR). Open Badges v3.0 and the CLR will share many of the same properties that describe an achievement.
For example, an Open Badge aligned to v3.0 will have an achievement type field so that an issuer can explicitly state whether the badge represents a diploma, certificate, microcredential, etc. It will also be possible to provide more detail about the mastery level of an aligned skill.
In Open Badges v3.0, there’s also interest in exploring ways to describe an even smaller notion of an achievement with a single skill assertion that could exist without a badge image, description or criteria.
Instead, the skill assertion would leverage work being done at the Open Skills Network to publish rich skill descriptors (RSDs). Over time, it’s anticipated that there will be hundreds of RSDs describing skills and competencies across networks that can be re-used to increase the meaning of credentials.
Did Badgr develop the Open Badges v3.0 standard?
Badgr is leading these efforts because we believe that open standards increase both trust and growth across the credentialing ecosystem. We’re working with partners across many networks to expand and strengthen usability of Open Badges and this work is part of those efforts.
With Open Badges v3.0, we’re relatively early in the innovation cycle. However, work is well underway and pilots are expected by summer and they will likely increase throughout the year. Our goal is to share what’s on the horizon so people are informed and excited about the functionality of Open Badges as we face forward to the future.
Where can I learn more?
Watch What Open Badges v3.0 means for you, read about the Open Badges v3.0 Proposal, explore the Open Badges Github Repo or join the W3C VC-EDU Task Force. For more on Open Badges v3.0, read The Future of Open Badges is Verifiable.
About the authors
Kerri Lemoie, Ph.D. is Badgr’s Director of Digital Credentials Innovation and Research, and is an expert in web technology, including decentralized technologies and standards such as verifiable credentials and decentralized identifiers. She is one of the founding technical contributors to Open Badges and is a leader in education and workforce digital credentials. In 2015, she co-founded Badgechain, a research group that explored using blockchain for digital credentials, and currently serves as co-chair of the W3C Verifiable Education Task Force.
Sheryl Grant, Ph.D. is Director of Digital Credentialing Strategies at Badgr where she is responsible for the research, design and delivery of strategic planning and offers expertise in support of complex, multi-year digital credentialing programs. Dr. Grant is among the change agents who helped build the field of micro-credentials, spearheading the Open Badges movement 12 years ago with Mozilla, the MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC.
Badgr is a leader in innovation, and our commitment to new developments in the Open Badges space is ongoing.
Are you interested in building a custom digital badging platform or leveling up an existing one? Schedule a discovery call with the Badgr team.