Time to Build Trust With an “Open Achievements API”?

I had a couple of long dog walks today, trying to clear a head full of cold, and as I was wandering I started pondering a qualifications equivalent of something like the Google Health Data API; that is, a “Qualifications Data API” that could be used to share information about the qualifications you have achieved.

A little dig around turned up the Schools Interoperability Framework, a bloated affair that tries to capture all manner of schools related personal data, although that’s not to say that a subset of the SIF wouldn’t be appropriate for capturing and sharing qualifications. And all the security gubbins covered in the spec might provide a useful guide as to what could be expected trying to actually build the API for real (the Google Health Data API also covers security and privacy issues).

I also came across an old mapping between various UK educational levels of attainment frameworks (UK Educational Levels (UKEL)) which I put to one side much as one might put aside a particularly distinctive jigsaw piece, (under the assumption that any formal qualifications described in a qualifications data API could probably be usefully mapped to an appropriate, standardised attainment level); a similar thing at a European level Bologna Process – Qualifications Framework and ECTS) – which got me wondering whether the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) has a standard XML format for recording qualifications attained by an individual?;and a simple XML format for Uploading Qualifications and Statements of Attainment to the CQR from some Australian Training Agency or other:

Field Name Description
RTONationalID The Registered Training Organisation
National Code. Either this National Code or the State Code below must
be present and valid.
RTOStateID The Registered Training Organisation
State Code. Either this State or the National Code above must be present
and valid.
CourseNationalID The National Course Code for the Course
the Student completed. Either this National Code or the State Code below
must be present and valid.
CourseStateID The State Course Code for the Course
the Student completed. Either this State Code or the National Code above
must be present and valid.
StudentID The Student’s identity number / code.
StudentFirstName The Student’s First Name. Required.
StudentLastName The Student’s Last Name. Required.
StudentMiddleName The Student’s Middle Name. Optional
StudentDOB The Student’s Date of Birth. Optional.

Format is: DD-MMM-YYYY. eg. 03-JAN-1976

ContractID ID for the Student’s Contract if apprentice
or trainee. Optional.

Format is: 9999/99

ParchmentNo A unique number / code that appears
on the Parchment / Certificate. Optional.
IssueDate Date the Qualification was Issued. Required.

Format is: DD-MMM-YYYY. eg. 27-MAR-2004

(This sort of thing would also naturally benefit from an association with details about a particular course pulled in from an XCRI course description…)

Looking at the above format, it struck me that a far more general “Open Achievements API” might actually be something quite useful. As well as describing formal awards, it could also optionally refer to informal achievements, or “trust measures” such as eBay seller rating, Amazon reviewer rank, World of Warcraft level or Grockit experience points.

In a sense, an Open Achievements API could complement the Google Open Social API with a range of claims a person might choose to make about themself that could be verified to a greater or lesser degree. The Open Acheivements API would therefore have to associate with each claimed achievement a “provenance”, that could range from “personal claim” through to some sort of identifier for securing an “official”, SSL transported verification from the body that presumably awarded the claimed acheievement (such as a particular formal qualification, for example).

By complementing Open Social, the Open Achievements API would provide a transport mechanism for associating CV information within a particular profile, as well as personal and social information. If it was supported by informal learning environments, such as the School of Everything, OpenLearn, or SocialLearn, it would allow informal learners to badge themselves with a portable record of their learning achievements (much as OU students can do with the Course Profiles Facebook Application).

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

15 thoughts on “Time to Build Trust With an “Open Achievements API”?”

  1. Sounds interesting, but why not base this API on the ATOM/RSS protocol, since then you can retrieve and update the Achievements from anywhere. Plus there is a B I G codebase of Atom/RSS readers publishing tools that can be changed subtly to give you what you want.
    Good Luck.

  2. Hi Tony,

    CETIS are currently working on the XML for the Higher Education Achievement Record (HEAR) for UK universities, which is the UK’s Bologna document (Europass Diploma Supplement).

    We’ll have it ready by the end of the year; its based on XCRI (which covers everything to do with the course, credits, and provider) and MIAP CDD (which covers the learner part, including things like ULN).

    We’re also contributing to EU work on standard bindings for other bits of Europass like ECTS. This will take a bit longer to work out.

    It should be easy enough to pull out items from this into a more generic achievement API – which might be worth prototyping once we have some pilots working.


  3. School of Everything is definately up for making us of some kind of open standard for publishing learning histories – we hope to make all our information accessible in open formats asap.

    We do have an interesting challenge in that we are not only interested in formal histories. We are as interested in learning histories via apprenticeships and lineage as we are from institutions.

    Our strategy is to initially look at how to share information about subjects and interests – and how they interrelate. Then to start attaching various extra elements to the subject data – like experience, education and writing.

    We are really up for any discussion and sharing of resources on these topics though, so please feel free to get in touch or come and visit to talk more.


  4. @Peter
    The approach you’re following – looking for a way of describing achievements and experience over an above formal qualifications, is maybe even a little more ambitious than what I had in mind (though absolutely in keeping with it.)

    One of the important things I saw the Open Achievements API doing was transporting claims that could in principle be verified, ideally by some sort of web service, ranging from a qaulification lookup service, such as might be exposed by a MIAP Learner record or Higher Education Achievement Report, to a more informal repuatation lookup from a trusted source (such as Amazon reviewer status or eBay reputation).

    I guess what I was proposing was a way of aggregating and transporting verifiable trust, qualification and reputation metrics?

    Being able to describe more general experiences is the next step on from that, I think?

    If we can fix up a time to meet and chat, that would be really good. I’m at ILI2008 briefly next week if by chance any of your team are there?

  5. No plans from our side to visit ILI, but I could head off West and meet up for a coffee. (It’s alway good to have an excuse to get out of the office)

    The chances are that any attempt to come up with a one-size-fits-all standard would be silly. In practice, we would end up having to use a few standards.

    My first step would be to use a basic set of HTML based microformats. These would allow us to build a basic machine readable CV(ish) system. Then, as we begin to build an API to make data available, I would move on to more advanced XML based standards.

    On the topic of verification, the discussions we have had so far have generally been influenced by the technical versions of certification. We would allow Certification Authorities (CA) to issue digitally verifiable certificates – just like websites use for secure, verifiable transactions. Although we would have some kind of system to allow us to make sure that major institutions are legitimate, we have no intention to limit this system to pre-existing organisations.

    This can all be one big can of worms if we peer in properly !

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