How does the Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI) work?

This module gives a high-level overview of how the Open Badges Infrastructure works and shows some ways it can be used in practice.

Open Badges napkin sketch

('napkin sketch' from the Open Badges website)

Simple overview

This course isn’t meant to be a deep dive into technical specifics but more of a general overview of how Open Badges work. The system underpinning the issuing and display of metadata-enabled credentials is known as the Open Badges Infastructure, or ‘OBI’.

Step 1

As you can see in the above diagram, anyone can issued trusted credentials to anyone else. Mozilla looks after what’s known as the ‘badge baking’, which is when the metadata is hard-coded into the image file. This includes information such as:

  • Issuer
  • Earner
  • Date
  • Criteria
  • Evidence

In the same way that you can’t separate out the ingredients once you’ve baked a cake, so there’s no way to ‘unbake’ a badge. The metadata stays with the image file, meaning it can be stored anywhere.

Step 2

The issuer informs the individual (usually by email) that they’ve been awarded an Open Badge. That individual can choose whether to reject that badge or accept it.

Step 3

If the individual accepts the badge, then they have the option to ‘push’ it to a badge backpack. The default, reference badge back is hosted by Mozilla at backpack.openbadges.org. Users of this service require a free Mozilla Persona account. They will be prompted to create one if they don’t already have one.

Step 4

Once the badge is in an individual’s badge backpack, it is entirely private to them. No-one else can see it unless they choose to share it. They can do so by adding it to a collection and then displaying it anywhere on the web and/or social networks.

Step 5

As Open Badges are based on an open standard, they can be issued from any site and put into collections that the user controls. The idea is that this will then paint a more holistic picture of the learner, unlocking new possibilities, job opportunities, and enabling true lifelong learning.


Getting (slightly) more technical

The OBI is a collection of technologies that enable to trusted digital credentials to be issued and displayed via the web.

OBI diagram

Click to enlarge

Valid Open Badges contain metadata in the form of three core Badge Objects: Issuers, Badge Classes and Assertions.

Issuers

This is a collection of information about the person or organisation issuing the badge. Mandatory information includes the name of the person or organisation, along with a valid URL. Optional information can be included such as a description and/or image of the person or organisation issuing the badge, a contact email address, and a revocation list of badges that have since been revoked.

Badge Classes

The Badge Class includes information about what the badge represents. The Badge Class includes mandatory information such as the name of the badge, a description of the badge, and the image representing the achievement. The criteria met is also required, as is the name of the issuer. Optional information such as alignment to standards may be included, as can any tags that help discoverability.

Assertion

This collection of information is what gives the OBI its rigour and verifiability. It gets very technical very quickly (see the ‘Going further’ box below) so the easiest way to explain this part is as follows.

Every badge assertion needs to have a unique ID - not globally, but on a per-issuer basis. It should also list the recipient, the URL where the badge is described, instructions for third-parties to verify the badge, and the date when the badge was issued. Optional information to be included in the assertion includes evidence and whether the badge expires.

Next steps

The OBI is a tricky thing to get your head around as it based on a federated architecture. Perhaps the easiest thing to compare it with is email: we send this regularly without any thought about various email providers, the location of the individual, or what system they’re running. The whole ecosystem works because it is based upon interoperable, open standards. Gmail users can send emails to businesses who have their own email server, and vice versa.

Try re-reading the above and/or explore the links below. Sometimes it helps if you try and explain what you’ve just learned to someone else. You might want to do this by trying to explain it verbally, recording a video, or writing something down?

Going further

Check out the official Open Badges specification that contains important information for would-be issuers. (warning: technical!)

You may also be interested in the relatively new standards-based Extensions to the Open Badges Infrastructure.


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