Blockchain and Open Badges: Bestr becomes a digital credentials ecosystem

The Bestr platform implements Blockcerts and evolves becoming a complete Digital Credentialing system
October 15, 2018

In 2015 Cineca launched Bestr, the first Italian digital platform to use Open Badges to enhance lifelong and lifewide learning.

Open Badges are digital tools used to represent and certify competencies; they are defined by an open standard, originally defined by the Mozilla Foundation and currently addressed by IMS Global Consortium (Open Badges v 2.0), which provides a set of metadata containing information about the organisation that emits them (the issuer), the people who receive them (learners) and any information needed to show how the criteria set by the Badge are successfully fulfilled.

After 3 years of operation, more than 700 badges have been issued by 90 organisations through the Bestr platform, the company has received more than 100 endorsements from partner organisations and more than 80,000 badges have been issued to students and professionals.

Today, Open Badges are not the only technology used to carry out the complex process of digital transmission of credentials, a service which is becoming more and more requested in the world of work: the popularisation of the Blockchain technology and its applications have brought further innovations with some interesting results.

Blockchain and Blockcerts

The Blockchain can be defined as a huge global list of records, distributed on the network and arranged in a decentralized way, which keeps track of the transactions that occur between different accounts. All the active users of this network contribute to the permanent storage of signed data and the management of the Blockchain, allowing access to information even to those who do not have a local copy of all data.

In 2016, the MIT Media Lab proposed a tamper-proof open standard for the writing of certificates in the blockchain, called Blockcerts, which allows to check and verify credentials and their interoperability with other systems.

Blockcerts allows to verify the existence of a certificate (for example, an academic certificate) without the need to contact the issuing institution as the validity of a certificate is demonstrated by cryptographic proof publicly available in a transaction recorded in the blockchain in a tamper-proof manner.

Although the transaction is public, the contents of the certificate and personal data are kept confidential. The system uses a public/private key method to authenticate issuer and learner, who can then be in control of their own identity (“self-sovereign identity”). The recipient has control of his credentials since the release request until their dissemination through a stand-alone mobile app called wallet which offers the opportunity to decentralise the management of one’s digital identity. Thanks to the Blockchain, both parties can be recognised without the need for a central authority using “decentralized identifiers” (DIDs) that, in compliance with the requirements of Privacy by Design, allow the separation between identity person and context.

Blockchain

Blockchain for Education

Using the Blockchain to “notarise” degree certificates for universities (but not only) allows to remove any sort of forgery and identify with certainty the issuer and the recipient of a certificate, speeding up the verification process thanks to disintermediation.

Digital Credentialing—the possibility to digitally attest and verify competencies and achievements—is an enabling and fundamental technology in Higher Education and, in fact, analysts rank it first among strategic technologies for this sector (“2018 Top Trends and Predictions for Higher Education”, Gartner); at an international level, there are already many initiatives implemented by prestigious institutions: SUNY, the State University of New York, which consists of 63 institutions and 1.3 million students, decided to implement a micro-credentialing system in 2018.

Therefore, it becomes essential for universities to be able to count on the support of a system for the management, tracking, assignment and verification of digital credentials and at the same time to be able to integrate the use of this tool in all relevant areas: Digital Learning, Student Careers, Job Placement, Career Service, Education and others. The blockchain technology can be seen as a new digital notary solution for Universities and it can represent a solution for tracking the learning experiences of an individual in heterogeneous contexts and with multiple identities which can be identified and connected to the same subject – especially if implemented together with the SPID system.

Evolution of Bestr

Until today, Bestr was just a Digital Credentialing application for Open badges; its objective was to provide a system to recognise competencies that was complementary to official certificates. Now, Bestr has evolved turning into a true global Digital Credentialing System with the aim of

  • offering different types of Digital Credentials suitable for different needs – from microcredentials to notarised certificates
  • managing the issuing, verification, conversion and withdrawal of Digital Credentials and their data
  • integrating with systems for the management and referencing of competencies to allow the interoperability and portability of credentials – as well as technical interoperability
  • referring to international standards and open technologies when defining and assigning credentials
  • providing an infrastructure that can be retrieved and integrated in systems that manage the cycle of activity preceding and following the release of credentials (education, student careers, etc)

The new architecture used by Bestr makes it possible to certify competencies or certificates both through Open Badges and the Blockcert, and – in this second case – to record them publicly in the Ethereum blockchain.

Architettura dell'ecosistema di credenziali digitali Bestr

Blockcerts in Bestr: the first scenarios

The Bestr team is now working to support those scenarios that require the management of credentials with characteristics different from those offered by Open badges and which benefit in particular from the fact that specific credentials can remain accessible and verifiable over time in a disintermediated way (without the need to contact the institution that issued them).

The first and most important example is university degrees.

Thanks to the wide adoption of the Student management system (Esse3) nationally, even now Cineca manages the life cycle of a set of credentials (certificates, documents, etc) and the processes that result in the assignment of Digital Credentials. Currently, Open Badges can be issued through Bestr thanks to xAPI-based integration; with the integration of Blockcerts, it will be possible to produce certificates also in this new format.

All universities using Bestr services will be able to produce and record university diplomas—probably the most common and certainly the most important credential—as Blockcert and then share and verify them in a safe, permanent, and transparent way.